Bertie and Barbie?!
by Brian Blandford
My body with respect and pomp interred
At Westminster2 lay peaceful, undisturb’d
A thousand days. But then the air grew rank,
The darkness of my tomb seemed darker still:
The tyrant’s son, upon his father’s throne
Restored to power, considered his revenge.
My grave was opened up, my body dragg’d,
Still in its shroud, before a howling mob,
Propped upright in a courtroom, “tried,” condemned,
Then left behind an alehouse3 for the night.
But Barbon4, ever loyal to our cause,
Frustrated their intent. He found a corpse
Conforming to my visage – warts and all –
And secret made exchange. Three graves5 he dug
In Red Lyon Field for me and my two friends,
And placed our bodies there, without a stone
Lest enemies discover where we lay.
Then Barbon’s son6, as loyal as his sire,
Erected dwellings there. An obelisk7
Without inscription mark’d with dignity
My place of final rest. My faithful friends
Would make this stone a place of pilgrimage.
But later still, the secret was revealed.
The Royalists, enraged, denied the fact,
Averred the head impaled in public view
At Westminster was mine. Then they, from spite,
Inscrib’d at great expense, a Latin text,
Which said: “A foolish monument to one
More foolish still. What are you looking at
O traveller? Get thee gone!”8 But then, at last,
This insult was removed, the obelisk
Today, my body rests in peace,
But not my soul. Some noble fellow soon
Inspired by me, must arm’d rebellion raise
To cleanse this wicked country from its sins
And irreligious ways. Then shall he reign
As England’s Lord Protector once again.
1) This poem was written for the Camden History Poetry Competition, held in the Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre at Holborn Library in 2011. It is written in the style of Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” in acknowledgment of Milton’s commitment to the republican cause. History books dating back many years mention a rumour that Oliver Cromwell had been buried in Red Lion Square. If so, then John Milton and his assistant Andrew Marvell, who lived near Lincoln’s Inn, probably had a hand in the conspiracy.
2) Cromwell died of natural causes, and was buried after a state funeral on 23rd November 1658.
3) The innkeeper of the Red Lion Inn in 1661 was known to have republican sympathies.
4) Praise-God “Barebones” or Barbon, formed the republican Parliament named after him in 1653. He remained a committed republican even after the restoration, and in 1661 was committed to the Tower of London for circulating treasonable leaflets.
5) The two other posthumous “regicides” who were condemned to be hanged and beheaded on 30th January 1661 alongside Oliver Cromwell were Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw. The term “regicide” itself was coined for the specific purpose of punishing the 50 men whose names appeared on Charles I’s death warrant. Those still living were in the main, tried, found guilty, hanged, drawn and quartered.
6) Barbon’s son, Nicholas, had trained as a surgeon before he became a property developer. He built Red Lion Square starting in 1684, as well as several other streets nearby. Barbon Close, opposite Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, is named after him.
7) As originally constructed, Red Lion Square had some notable feature, including four “watch-towers” set at the corners of the square (you can still see the chamfered corners where they stood). These were removed by Act of Parliament soon after 1771.
8) The Latin on the obelisk read: “Obtusum obtusioris ingenii monumentum. Quid me respicis viator? Vade.” Here “viator” refers to “traveller” – perhaps implying that the scornful inscription was trying to discourage pilgrimages by republicans to the obelisk. In any event, the obelisk was destroyed soon after the inscription was added.