Following the death of Oliver Cromwell on 3 September 1658, he was given a public funeral at Westminster Abbey equal to those of monarchy before him. After the defeat of King Charles I in the English Civil War and Charles' subsequent beheading, Cromwell had become Lord Protector and ruler of the English Commonwealth. His legacy passed to his son Richard, who was overthrown by the army in 1659, after which monarchy was re-established and King Charles II, who was living in exile, was recalled. Charles' new parliament ordered the disinterment of Cromwell's body from Westminster Abbey and the disinterment of other regicides John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton, for a posthumous execution at Tyburn. After hanging "from morning till four in the afternoon", the bodies were cut down and the heads placed on a 20-foot (6.1 m) spike above Westminster Hall (the location of the trial of Charles I). In 1685 a storm broke the pole upon which Cromwell's head stood, throwing it to the ground (although other sources put the date anywhere between 1672 and 1703), after which it was in the hands of private collectors and museum owners until 25 March 1960, when it was buried at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge.
The symbolic value of the head changed over time. While it was spiked on a pole above the London skyline, it gave a potent warning to spectators. In the 18th century, the head became a curiosity and a relic. The head has been admired, reviled, and dismissed as a fake throughout the centuries. After Thomas Carlyle dismissed the head as "fraudulent moonshine", and after the emergence of a rival claimant to the true head of Oliver Cromwell, scientific and archaeological analysis was carried out to prove the identity. Inconclusive tests culminated in a detailed scientific study by Karl Pearson and Geoffrey Morant, which concluded, based on a study of the head and other evidence, that there was a "moral certainty" that the head belonged to Oliver Cromwell.