A RARE regal-style banner used at Oliver Cromwell’s funeral in 1658 was auctioned this week for £16,250. It was estimated to sell for £8000 to £12,000.
Although Cromwell always refused entreaties to take the throne, his position as Lord Protector gave him the power of a king, and his coat of arms on the banner is surmounted by a royal crown. Also, during his five-year reign he was routinely addressed as “Your Highness”.
Simon Roberts, a senior book specialist at Bonhams, which auctioned the banner — more formally described as an escutcheon — said: “It is a very rare and remarkably well-preserved survivor of a significant event in British history. Having participated in the execution of an anointed king, Cromwell was reluctant to assume the same title, though in effect he ruled as Lord Protector very much as an absolute monarch.
“His death marked the effective end of the brief period of republican power in Britain, and Cromwell’s state funeral, which accorded him in death the trappings of royalty, seemed to presage the restoration of the monarchy a few months later.”
Cromwell’s body lay in state for 23 days at Somerset House, London, where four rooms were set aside for the purpose. In one, a wax effigy of Cromwell was laid out, robed in velvet and ermine as a monarch would be, holding a sceptre and orb with an imperial crown at its head. His funeral service at Westminster Abbey was based on that of James I, three decades earlier.
Of the 2006 escutcheons used at important funeral ceremonies, only four are known to have survived. Two are in museums, and a third at Westminster School. The banner for sale is in private ownership. It was brought to public attention in 2015 on on the BBC TV programme Antiques Roadshow.
Experts used scientific analysis and comparison with the other surviving examples to check its authenticity and condition, and declared it to be in a particularly good state, despite marks suggesting that it had at one time been folded.
The coat of arms is painted on silk on a wooden frame, and shows, on the left side, the arms of the Commonwealth, and on the right, those of Cromwell’s wife, Elizabeth. An 18th-century inscription reads: “Oliver Cromwell’s scutcheon that was taken from his Hearse ye 23rd Nov. 1658.”