When dictators get toppled or governments change, things get chaotic, to say the least. Sometimes a despotic leader gets to escape to Saudi Arabia to live the rest of his life, presumably not eating people.
Democracies tend to have a more peaceful transfer of power, ones that don’t involve revolutionaries storming buildings and stringing people up. But in any conflict, there is always the chance that something will get lost to history.
I’m willing to bet these seven military leaders didn’t expect to end up as a decoration somewhere.
1. Oliver Cromwell’s Head
Cromwell has been called a lot of things: tyrant, dictator, hero. It all depends on your point of view. When he died in 1658, the state gave the former Lord Protector of England a fine funeral under his son, the new Lord Protector, Richard.
Unfortunately, Richard sucked at his job and the monarchy was restored. The new king, Charles II put everyone who killed his father, King Charles I, on trial immediately, with no exceptions. This included Oliver Cromwell’s corpse.
Cromwell’s dead body unsurprisingly stayed silent on his guilt or innocence, was pronounced guilty, and hanged. He was then beheaded and the head put on a spike outside Parliament.
For like, 20 years.
In 1685, a storm blew the spike down, and sent the head flying into Parliament Square. It was picked up by guard who secretly took it home to sell it for cash. Instead, he got cold feet and hid it in the chimney until the day he died.
To make a long story short, the head was sold from collector to collector for a full 301 years before it was reburied in Cambridge.
2. Napoleon Bonaparte’s Penis
In 2007, Evan Lattimer’s father died. From him, she inherited Napoleon Bonaparte’s penis even though the French government swears the little corporal is not that of the Emperor.
In 1821, he died in exile on the island of St. Helena and while the British weren’t watching, the Corsican conducting Napoleon’s autopsy cut off a few pieces for some reason.
It traveled around the world for decades, eventually ending up under the bed of American urologist John Kingsley Lattimer, who put it there and seldom showed anyone because “Dad believed that urology should be proper and decent and not a joke.”
3. Benito Mussolini’s Leg and Brain
Mussolini met a pretty ignominious end during WWII. He was captured by Italian anti-Fascist partisans, beaten and then strung up by his feet. The U.S. Army ordered the bodies taken down and eventually placed Il Duce in la tomba.
His unmarked grave was found by three young fascists who dug him up and took the body from place to place, eventually ending up in a monastery near Milan. By the time his body was found, it was missing a leg. The legless body was interred in his family crypt in Predappio.
The fun doesn’t stop there. While the body was in American custody, an autopsy was performed on the dictator’s brain. The Americans took half of the brain in an attempt to study what makes a dictator, returning it in 1966.
Every now and again, however, vials pop up on eBay, claiming to be the Italian’s remains. His leg was never found.
4. King Badu Bonsu’s Head
Dutch colonists in what is today called Ghana got pretty pissed when the Chief of the local Ahanta tribe killed two Dutch messengers, cut their heads off, and put them on his throne.
The Dutch, slightly miffed at having their citizens used as decoration, responded the way most colonizers would – with a punitive expedition. They captured Badu Bonsu and lopped off his head. This time, instead of putting it on a chair, they put it in a jar. Of formaldehyde.
Fast forward two hundred years later, the Netherlands have gracefully decided to give the old man’s head back to his home country. You might think the people who happened to be carrying around the pickled head of an African chief might keep track of it but no. It was found locked in a closet where it had presumably been for 170 years.
5. Che Guevara’s Hair
The Cuban revolutionary met his end in Bolivia in 1967, executed by Bolivian forces. His hands were cut off as proof and his body was thrown into an unmarked grave. But, like the people who surrounded Napoleon after his death, someone with access to Guevara’s body decided to take home a souvenir.
The person who happened to be present and bury Guevara was also a CIA spook. He kept a scrapbook that included photos, documents, fingerprints, and a lock of Guevara’s hair. In 2007, it was all sold at auction for $100,000.
6. Geronimo’s Skull
In 2009, native tribes sued the Yale University secret society known as the Order of Skull and Bones. They alleged the group had the skull of Apache leader Geronimo on display in the clubhouse. And the Apaches wanted it back.
Geronimo died as a POW at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1909. A Skull and Bones legend says Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. Bush and grandfather to George W. Bush, dug up the Apache’s body and stole the skull and other bones. He then brought it to the clubhouse in New Haven, Connecticut.
7. Thomas Paine’s Entire Body
Unlike everyone else on this list whose head or skull was stolen after death, Thomas Paine’s good friend John Jarvis was already thinking about getting his hands on the famous patriot’s noggin. Paine, of course, asked Jarvis to leave his bones the hell alone. When Paine died in 1809, they did just that. For a while. Somebody dug his body up ten years later.
Since Paine died a drunk in New York, very few people were present for his funeral. Wanting to give Paine a proper burial, newspaper editor William Cobbett and some friends exhumed Paine with the intent of moving his body to England.
The only problem happened when the body got to England – Cobbett couldn’t afford the burial. The old editor stashed the remains in his attic, where Tom Paine remained until Cobbett died. After that, no one knows what happened to the Revolutionary author.