Thomas Blood: The Man Who Stole the Crown Jewels
Thomas Blood is an infamous Irishman known as the ‘Man Who Stole the Crown Jewels’. The self-styled colonel lived during the 17th century and established his reputation as a rogue and trickster during the time when England was embroiled in a civil war. It is due to his attempted theft of the Crown Jewels that Blood’s name has become recorded in the history books.
Thomas Blood, who called himself Colonel Blood, was born around 1618 in County Clare, Ireland, and hailed from a respectable Irish family. His father, also named Thomas Blood, was a wealthy blacksmith, whilst his grandfather, Edmund Blood, was a member of the Irish Parliament.
Blood spent much of his early life in England, and began to make a name for himself during the English Civil War. When the war broke out in 1642, Blood fought on the Royalist side, the supporters of King Charles I. When, however, it became clear that the Parliamentarians were going to win the war, Blood quickly switched sides, and joined Cromwell’s army. Blood was appointed as an officer, and was given the task of subverting Royalist activities. After robbing the Royalists of their supplies, Blood would keep a portion of the loot for himself, before turning over what remained to his superiors.
Plots of Revenge
When the war ended, Blood was made a Justice of the Peace and as a reward for the services rendered during the war, he was given land grants. In 1660, however, the monarchy was restored under Charles II and Blood fled with his family back to Ireland. Blood was ruined financially as a result of the Poor Relief Act 1662 (known also as the Settlement Act 1662), which saw his lands confiscated. Blood, not the only Cromwell supporters targeted by the Act, sought to unite his fellow Cromwellians in Ireland, with the aim of rebelling against the new king.
Charles II at court (Public Domain)
In 1663, Blood hatched a conspiracy to kidnap James Butler, the Duke of Ormonde and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, by seizing Dublin Castle where the duke resided. The plot was discovered before it could be carried out, however, and Blood fled to the Netherlands. Blood returned to England in 1670, under the alias of Ayliffe and practiced as a doctor (despite not being trained as one) in Romford. Blood tried to kidnap the duke once more, but failed again and was almost captured.
Try, Try, Try Again
In 1671, Blood embarked on a new scheme – the theft of the Crown Jewels. In order to accomplish this feat, Blood disguised himself as a parson and visited the Tower of London with an accomplice who played the role of his wife. The Jewel House Keeper at that time was a 76 year old ex-soldier by the name of Talbot Edwards, who lived with his family in the Martin Tower at the Tower of London. Blood succeeded in gaining Edward’s confidence, and even suggested that a marriage be arranged between his ‘nephew’ and Edward’s daughter.
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King Charles I with the Crown Jewels (Public Domain)
On the day of the robbery, Blood brought his ‘nephew’ (who was in fact his son) and two other friends to meet Edwards at his home. Blood explained that his wife would be coming soon, and whilst awaiting her arrival, requested that Edwards show them the Crown Jewels. The unsuspecting Keeper complied, and escorted them down to the basement where the treasure was kept. Once at the bottom of the stairs, the Keeper was attacked, bound, and gagged, after which Blood and his accomplices made off with the crown (which was flattened so that it could be hidden under his cloak) and the orb (which went into Blood’s breeches). The scepter, however, was too long, and the thieves tried unsuccessfully to saw it in half. The scepter was dropped when they tried to flee.
The Tower of London (Collowan, B / CC BY-SA 4.0)
Blood and his accomplices would have gotten away had the alarm not been raised. According to one version, it was the Keeper, having managed to free his gag, who raised the alarm by shouting “Murder! Treason! The Crown is stolen!” Another version states that it was Edward’s son who alerted the guards to the theft.
In any case, the thieves were caught and held in the Tower of London. Blood refused to speak to anyone except the king, and his wish was granted. After meeting with Charles II, Blood was pardoned, restored, and received a pension of £500 a year. The exact reason for Blood’s pardon remains unknown, and there are many speculations as to what transpired during the meeting between the thief and the king. One of these theories, for instance, is that Charles II was himself a part of the plot, whilst another claims that the king feared an uprising by Blood’s supporters should he be harmed.
Thomas Blood’s Final Escape
In 1679, Blood fell into a dispute with his former patron, George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. Blood was sued by the duke for £10,000 for insulting him, and was convicted by the King’s Bench in the following year. Blood was granted bail in July, but fell into a coma shortly after and died in August. Such was Blood’s notoriety that after his burial, authorities had his body exhumed to make certain that he had not faked his own death in order to avoid paying his debt to the duke.
Top image: Main: The Crown Jewels. Credit: Historic Royal Palaces. Inset: An illustration of Thomas Blood. Photo source: Wikimedia.
By Wu Mingren
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Available at: https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/articles/colonel-blood-and-the-crown-jewels/
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