The British Crown Jewels are priceless. Maverick Colonel Thomas Blood's attempt to steal them in 1671 is proof that cheek can pay well.
Blood's Irish Roots and Shifting Allegiances
Thomas Blood was born at Kilnaboy Castle in County Clare in the west of Ireland in 1618. Thomas’ Anglo-Irish father was named Thomas (1588-1645) and he was a blacksmith and landowner in Sarney, County Meath, further east.
On the 21st June 1650 the younger Thomas married Maria Holcroft from Lancashire. They lived in Ireland. Five children, Thomas, Edmund, Charles, Holcroft and William resulted from their union.
When the First English Civil War started in summer 1642 Thomas joined the Royalists who supported King Charles I (1600-1649) but he, like many other men, defected to the Roundheads or Republican's. He became a lieutenant in Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army.
Cromwell rewarded him with English land and money and he was appointed as a Justice of the Peace. In 1660, with the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, Thomas realised that he was at risk of being punished for enjoying republican favour.
A Dangerous Man
He fled with his family to Ireland and was rendered financially ruined. A self-styled colonel, never an official one, he encouraged a revolt. Blood and his allies intended to storm Dublin Castle, overpower the Irish government and kidnap James Butler, the 1st Duke of Ormond, Charles II’s Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1610-1688.) The plot failed; it was discovered the night before its execution and Blood fled to the United Dutch Provinces. Some of his allies and followers were less fortunate. They lost their lives or liberty.
Blood made useful contacts in the provinces including Charles II’s lifelong friend, the ambitious courtier George Villiers, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham (1628-1687,) who saw in Blood the potential for helping him to become more powerful and displace his political opponents.
Despite still being classed as a wanted criminal, Blood returned to England in 1670. A second attempt was made on the Duke of Ormond's life on the 6th December that year but despite his activities in Ireland, Blood was not considered as a suspect. However, he went in to hiding. By spring 1671 he was out of hiding and employed by the Duke of Buckingham.
The Tower of London Heist
In April 1671, dressed as a parson and accompanied by a female who pretended to be his wife, Thomas Blood visited the Tower of London and paid the Custodian a fee to view the Crown Jewels. The female feigned stomach pains and begged seventy seven years old Talbot Edwards, the Master of the Jewel House, to fetch her a drink.
Edwards and his family lived in the Martin Tower in chambers above the jewels and Mr. and Mrs. Edwards invited the parson and his wife inside so that she could recover. During the following days, Blood in the guise of the parson, visited the Edwards' and presented Mrs. Edwards with four sets of white gloves in apparent gratitude for their kindness. He even proposed that his nephew (non-existent) should marry their daughter and live well on the nephew’s equally imaginary fortune.
It was on the 9th May 1671 that Blood urged Talbot Edwards to show the Crown Jewels to him, his “nephew” and two friends. Inside the Jewel House one of the men stood watch as Blood and the other two accomplices threw a cloak over Talbot Edwards and hit him on the head with a mallet before they stabbed and gagged him.
Thomas Blood later used the mallet to crush the St. Edward's Crown so that he could hide it beneath his parson's garb. Blood's brother in law, going by the name of Hunt, sawed the Sceptre with the Cross in to two pieces so that it fit inside his bag. Number three, named Parrot, secreted the orb in his trousers.
Talbot Edwards regained consciousness. He made as much noise as he could. His son, Wythe Edwards, fortuitously home on leave from fighting in Flanders, heard the muffled shouting. He was challenged at the entrance of the Jewel House but forced his way inside. Talbot Edwards broke free of his gag at the same time and he cried out, "Treason! Murder! The crown is stolen!"
Blood and his accomplices fled towards their horses at St. Catherine's Gate and fired their pistols at the warders of the tower. Hunt dropped the sceptre. They ran along the Tower Wharf; Captain Beckham, the brother-in-law of Wythe Edwards, joined the pursuit and Blood was captured before he made it to the Iron Gate.
The crown fell from his cloak, the orb was liberated from Parrot's trousers albeit with a few precious stones missing. They were all arrested.
An Amusing Audience with King Charles II
Colonel Thomas Blood refused to speak to anyone except Charles II. He was indulged. Charles asked Blood, "What if I should give you your life?" Blood is said to have replied, "I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire!" Blood then offered to purchase all the crown jewels for £6000. The amused king refused his offer. He confessed during the interview that he had previously plotted to kill Charles when he was bathing in the Thames but had found himself too "in awe of majesty" to commit regicide. Charles admired Blood’s adventurous nature and spirited statements.
Blood was pardoned and given lands worth £500 a year in Ireland. Hunt, Parrot and the other accomplice were not punished. The Edwards' were promised £200 as a reward for their actions. They never received this. Blood’s former target, the Duke of Ormond was incandescent at the pardons. Blood was often to be seen at the royal court where he was officially employed by Charles. He was also believed to be a spy for the king.
Speculation arose that the king feared that Blood's notoriety would encourage attempts on his royal life and properties and risk uprisings. Another theory was that Charles II was involved in the crime. He faced a financial crisis because of the escalating costs of the Anglo-Dutch Wars and had the theft been successful it could have boosted the royal coffers somehow. Neither claim was confirmed nor denied.
Suspicion, Even After Death
He died on the 24th August 1680 and his body was exhumed from St. Margaret’s in Westminster, London to prove that he really was dead and not in hiding.
His epitaph read, “Here lies the man who hath boldly ran thru more villanies than England ever knew.” He was reburied at St. Andrew's in Hornchurch in Essex. His grave is marked by no words, just a weathered skull and cross bones.
- Colonel Blood and the Theft of the Crown Jewels
- The History Press | Colonel Blood and the Crown Jewels
How four armed men headed by audacious Irishman Colonel Thomas Blood walked into the Tower of London and stole some of the Crown Jewels on 9 May 1671.
- Lesser Known, but Intriguing Historic Criminals
- Thomas Blood: The Man Who Stole the Crown Jewels | Ancient Origins
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.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Joanne Hayle
fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on July 05, 2021:
Joanne absolutely loved this article. It was a piece of history I never heard about. Thank you so much.