As an author focusing on British royal history, I find it interesting to explore situations that have been largely forgotten.
The Mystery of the Irish Crown Jewels
The regalia used by British monarchs during the era that they ruled over Ireland disappeared in early summer 1907. The whereabouts of the jewelled star, badge and five gold collars remains a mystery. The pieces were first referred to as the Irish Crown Jewels by the media in 1907.
The Irish regalia was stored in the Bedford Tower at Dublin Castle in Ireland. From 1893, Sir Arthur Vicars (1862-1921) The Ulster King of Arms had the duty of protecting the regalia. He was also the Registrar of the Order of St. Patrick, the order was Ireland’s highest chivalric honour. After the theft Vicars protested his innocence until his death, even in his will.
What Was Stolen?
The eight-pointed Diamond Star of the Grand Master of the Order of St. Patrick was worth approximately £14000 in 1907. The star contained dazzling Brazilian diamonds. At its centre was a cross of rubies and a trefoil of emeralds that sat in a blue enamel circle. The motto on the reverse was set in rose diamonds and read “Quis Separabit MDCCLXXXIII,” (Who shall separate us? 1783.) 1783 was the year that the Order of St. Patrick was created.
The Diamond Badge of the Grand Master of the Order of St. Patrick was valued at £16000. It was silver with a blue enamel circle featuring a magnificent trefoil of emeralds and a cross of rubies. The motto was in rose diamonds and a circle of emerald trefoils was within a diamond surround. Surmounting the badge were a diamond harp, a loop and a crown.
Five knights of the order’s collars were also lost. These belonged to the Marquess of Ormonde and the earls of Mayo, Enniskillen and Howth, and the late 9th Earl of Cork.
The Safe Problem
In 1903 the Irish regalia was to be transferred from a secure bank vault to a purpose-built strong room adjacent to Vickers office in the Bedford Tower at Dublin Castle. There was a problem: the doorway to the room was too low and narrow for the safe that had been arranged for the items which no one had considered.
The government’s Office of Public Works was instructed by Vickers not to correct the error. He decided that the safe would sit in his library in the tower because there were soldiers and police on-site and regular inspections of the castle and its grounds. He took possession of the only two safe keys.
Security Breaches Ignored
John Campbell Gordon, Lord Aberdeen, The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1847-1934) was the last man to wear the badge and star on the 4th May 1907 when he opened the Irish International Exhibition in Dublin. On the 11th June Vicars showed the regalia to the librarian from Alnwick Castle in Northumberland.
Vicars was in possession of both safe keys between the 11th June and 6th July 1907 when the regalia was discovered to be missing.
He was alerted to a security breach on the 3rd July 1907. The cleaning lady Mrs. Farrell had approached the Bedford Tower at 7a.m. to discover that the entrance door was unusually unlocked. Vickers took no action. On the 6th July one of the four strong room keys was found in its lock. It was attached to the library door key. Mrs. Farrell returned them to a staff member who in turn gave the two keys to a disinterested Vicars. The Ulster King of Arms again took no action. Later that day a collar arrived for an investiture a few days later. A member of staff was instructed by Vickers to place it in the safe.
The Irish regalia was gone.
A Practical Joke?
Vickers (and a hopeful Lord Aberdeen) believed the theft was a colleague playing a practical joke. The tower was searched by the police stationed at the castle. The regalia was presumed stolen when it remained undiscovered. It was four days before an official visit from King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to the Irish International Exhibition and for the king to carry out an investiture for which the star, badge and collars were integral.
The king was furious. Vickers refused to resign and blamed his deputy, the Dublin Herald, Francis R. Shackleton (the brother of the famous explorer Ernest Shackleton) for the security breaches. Sir Arthur continued in his job. The investiture was cancelled but Edward VII and Alexandra travelled to Ireland to visit the exhibition and to obtain answers at the castle.
The Dublin Metropolitan Police investigated with assistance from Chief Inspector John Kane of London’s Scotland Yard. Police forces around the globe were sent images of the regalia. Local locksmiths and the safe's manufacturers were questioned. The safe lock had not been forced and there were no duplicate keys produced in the area. A reward of £1000 was offered for information. No one came forward.
An official commission was set up. Sir Arthur Vicars stormed out of the Vice-Regal Commission’s hearing on the 10th January 1908. The hearing continued. Kane and the commission exonerated Shackleton. Vicars was found to have been in dereliction of his duties. He was informed by letter that his tenure as Ulster King of Arms was over. His personal staff members were dismissed from their roles.
Kane’s report was said to have named his prime suspect but the details were suppressed so we’ll never know who he had in mind.
A Range of Theories
- An allegation was made that homosexual orgies and visits from prostitutes were regular occurrences at Dublin Castle. No evidence was produced. In 1912 and 1913 Member of Parliament Laurence Ginnell stated that he believed the police knew the identity of the thief but to avoid a homosexual scandal the establishment had staged a cover-up.
- The Unionists stole the jewels.
- The Irish Republican Brotherhood was responsible.
- George Gordon, Lord Haddo, (1879-1965) the son of Lord Aberdeen, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, was accused of being involved in the crime but he was in England at the time of the robbery. Once, at a party held at the castle Vicars was too inebriated to notice Haddo take his keys and remove the regalia from the safe. He posted it back to Vicars.
- There was a claim that the regalia was “...within the reach of the Irish Government.”
- The Irish regalia's jewels could have been sold and the metalwork melted down.
- Vicars successfully sued the Daily Mail newspaper when they printed a story that he had allowed his mistress, whoever this may have been, to have a copy of the safe key and that she had fled to Paris with the crown jewels.
- In 1927 The President of the Executive Council, W. Cosgrove claimed that the Irish regalia was on sale for £2000-£3000.
- The British royal family has had the regalia secretly restored to them.
- That the royal family organised the 1907 theft for an unknown reason. A Buckingham Palace spokesperson has said not so!
The crime remains unsolved. Does someone know something that we don’t? Another conspiracy theory anyone?
- The Theft of the Irish Crown Jewels, 1907 | History Ireland
- The Theft of the Irish "Crown Jewels" | National Archives
- The Theft of the Irish Crown Jewels | Dublin Castle
Joanne Hayle (author) from Wiltshire, U.K. on August 31, 2021:
Thanks...glad you enjoy the articles.
Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on August 27, 2021:
I love how you write about these historical events that we don't know about.