Friday, May 9, 2014

MAY 9 = Col. Blood Tries to Steal the Crown Jewels

"The history of the regalia would be incomplete without some short mention of Blood's desperate and impudent attempt to steal the crown, globe, and sceptre in the reign of Charles II.  This villain, Blood, had been a lieutenant in Cromwell's army and had turned government spy..."

This begins a short account by Mssrs. Thornbury & Walford (in the delightful tongue of 1880's London) of a very odd and bizarre attempt by a very odd and bizarre character, one "Colonel" Thomas Blood (above) to steal the Crown Jewels of England on today's date, May 9 in the year 1671.  I must admit that this whole episode sounds like a combination of old world adventure/legend ala Alexandre Dumas, mixed in with some decidedly "Keystone Cops"-type behavior on the part of the would-be thieves.  But I've researched this for some days on-line, and apparently the story however strange is true,  as every account I've found of it seems to agree in the basic details.  So here goes:

Thomas Blood and the English Civil War

First by way of brief background, this crime of Colonel Blood took place after the long and terrible English Civil War which raged between 1642 and 1651.  During this conflict the Royalist forces supporting King Charles I (pictured right, reigned 1625 - 1649) fought in bloody, pitched combat against the Parliamentarians, or "Roundheads" lead primarily by Oliver Cromwell (1599 - 1658).  The forces of Cromwell were called "Roundheads" because they kept their hair short in reaction against the prevailing fashion of wearing hair long and in ringlets as the Royalists did.  The causes of this war were too intricate to go into here. Let it suffice to say that it had a lot to do with religion (Catholic -vs- Protestant), and the divine rights of Kings -vs - the rights of the Parliament, and whether the Parliament was legitimate.   Thomas Blood lived during this time and he seems to have been rather a mercenary type of man.  He started out supporting the Royalists, before switching over to the Roundheads, apparently more because he wanted to be on the winning side than out of any sense of principles.  But he was also rumored to be a spy for the Royalists.  Go figure!! Anyway, the war ran it's course and Charles I wound up being beheaded.  He was replaced by a kind of Republic called "the Protectorate" under the personal leadership of Cromwell.  This ran from 1653 to 1659 ending with the death of Oliver Cromwell and his replacement by the oldest son of  Charles I, who was Charles II, who ruled in what was called "the Restoration" from 1659 until his death in 1685.  Thomas Blood needless to say didn't fare so well in the Restoration.  He lost most of his money and estates, and had a continuing blood feud with his longtime enemy James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde whom he attempted (unsuccessfully) to kidnap in 1666.

Blood Tries the Ultimate Heist...

At this time the British Crown Jewels (the Crown itself, the Orb and the Sceptre) were kept in the Tower of London under the "care" of the Master of the Jewel House, a 77 year old man, one Talbot Edwards.  These pricey baubles could be viewed, apparently by anyone who payed a fee to this Mr. Edwards.  During April or May of 1671, Blood made several visits to the Tower disguised as a Parson, and accompanied by a woman posing as his wife, and payed for a look at "the Regalia" as Thornbury & Wolford call it.  During one such visit, Blood's "wife" feigned an illness and got Edwards to take them to his apartments in the Tower wherein Mrs. Edwards gave her some "spirits" to cure her "ailment".  During subsequent visits, Blood further ingratiated himself with Edwards by bringing several pairs of white gloves to thank them for their help.  Blood then offered to marry the Edward's daughter to a fictitious rich nephew of his. This was all just a ruse to get some of Blood's henchman close to the Jewels in order to grab them and be gone quickly.  On today's date, May 9 Blood showed up for a dinner with his "nephew" and two of his friends and convinced Edwards to give them all a look at the Jewels, while they waited for dinner to be prepared.  According to Thornbury & Walford:

"The moment the door was locked inside, according to Tower custom, the ruffians muffled and gagged the old man, and then felled him till he was nearly dead.  Unluckily for the rascals, young Edwards at that moment returned from Flanders, and ran upstairs to see where his father and sister were.  Blood and Parrot made off at once with the globe and the crown."

This "young Edwards" was the son of the old man, Wythe, who was returning from military service in the Netherlands and appears to have come home at this precise moment.  Talk about timing!! But before young Edwards showed up, Blood and his fellow malefactors seem to have discovered that the Crown Jewels were too large to conceal on their way out of the Tower.  NOT A  PROBLEM!!!   They just decided to bring their quarry down to size.  SO..... Blood used a mallet of some sort to pound the Crown of St. Edward until it was sufficiently flat to be hidden beneath his clerical robes.  One of the henchmen, Blood's brother in law, Mr. Hunt, produced a file and cut the Sceptre in half in order to fit it into his bag. Happily the other man, a Mr. Parrot, was able to conceal the Orb by stuffing it down his pants without further reducing it's girth by way of pounding, filing or other such expedients. I swear folks, these are the exact details which I've found in every account of this which I've read online.  You can't make this stuff up... not believably anyway.

"Treason! Murder! The crown is stolen!"

Well upon Wythe's incredibly timely arrival, he was met at the door by one of Blood's hench- men guarding the door, who challenged him. Clearly, there was something amiss for him to be challenged at his father's doorstep, so he pushed his way past the intruder and rushed upstairs to his fathers apartment to see what was going on. The guard then alerted the thieves/vandals.  And around this moment, Mr. Edwards regained  consciousness, and freed himself, yelling: "Treason! Murder! The crown is stolen!" The Blood Gang then high-tailed it to their horses waiting by the gate.  In their haste, they dropped the two halves of the Sceptre, and exchanged fire with some of the now alerted Tower guards.  They joined in the cries of alarm attempting to confuse their pursuers, but confused themselves as much, because Blood managed to drop the crown before he reached the iron Tower gate.  Blood was taken, but not easily as he struggled with his captors crying "It was a gallant attempt, however unsuccessful! It was for a crown!" Apparently to Colonel Blood, a flattened crown was still a crown.

Blood is Brought to... Justice???

Blood's henchmen were also captured but for reasons I have not been able to ascertain, they were not punished! As for Colonel Blood himself, fate was even more inscrutable.  He was taken in chains before King Charles II (above), whose very own jewels he had attempted to purloin. The King asked Blood, "What if I should give you your life?" and Blood replied humbly, "I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire!" AND IT WORKED!!! Not only was Blood released with no punishment of any kind, but the King granted him estates in Ireland worth over five hundred pounds per year!! The reasons behind this extravagant act of royal clemency are unknown; His Majesty may have just been amused by the engagingly roguish nature of Blood.  And there has been speculation that the King secretly arranged the whole thing himself as a way of selling off his jewels and raising some much-needed cash.  As for Blood himself, he died in 1680. His epitaph reads in part:

"Here lies the man who boldly hath run through
More villainies than England ever knew;
And ne'er to any friend he had was true.
Here let him then by all unpitied lie,
And let's rejoice his time was come to die."

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by Walter Thornbury & Edward Walford, Cassell & Company, Ltd1881 available online at:          

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