May 9, 2007

Thomas Blood and the Crown Jewel Caper

It was 336 years ago today that Thomas Blood attempted to steal the Crown Jewels of England.

Thomas Blood was evidently quite a character. He was born in Ireland in 1618, but when he reached adulthood he went to England to serve Charles I in the English Civil War. Apparently not liking his prospects, he soon changed sides and began fighting for Cromwell. When Cromwell won, Blood received land grants in Ireland for his service.

However, Charles II soon wrested the throne back from Cromwell, and Blood's land grants were rescinded. He took part in an attempt to kidnap the Duke of Ormond -- not once, but twice, and both times unsuccessfully. Blood was forced to flee to Holland, where he remained for some time.

Eventually Blood came back to England, living under various assumed names and guises. In 1671 came the caper for which he is best remembered: the attempted theft of the Crown Jewels.

England's Crown Jewels were, at the time, in the custody of a 77-year-old retired servant named Talbot Edwards, and housed in the basement of the Tower of London. Thomas Blood went, disguised as a parson, to visit Edwards and view the Crown Jewels. The two men became friendly, and the "parson" returned for a second trip, this time accompanied by his "wife." The wife became violently ill, and was forced to retired to the private compartments of Edwards and his wife, until she felt well enough to travel. A few days later the "parson" returned with a gift of four pairs of gloves for Mrs. Edwards, in thanks for her kindness to his wife.

Now the two couples were friendly, and the "parson" was hopeful of making a match between a daughter of Edwards and his wealthy "nephew", a suggestion which met with the avid approval of Edwards. A visit was arranged, to give the daughter and the nephew a chance to meet.

Blood returned to the Tower, this time with his "nephew" and two other men. While the nephew got acquainted with Mrs. Edwards and the daughter, Edwards took Blood and his two accomplices to see the jewels. No sooner were the four men alone when Blood and his accomplices attacked Edwards, hitting him with a mallet, stabbing him, and binding and gagging him. Blood then used the mallet to flatten the Crown of St. Edwards so that he could hide it under his cape, while one accomplice attempted to file Royal Sceptre in two, and the other stuffed the Sovereign's Orb down his trousers.

The Jewels were saved by an incredible coincidence. Edwards' son, who had been away serving in the military for several years, unexpectedly returned home and paid a visit to his father. When he discovered what was going on, he immediately raised the alarm, and the thieves were foiled.

Blood and his accomplices were imprisoned in the Tower, but Blood refused to speak to anyone except the King. Charles II had the reputation of a man who liked scoundrels. Perhaps that worked in Blood's favor, or perhaps the rumors that Blood was a double agent were true. At any rate, Blood was not only pardoned, but his Irish lands were restored to him, and he received a pension from the King of 500 pounds per year.

Thomas Blood died at home in 1680. His reputation for trickery was so great that authorities were required to later exhume his body and verify his death -- there had been rumors that he had faked his own death in order to avoid paying damages in a lawsuit.

The illustration of The Tower of London is from Francis Grose's The Antiquities of England and Wales (Vol III, published in 1783. It is provided courtest of Liam Quin's website The illustration is in the Public Domain.

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