Col. Thomas Blood & the Theft of the Crown Jewels (9th May 1671)


Introduction

You may wonder what this article has to do with coins, or Ireland. The story begins during the War of the Three Kingdoms – otherwise known as the Bishops’ War in Scotland, the Great Rebellion in Ireland, and the English Civil War.

After the execution of Charles I in 1649 many of his Crown Jewels were sold or destroyed by Oliver Cromwell. England, Scotland and Ireland were ruled as three republics under the auspices of the Commonwealth – ruled by the Parliament in Westminster, via a Council of State. The fighting continued outside of England, so Cromwell had to subdue Scotland and later Ireland – .  

Cromwell ordered that:

“the orb and sceptres should be broken as they stood for the ‘detestable rule of kings’ and that all the gemstones be removed and sold.”

He then ordered any remaining gold and silver to be melted down and used to make coins. This caused great insult to the monarchists and they added this to a long list of grievances which would be ‘settled’ once the monarchy was restored.

Gold & silver coins of the Commonwealth under Cromwell. Irish coin dealer, Old Currency Exchange, Dublin, Ireland.

Cromwell didn’t seem too interested the coinage problem that was emerging in Ireland or England, i.e. there was a shortage of small change and this was adversely affecting trade and commerce. It wasn’t as bad in Ireland but this was mostly due to the fact that Ireland (and its economy) were in ruins after the wars. One of the consequences was the so-called Tradesmen Tokens of the 17th C – brass, copper and pewter tokens that had little intrinsic value but were accepted locally as a ‘de facto’ currency.

Cromwell went on to transport the rebels overseas and replaced them with his soldiers (he paid them in land confiscated from the Irish) and they, in turn, rented portions to new Protestant settlers from England and Europe.

Many new towns were founded, a new economy grew from the new skills + knowledge brought in with these new settlers and this caused problems – both with the native Irish and the Old English (Catholics) who distrusted the new Parliamentarian regime in Dublin.

Restoration of the Monarchy, 1660

When the monarchy was restored in 1660, two new sceptres and an orb costing £12,185 were made for the lavish coronation of Charles II in 1661. Although Charles II was somewhat short of money, he never let this get in the way of his spending it – either on himself, his ‘pet’ projects or his many mistresses.

  • During the ceremony, the new King held the Sceptre with the Cross in his right hand and the Sceptre with the Dove in his left.
    • The sceptre was a rod or staff which represents royal power and the dove refers to the Holy Spirit.
  • The King was crowned with St Edward’s Crown.
    • At some point the King also held the orb, a hollow golden sphere decorated with a band of jewels and a jewelled cross on top.
    • The orb refers to the King’s role as protector of the Church of England.

The profligate lifestyle of Charles II did little to endear him to the Puritans, or their Parliament – this led to numerous plots against him and attempts to curtail his spending. Meanwhile, Charles and his supporters in House of Lords did their utmost to irritate the Parliamentarians, including digging up Cromwell’s body from the grave and beheading him (post-mortem) as a retrospective punishment for beheading his father, Charles I, in 1649.

Colonel Thomas Blood

Getting back to the main subject of this article, one of the most audacious rogues in English (or Irish) history is said to be Colonel Thomas Blood. He is most famous for being the ‘Man who stole the Crown Jewels’ – a feat that has not been repeated since. The ‘self-styled’ Colonel Blood (he was called both ‘Captain’ and ‘Colonel’ at the time) began life in Ireland.

  • He was was born c. 1618 in either Co. Clare, or Co Meath.
  • His father was an ironmaster (some say, a prosperous blacksmith) who also owned lands in Co. Meath and Co. Wicklow.
    • Thomas Blood was partly raised at Sarney, near Dunboyne, Co Meath.
    • He received his education in Lancashire, England.
    • At the age of 20, he married Maria Holcroft, the daughter of John Holcroft, a gentleman from Golborne, Lancashire, and returned to Ireland.
  • His grandfather was Edmund Blood of Kilnaboy and Applevale
    • He was a Member of Parliament for Co Clare.

The Great Rebellion in Ireland was notoriously complicated by some leaders switching sides and, during the Civil War in England, similar switching occurred. At the outbreak of the First English Civil War in 1642, Blood returned to England and initially took up arms with the Royalist forces loyal to Charles I.

  • As the conflict progressed he switched sides and became a lieutenant in Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads.
    • In 1653 at the cessation of hostilities Cromwell awarded Blood land grants as payment for his service and appointed him a justice of the peace.

Following the Restoration of King Charles II to the Crowns of the Three Kingdoms in 1660, Blood fled with his family to Ireland. The confiscations and restitutions under the Act of Settlement 1662 (which sought to cancel and annul some of the grants of land and real properties allocated as reward to new holders being Cromwellians under the Act of Settlement 1652) brought Blood to financial ruin.

Colonel Thomas Blood, also known as 'Man who stole the Crown Jewels' - a feat that has not been repeated since the 17th C.

Colonel Thomas Blood, also known as ‘Man who stole the Crown Jewels’ – a feat that has not been repeated since the 17th C.

  • Blood is a bit of an enigma – he was linked to various dissident groups who were hostile to the Government, as well as being involved in Government Counsels.
  • Some think he worked as a Double-Agent – playing both sides against each other, though ‘for what and why’, is uncertain.

Blood felt somewhat aggrieved, despite the fact that he finished the English Civil War on the winning side. To avenge this wrong, Blood sought to unite his fellow Cromwellians in Ireland and rebel against the new King and, in particular, his deputy in Ireland, the Duke of Ormonde.

  • In 1663 he conspired to capture James Butler, the Duke of Ormonde and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who was based at Dublin Castle. In disguise, and with the help of accomplices, he tried to force his way into the castle but the plot had been discovered.
    • Most of the gang were arrested but Blood, using various disguises as a Quaker and as a Priest, eventually escaped to Holland, where he stayed for a while.
    • Before going to Holland, Blood made a daring attempt to free his accomplices but failed.
    • His brother Lackie (or, possibly, his brother-in-law) was tried, convicted and executed for High Treason.
      • The notorious Colonel Blood now had a price on his head in England, as well as Ireland.

While in the Dutch Republic, Blood gained the favour of Admiral de Ruyter, an opponent of the English forces in the Anglo-Dutch Wars, and was implicated in the Scottish Pentland Rising of 1666 by the Scottish Presbyterian Covenanters.

  • Blood, himself, was a Presbyterian by birth

At some point during this period, Blood became associated with the wealthy George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Some historians believe Buckingham used Blood as a means to punish his own political and social adversaries, since his own class ranking did not allow him to meet them “in the field”, i.e. dueling.

George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, 20th Baron de Ros, KG, PC, FRS (30 January 1628 – 16 April 1687) ... and, by now, the infamous Colonel Thomas Blood. Engish Civil War. Interregnum. The Old Currency Exchange, Dublin, Ireland.

George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, 20th Baron de Ros, KG, PC, FRS (1628 – 1687) … and, by now, the infamous Colonel Thomas Blood.

  • In 1667, Blood was involved in an attempt to rescue an old friend of his, Captain Mason. Mason was being escorted by government men to York. A battle ensued and Blood was wounded but he succeeded in rescuing Mason.
  • Several troopers were killed and again a price was put on Colonel Blood’s head.
    • Five hundred pounds was offered for his capture.
    • Once more, Blood was on the run from Government forces.
    • He assumed the name Thomas Allen and resided quietly in Kent for a time.

In 1670, despite being ‘a wanted man’, Blood assumed another alias – this time he disguised himself as a doctor (or an apothecary) under the alias ‘Ayloffe’. He practised in Romford Market, east of London and plotted a second attempt on the life of the Duke of Ormonde.

  • Ormonde had returned to England and had taken up residence at Clarendon House, London. Blood had followed Ormonde’s movements and noted that he frequently returned late in the evening accompanied by a small number of footmen.
    • On the night of 6th December 1670, Blood and his accomplices attacked Ormonde as he made his way up St James’s Street.
    • Ormonde was dragged from his coach, bound to one of Blood’s henchmen, and taken on horseback along Piccadilly with the intention of hanging him at Tyburn. The gang pinned a paper to Ormonde’s chest spelling out their reasons for his capture and murder.
      • With one of his servants who had given chase on horseback, Ormonde succeeded in freeing himself and escaped.
      • The plot’s secrecy meant that Blood was not suspected of the crime, despite a reward being offered for the capture of the attempted assassins.
      • In the King’s presence, James’s son, Thomas Butler, accused the Duke of Buckingham of being behind the crime.
        • He then threatened to shoot Buckingham dead in revenge, if his father, James, was murdered.
      • Blood disappeared !
        • Some believe that Blood was acting (alone) in revenge for the treatment of his gang in Dublin, i.e. political assassination.
        • Others claim that Blood intended keeping Ormond in custody until he agreed to restore his Irish Estates to him.
      • Blood did not stay in hiding for long, and within six months he made his notorious attempt to steal the Crown Jewels !

The Theft of the Crown Jewels, 1671

Charles II allowed the Crown Jewels to be shown to members of the public for a viewing fee paid to a custodian (keeper) who looked after the jewels in the Martin Tower at the Tower of London. Specifically, they were kept in a basement protected by a large metal grille. The Keeper of the Jewels was Talbot Edwards who lived with his family on the floor above the basement.

Colonel Thomas Blood - the only man to have stolen the English Crown Jewels.

Blood, disguised as a ‘parson’ went to see the Crown Jewels and became friendly with Edwards, returning at a later date with his wife. They even promised to arrange a marriage between his imaginary nephew and Edwards’ daughter. Thus, Blood and his accomplices became well acquainted with the security arrangements.

  • On 9th May 1671, ‘Parson Blood’ arrived at 7am. with his ‘nephew’ and two other men. While the ‘nephew’ was getting to know Edward’s daughter the others in the party expressed a desire to see the Crown Jewels.
  • Edwards led the way downstairs and unlocked the door to the room where they were kept.Reports suggest that Blood’s accomplices carried canes that concealed rapier blades, daggers, and pocket pistols.
    • In entering the Jewel House, one of the men made a pretence of standing watch outside while the others joined Edwards and Blood.
    • The door was closed and a cloak thrown over Edwards, who was struck with a mallet, knocked to the floor, bound, gagged and stabbed to subdue him
  • The grille was removed from in front of the jewels and the crown, orb and sceptre were taken out. The crown was flattened with the mallet and stuffed into a bag, and the orb stuffed down Blood’s breeches. The sceptre was too long to go into the bag so Blood’s brother-in-law Hunt tried to saw it in half!
    • In custody Blood refused to answer questions, instead repeating stubbornly, “I’ll answer to none but the King himself”.
    • Blood knew that the King had a reputation for liking bold scoundrels and reckoned that his considerable Irish charm would save his neck as it had done several times before in his life.
    • Blood was taken to the Palace where he was questioned by King Charles, Prince Rupert, The Duke of York (later James II) and other members of the royal family.
    • King Charles was amused at Blood’s audacity when Blood told him that the Crown Jewels were not worth the £100,000 they were valued at, but only £6,000!

Royal Pardon

Charles was so impressed with Blood’s audacity that, far from punishing him, he restored his estates in Ireland and made him a member of his court with an annual pension – much to the disgust of the Ormonde family.

  • The mystery remains as to what Colonel Blood had done to gain the King’s pardon. At some time in his life Blood must have served the King well as a Secret Agent.
    • This was his reward !
  • The Crown Jewels have never been stolen since that day !
    • After the attempt by Blood, the Crown Jewels were kept under armed guard in a part of the Tower known as the Jewel House.

Faked his own death ?

In 1679 Blood’s phenomenal luck appears to have ran out. He quarreled with his former patron the Duke of Buckingham and, consequently, Buckingham demanded £10,000 for some insulting remarks Blood had made about his character.

  • In the proceedings that followed, Blood was convicted by the King’s Bench in 1680 and granted bail, although he never paid the damages.
    • Blood became ill in 1680
    • The Duke never got paid, as Blood died on August 24th 1680
      • He was 62.

Colonel (or Captain) Blood was one of the most talked about men of his age. He fought for both sides in the English Civil War, was a spy for both sides, a hired assassin and one of the most wanted men in England – evading capture by his master of disguise, his eloquent tongue and daring – even after having been caught stealing the Crow Jewels !

  • His body was buried in the churchyard of St Margaret’s Church (now Christchurch Gardens) near St. James’s Park.

Even after his death, in 1680, there were many stories that he had faked his own death in order to avoid paying Buckingham. His reputation for cunning, disguise and evasion was such, that his body was dug up in order to prove that he was, in fact, actually dead !

  • Blood’s son, Holcroft Blood, was one of his father’s accomplices during the theft of the Crown Jewels and he too was pardoned.
    • He went on to become a distinguished military engineer rising to the rank of Brigadier-General
    • He commanded the Duke of Marlborough’s artillery at the Battle of Blenheim.
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