The Crown Jewels have long been in one of the most secure locations in the world. Without giving too much away they are stored being bomb proof glass in rooms with over 100 hidden cameras and hi-tech security measures and all of this is inside what is effectively a giant walk-in stainless steel vault which is houses within the Jewel Tower which in turn is deep inside the Tower of London.
If all this and the famous Beefeaters aren’t enough to deter you then perhaps the 22 strong Tower Guard, an official detachment active soldiers in the British Army might be enough to make you look elsewhere if you have ambitions of a massive heist.
Things were quite so hi-tech in the the 17th century when one of the most audacious rogues in history had a cunning plan. His was Colonel Blood, known as the ‘Man who stole the Crown Jewels’.
Thomas Blood was an Irishman, born in County Meath in 1618, the son of a prosperous blacksmith. He came from a good family, his grandfather who lived in Kilnaboy Castle was a Member of Parliament.
The English Civil War broke out in 1642 and Thomas Blood came to England to fight for King Charles I, but when it became likely that he had joined what would eventually be the losing team, Blood joined the Roundheads under the banner of Oliver Cromwell.
When Charles I was defeated in 1653 Blood was made a Justice of the Peace and was granted a large estate, but when Charles II returned to the throne in 1660 Blood fled to Ireland with his wife and son.
In Ireland he joined a plot with the disgruntled Cromwellians and attempted to seize Dublin Castle and take the Governor, Lord Ormonde prisoner. This plot failed and with a price on his head, Thomas Blood fled to Holland.
Despite being one of the most wanted men in England, Colonel Blood returned under a false identity and became a doctor in Romford, near London and went by the name of Ayloffe but he was unable to keep out of mischief and soon became involved in an attempt to kidnap Lord Ormonde in 1670. He only just escaped capture but whereas anyone else might decide to keep a low profile and look for a career change, Thomas Blood was so obsessed with his campaign against the monarchy that he decided to steal the Crown Jewels.
The Crown Jewels were kept at the Tower of London 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.
One day in 1671 Colonel Blood, disguised himself as a ‘parson’ (a religious cleric) went to see the Crown Jewels and became friendly with Edwards. It was all part of a very well thought out deceit and he would return at a later date with his wife. As the visitors were leaving, Mrs. Blood had a violent stomach-ache and was taken to Edward’s apartment to rest. The grateful ‘Parson Blood’ returned a few days later with 4 pairs of white gloves for Mrs. Edwards in appreciation of her kindness to his wife.
The Edwards family and ‘Parson Blood’ became close friends and met frequently. Edwards had a pretty daughter and was delighted when ‘Parson Blood’ proposed a meeting between his wealthy nephew and Edward’s daughter.
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.
As they were all the best of friends, Edwards led the way downstairs and unlocked the door to the room where they were kept. At that moment Blood knocked him unconscious with a mallet and stabbed him with a sword in the stomach.
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, a man by the name of Hunt, tried to saw it in half!
At that point Edwards regained consciousness and began to shout “Murder, Treason!”. Blood and his accomplices dropped the sceptre and attempted to get away but Blood was arrested as he tried to leave the Tower by the Iron-Gate having unsuccessfully trying to shoot one of the guards.
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 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!
Not only did Colonel Blood admit to his crime but to endear himself to the king he even admitted that he once planned to snipe Charles with a musket while the king was bathing in a river. He lost his nerve, he claimed, after finding himself “in awe of His Majesty.” Asked what he would do if given his freedom, he replied only that he “would endeavor to deserve it, Sire!”
Colonel Blood must truly have been full of charisma as he was not only pardoned, to the disgust of Lord Ormonde, but was given Irish lands worth £500 a year!
Edwards who recovered from his wounds, was rewarded by the King and lived to a ripe old age, recounting his part in the story of the theft of the Jewels to all the visitors to the Tower.
Blood became a familiar figure around London and made frequent appearances at Court and and became something of a spy and enforcer for high society.
In 1679 Blood’s incredible luck ran out. He quarrelled with his former patron the Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham demanded £10,000 for some insulting remarks Blood had made about his character but before the matter was settled, Colonel Blood died on the 24th August 1680.
By the time he died in 1680, infirm and deeply in debt, his reputation for duplicity was so well established that the authorities exhumed his corpse to make sure he hadn’t faked his own death in order to escape paying that £10,000! The famed scoundrel was then reburied under a headstone that supposedly read: “Here lies the man who boldly hath run through more villainies than England ever knew.”
The Crown Jewels have never been stolen since that day, no one has had the brazen courage or indeed the gift of the gab to even try it but there is an interesting addendum to the tale of this grand rogue.
Blood’s crimes were serious enough to have earned him a traitor’s death. Just why the king would make such an extraordinary concession has long been debated. Many early accounts claimed Charles was simply amused by Blood’s brutish demeanor and fascinating life story, but the truth is likely far more complex.
The Colonel had a history of cloak-and-dagger dealings, and he’s suspected of having worked as a hired agent for the Duke of Buckingham, one of the chief intriguers of Charles II’s court. With this in mind, it’s possible that the Tower heist was an inside job and that the Duke pulled some strings on his behalf. Some scholars even believe the cash-strapped Charles II was in on the scam and planned to pocket part of the loot and buy replacement regalia using public funds. The problem is, he didn’t take in to account that the guards at the tower might be able to stop the whole robbery in its tracks.
There are no real records of what the King and Colonel Blood spoke about and putting the Colonel on trial would not only be extremely disloyal but would allow the Colonel to tell the world of who really was behind it all.
The inscription on his grave read:
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.
The crown jewels that we see today as fantastic as they are, almost pale into insignificance compared to how they once were. Read all about what happened to them with that miscreant Bad King John The Lost Treasures of Bad King John (plus other treasures both found and missing).