One of the most audacious jewel thefts in history happened in 1671, when an Irishman called Thomas Blood attempted to steal the crown jewels from the Tower of London. Blood was a Meathman, born there in 1618, the son of a prosperous blacksmith. He fought against Charles I, and was awarded a large estate in recognition of his efforts. When Charles II returned to the throne in 1660 he fled to Ireland with his family.
In Ireland he attempted to seize Dublin Castle, and kidnap the Governor, Lord Ormonde. When this plan failed, he lost his lands and fled to Holland. He returned to England in 1670, where he hatched a plan to steal the very emblems of British Power.
Blood befriended the Assistant Keeper of the Jewels, an elderly ex-soldier called Talbot Edwards. To supplement his wages, Edwards to permitted to show the jewels to visitors, for a fee. Blood arranged a visit (dressed as a parson) accompanied by a woman he introduced as his wife. While in the Tower, the woman pretended to be sick, and Edwards allowed the pair into his private apartment, to allow her to “recuperate”.
A few days later, Blood returned with a pair of gloves as a thank you gesture to Mrs Edwards. This enhanced the friendship with the keeper. Blood then mentioned a wealthy nephew who would be a suitable match to the Edwards’ daughter. A meeting was arranged for a few days afterwards to introduce the nephew.
He arrived at the meeting accompanied by this “nephew” and two other men. Blood suggested the men be shown the jewels, whereupon Edwards was knocked over the head with a mallet, and gagged. Edwards struggled valiantly, and continued to resist vigourously.
The gang took the jewels and fled. Blood crushed St. Edward’s Crown to make it less conspicuous. As they tried to make a getaway, Edwards’ son arrived and raised the alarm. The son had just returned from Flanders and was on his way to meet his parents! The thieves were apprehended. In the struggle for the crown, the Great Pearl and a diamond fell off, which were recovered, the pearl by a “poor sweeping-woman”, the diamond by one of the Yeomen. Repairs were carried out at a cost of £145, and an armed guard was appointed to the Jewels.
In custody Blood refused to answer questions, repeating stubbornly, “I’ll answer to none but the King himself”. He had heard that the King had a soft spot for scoundrels, and reckoned that his charm would spare his neck! The King asked Blood “What if I should give you your life?” and Blood replied humbly, “I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire!”. The King was further amused when Blood stated that the stones were not worth the 100,000 pounds they were valued at, but only 6,000!
Blood was pardoned, and he was given lands worth 500 pounds a year! This led to rumours that Blood was a spy, and had been taken into the King’s service. There were further rumours that the King was in some way complicit, and had arranged the theft to pay off debts.
He died in 1680, and was buried at St. Margaret’s Church near St. James’ Park. Such was his reputation that his body was later exhumed, in case he had faked his death to avoid paying his debts!
His epitaph reads
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.