On this day in 1671, a bold and daring attempt to steal the British crown jewels was narrowly thwarted, adding to a long list of bold, daring, and thwarted crimes perpetrated by one “Colonel” Thomas Blood.
The attempted theft came a few years after the restoration of the monarchy under King Charles II, marked by a return to a lavish royal lifestyle, including the remaking of the crown jewels after the originals had been destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s government.
The Irish born Blood began the era as a loyal royalist, but switched sides at some point to support the rebellion. Following the defeat of Cromwell and hi subsequent decline in wealth, Blood turned to side-career of crime. First, he attempted to overthrow the government in Dublin and kidnap a duke (thwarted), and made a later (also thwarted) attempt to murder that same duke.
But his most bold and most daring attempt was a heist of the very symbol of the decadence of kings: the new crown jewels.
By means of an admirably elaborate set up, and in the garb of a parson, Blood and a lady friend ingratiated themselves with the elderly Talbot Edwards, Master of the Jewel House and his wife, at their quarters at the Tower of London over several visits. As the couples grew friendly, Blood suggested an alliance – would the Edwards’ daughter possibly be interested in a strategic marriage to their wealthy, but sadly single (and also entirely made up) nephew? Perhaps he could bring this nephew by and see how things went with the young people?
On May 9, the Edwards and the Bloods met for a friendly dinner, and little hopeful matchmaking. For pre-dinner entertainment, Blood suggested a visit with the crown jewels with his “nephew” and a few friends. Once inside the jewel house, the men struck their unwitting host with a mallet, covered him with a cloak, bound and gagged him, and then proceeded to ransack the treasures.
Clearly not planning on ransoming the goods, the looters smashed St. Edward’s Crown with that same mallet, cut the Sceptre with the Cross into two easier to conceal pieces, and the awkwardly large Sovereign’s Orb was crammed down one of the conspirator’s pants.
Here, accounts vary, but somehow, mid-theft, royal orb already snugly placed in the pants, they were interrupted from their work and the alarm raised. Quickly, they fled for their getaway horses, dropping loot and firing on warders as they ran, until they were finally captured and the battered and damaged jewels secured.
Proving that possibly, at least in this case that crime may actually pay, not only was Blood personally pardoned by the king for his offenses, he was awarded property in Ireland worth £500 a year, and became something of a notorious man about town in London.