Today I want to tell you about Thomas Blood. Not only does he have a great name, but on this day in 1671 he made a spirited attempt to steal the crown jewels. Blood was born in Ireland in 1618 and had a colourful history. He had already fought for both sides during the English Civil War and made two unsuccessful attempts, first to kidnap and then to murder the Duke of Ormonde.
A few weeks before the theft, he had visited the Tower of London disguised as a parson and accompanied by a woman posing as his wife. The Crown Jewels could be viewed by anyone on payment of a fee to the custodian of the tower. The Custodian, Talbot Edwards, was 77 years old and new to the job. As the party were about to leave Blood’s ‘wife’ feigned a stomach ailment and the two were ushered upstairs to the Edwards’ family apartment to recover.
Days later, Blood returned to the Tower with a gift for Mrs Edwards, four pairs of white gloves, to thank her for her kindness and hospitality. He proceeded to ingratiate himself with the Edwards family and suggested that his nephew might be a suitable husband for the Edwards’ daughter. He claimed that the young man would, if he married, be eligible for an income of several hundred pounds.
On May 9th, Blood, his ‘nephew’ and two or three others were invited to dine with the Edwards’. They asked if they could, not only see, but perhaps hold…? the jewels. Edwards trustingly obliged and once they were inside the Jewel House, Blood and his accomplices threw a cloak over Edwards, hit him with a mallet, gagged him, tied him up, and stabbed him. Now the problem was how to conceal the jewels while they made their escape. They hammered the crown flat with the mallet, tried to saw the long sceptre in half and someone stuffed the orb down his trousers. Blood and his accomplices had made it all the way through the Tower grounds and as far as the Iron Gate before they were apprehended. Though they had dropped both the sceptre and the crown along the way.
Blood insisted that he would be tried by no one but the King and, oddly, he agreed to this. King Charles II had only recently had the crown jewels replaced, at a cost of £12,185, because the old ones had been destroyed by Cromwell. Charles claimed that the Jewels were worth £100,000 but Blood claimed they were worth much less and offered to sell them back to the King for £6,000. The King not only pardoned him, but granted him land in Ireland worth £500 a year, which didn’t go down too well with the Duke of Ormonde. The reason for the pardon is unclear. It may have been political. Blood had supporters in Ireland who might have caused trouble. Perhaps the King just liked his style. Blood flattered the king by telling that he had originally planned to murder him instead of just stealing his Jewels. But he had seen the king bathing in the Thames and been so in awe of his majesty that he hadn’t been able to go through with it. On the other hand, you may notice a discrepancy between the cost of having the Jewels made and the amount that the king claimed they were worth. The Jewels were insured for £100,00, so maybe he knew about it all along and had arranged to have them stolen. He was rather short of money.
The custodian of the Tower, fortunately recovered from his wounds and also had a brilliant story to tell for the rest of his life. Blood became a court favourite after that. In 1679 though, he was sued for £10,000 by the Duke of Buckingham for insulting remarks he made about his character. But the Duke of Buckingham was certainly not beyond reproach and may have been behind the plan to murder the Duke of Ormonde. Blood was imprisoned and fell into a coma shortly after his release. He died two days later. After he was buried though, he was dug up again, just to check he was really dead. Some thought he had faked his own death in order to get out of paying the Duke.