Stolen! The British Crown Jewels

The British Crown JewelsIn a daring plot worthy of a Hollywood movie, four men attempted to steal the British crown jewels on May 9th by bludgeoning the jewel keeper, hiding the jewels under their clothes, and walking out of the Tower of London completely undetected.  They almost succeeded, too – until the jewel keeper’s son showed up unexpectedly and immediately sounded the alarm.

So why wasn’t this all over the news?

It was.

Back when it happened in May, 1671.

As Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee, it’s interesting to look back at some of the stories that have shaped the British monarchy, including the shockingly audacious, “Thomas Blood Affair.”

Thomas Blood was an Irishman who fought for Charles I during the English Civil Wars.  He later switched sides and joined Oliver Cromwell, who paid him with English land and made him a Justice of the Peace.  But when the monarchy was restored in 1660, Blood’s land was confiscated.  Homeless and nearly destitute, he returned to Ireland and became consumed with revenge.

He’s been credited with a number of nefarious schemes, but several stand out.  There was the one where he gathered supporters and hatched a plot to storm Dublin Castle in 1663, usurp the government, and kidnap the Duke of Ormonde – then the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland – for ransom.  He failed.  While Blood managed to flee to the Netherlands, several of his co-conspirators were caught and put to death.

Blood returned to England in 1670 to kill the Duke of Ormonde.  He and his accomplices pulled the duke from his carriage late one night as he was returning home, bound him, and put him on a horse headed for Tyburn, where they intended to hang him.  But the duke fought back and managed to escape with the help of one of his servants, who had given chase.  Foiled again, Thomas Blood went into hiding for a few months before embarking on the scheme that earned him his place in history:  almost stealing the British Crown Jewels.

The plan was brilliant.

Thomas BloodDressed like a parson, Blood visited the Tower of London – where the Jewels are kept – with a woman pretending to be his wife.  As was the custom then, Blood paid the jewel custodian a fee in order see the jewels.  After viewing the magnificent pieces, the parson’s “wife” suddenly became ill.  Concerned, Talbot Edwards, the elderly Assistant Master of the Jewel House, invited them upstairs to his family’s private quarters, which were located in the Tower directly above the Jewel House.  After laying down for a few minutes while chatting with the jewel keeper and his wife, the parson’s wife felt much better.  She and Blood left, thanking the Edwardses for their kindness.

The “parson” returned a few days later with a Thank You gift for Mrs. Edwards.  He was warmly received and invited to called again, which he did.  On his third visit, Blood suggested that since Edwards had a daughter of marriageable age, and he had a nephew with a good income who was looking for a wife, perhaps the two should marry.  The trusting Edwards willing agreed and invited Blood to dinner to discuss the details.  After dinner, Edwards gave Blood a tour of the Tower and even sold him some pistols Blood had admired.  With the Tower layout in his head and Edwards’ weapons in his pocket, Blood was ready for the heist.

On the morning of May 9, 1671, Blood arrived early with his “nephew” (who was actually his son) and two companions he introduced as friends.  As Mrs. Edwards and her daughter finished getting dressed, Blood asked Edwards if his companions could see the Crown Jewels while they waited.  Mr. Edwards heartily agreed and took them downstairs to the Jewel House.

But as soon as the Jewel House door was closed, Thomas Blood threw a cloak over Mr. Edwards, hit him on the head with a mallet, and bound and gagged the jewel keeper.  As one of the men, Halliwell, stood guard outside the door, Blood pried off the metal grille securing the treasure, and he and the other men began desecrating the Crown Jewels.

Blood used his mallet to flatten out the St. Edward’s Crown so he could carry it beneath his cloak.  His son, going by the name Hunt, filed the Sceptre with the Cross in two so he could fit it in a bag.  The third man, Perrot, stuffed the Sovereign’s Orb down his trousers.  All the while, Talbot Edwards thrashed and rolled around on the floor, trying to get loose and holler for help.  Blood stabbed him in the stomach and left him for dead.

St. Edwards Crown Sceptre and Orb
 St. Edward’s Crown Sceptre with the Cross and
the Sovereign’s Orb

Meanwhile, Edwards’ son Wythe – who had been away for 10 years serving military duty in Flanders — arrived home just then with his friend, Captain Beckman, to help celebrate his sister’s betrothal.  While Wythe went upstairs to greet his mother and sister and Beckman remained outside, Halliwell ran to the Jewel House to tell his friens it was time to go.  Hunt hadn’t finished filing the sceptre in two so he left it behind.  As the four made their escape with the crown and the orb, the wounded Talbot Edwards managed to pull the gag from his mouth and shout for help.

A wild chase ensued.

Thomas Blood and his gang made a beeline for their horses, but Wythe and Beckman shot at them and they had to change course.  As they ran through the Tower grounds seeking escape, Blood hollered, “Stop, thief!” at Wythe and Beckman in order to create confusion.  It didn’t last long.  Wythe and Beckman caught up to the quartet and forced them to surrender.  All the crown jewels were recovered, but they were severely damaged and missing stones.

The Tower of London

Hunt, Perrot, and Halliwell were not punished, and Talbot Edwards survived the assault.  After his capture, Thomas Blood refused to speak to anyone but the king, so he was dragged before Charles II in chains to answer for his crimes.

In a move that has been hotly debated for centuries, not only was Blood NOT punished for his attempted theft of the jewels and the assault on Talbot Edwards – or for the attempted kidnap or murder of the Duke of Ormonde, for that matter – King Charles PARDONED Blood for all of his crimes AND gave him land in Ireland and a pension of £500 per year.  Some say Charles admired Blood’s sheer audacity.  Others say he was afraid Blood’s supporters would stage a coup if he was convicted.  Still others say Charles hired Thomas Blood to steal the jewels in the first place, because he was short on funds and needed the cash.

Whatever the reason, Blood was intensely disliked at court from then on out, particularly by the Duke of Ormonde.  Blood argued with many of the nobles throughout the 1670’s, including George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, who demanded £10,000 for some insult Blood had made about him.  Blood WAS convicted of that crime, but fell ill and died in 1680 without paying the bill.  Rumor has it has body was later exhumed to verify he’d actually died, and hadn’t faked his death to get out of paying Buckingham.

And you thought movie plots were original.  NOT!

So were there any other attempts to steal the British Crown jewels?

The Imperial State CrownYes, in 1815.

By then the jewels were on display behind bars in the Tower so visitors could reach in and touch them.  But one woman grabbed the Imperial State Crown and wrenched the arches apart before anyone could stop her from causing significant damage.  She was declared “insane” by a magistrate, and no visitor has touched the jewels since.

So…war, intrigue, theft, and greed – and that’s just ONE 40-year period in British history.

Is it any wonder we continue to be fascinated?

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Diana Pemberton-SikesWant to dress better, spend less, and look amazing from head to toe?  Sign up for Diana Pemberton-Sikes’ FREE ezine at FashionForRealWomen.com .  She’s an author and image consultant who shows women with real bodies and budgets how to dress well and feel more confident.  P.S.  She also gets distracted by shiny things like the crown jewels sometimes, so be sure to bring your sense of humor.

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