On May 9, 1671, one “Colonel” Thomas Blood made a bold and daring attempt to steal the British crown jewels. He was narrowly thwarted, adding to a long list of bold, daring, and foiled crimes perpetrated by the Anglo-Irish outlaw.
Thomas Blood was an Irishman, born in County Meath in 1618, the son of a prosperous blacksmith. He came from a notable family: his grandfather, who lived in Kilnaboy Castle, was a Member of Parliament and Blood himself became a Parliamentarian during the English Civil War.
At the outbreak of the First English Civil War in 1642, Blood initially took up arms with the Royalist forces loyal to Charles I. As the conflict progressed he switched sides and became a lieutenant in Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads. In 1653 at the cessation of hostilities Cromwell awarded Blood land grants as payment for his service and appointed him a justice of the peace.
King Charles asked Blood, “What if I should give you your life?”, and Blood replied, “I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire!” To the disgust of Ormond, Blood was not only pardoned but also given land in Ireland worth £500 a year.
However, when the Monarchy was restored to King Charles II and the Crowns of the Three Kingdoms in 1660, Colonel Blood lost all his lands and founder to financial ruin. In revenge in 1663, he conspired to capture James Butler, the Duke of Ormond. He was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and was based at Dublin Castle. In disguise, and with the help of accomplices, he tried to force his way into the castle, but the plot had been discovered. Most of the gang were arrested but Blood, using various disguises as a Quaker and as a Priest, eventually escaped to Holland, where he stayed for several years.
While in the Dutch Republic, Blood gained the favour of Admiral de Ruyter, an opponent of the English forces in the Anglo-Dutch Wars, and was implicated in the Scottish Pentland Rising of 1666 by the Scottish Presbyterian Covenanters.
During the 1660 restoration of the monarchy, two new scepters and an orb costing £12,185 had been made for the coronation of Charles II in 1661.
In 1670, despite his status as a wanted man, Blood returned to England and is believed to have taken the name Ayloffe and practised as a doctor or an apothecary in Romford Market, east of London.
So, in 1671, Colonel Blood hatched a bizarre plan to steal the new Crown Jewels. His plans were elaborately laid. He went to the Tower disguised himself as a parson. He gained the confidence of Talbot Edwards, the Keeper, and promised to arrange a marriage between his imaginary nephew and Edwards’ daughter. Blood and his accomplices became well acquainted with the security arrangements.
On May 9th, 1671 the daring plan went into action. Blood persuaded Edwards to show the Crown Jewels to his friends. The gang bound and gagged Edwards and made off with the loot. Edwards managed to remove his gag and raised the alarm shouting: “Treason! Murder! The crown is stolen!” The thieves were captured and Blood was imprisoned in the Tower. He refused to speak to anyone except the King.
He was consequently taken to the palace in chains, where he was questioned by King Charles, Prince Rupert, and others. King Charles asked Blood, “What if I should give you your life?”, and Blood replied, “I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire!” To the disgust of Ormond, Blood was not only pardoned but also given land in Ireland worth £500 a year. The reasons for the king’s pardon are unknown.
Some historians have speculated that the king may have feared an uprising in revenge by followers of Blood, who were thought to have taken an oath to their leader. Others speculate that the king had a fondness for audacious scoundrels such as Blood and that he was amused by the Irishman’s claim that the jewels were worth only £6,000 as opposed to the £100,000 at which the Crown had valued them.
There is also a suggestion that the king was flattered by Blood’s revelation that he had previously intended to kill him while he was bathing in the Thames but had been swayed otherwise, having found himself in “awe of majesty.” It has also been suggested that his actions may have had the connivance of the king because the king was very short of money at the time.
Following his pardon, Blood became a familiar figure around London and made frequent appearances at Court, where he was employed to advocate in the claims of suitors to the Crown.
Blood fell into a coma on August 22, 1680 and died two days later on August 24 at his home in Bowling Alley, Westminster. His body was buried in the churchyard of St Margaret’s Church (now Christchurch Gardens) near St. James’s Park. Due to his reputation, his body was exhumed by the authorities for confirmation as they suspected he might have faked his death and funeral.
The Crown Jewels have never been stolen since that day – as no other thief has tried to match the audacity of Colonel Blood!
Ayomide Akinbode holds a degree in Chemistry but has a passion for History and Classics. When he is not writing, he’s either sleeping or playing Scrabble.