Colonel Blood Steals the Crown Jewels
This day, in the year 1671, witnessed one of the most extraordinary attempts at robbery recorded in the annals of crime. The designer was an Irishman, named Thomas Blood, whose father had gained property, according to the most probable account, as an iron-master, in the reign of Charles I.
When the civil wars broke out, the son espoused the cause of the parliament, entered the army, and rose to the rank of colonel; at least, in subsequent times, he is always spoken of as Colonel Blood. As, at the Restoration, we find him reduced to poverty, we may conclude that he had either squandered away his money, or that his property had been confiscated, perhaps in part both, for he seems to have laboured under the impression of having been injured by the Duke of Ormond, who had been appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland, and against whom he nourished the bitterest hatred.
In 1663, he formed a plot for surprising Dublin Castle, and seizing upon the lord lieutenant, which, however, was discovered before it could be carried into execution. Blood then became a wandering adventurer, roaming from one country to another, until he established himself in London, in the disguise of a physician, under the name of Ayliffe. Such was his position in 1670, when he made another attempt on the life of his enemy, the Duke of Ormond. On the evening of the 6th of December in that year, as the duke was returning home from a dinner given to the young Prince of Orange, in St. James’s Street, he was stopped by six men on horseback, who dragged him from his coach, and having fastened him with a belt behind one of them, were carrying him off towards Tyburn, with the intention of hanging him there. But, by desperate struggling, he succeeded in slipping out of the strap which bound him, and made his escape, under favour of the darkness, but not without considerable hurt from the brutal treatment he had undergone. A reward of a thousand pounds was offered for the discovery of the ruffians concerned, but in vain.
It was not many months after this event, that Colonel Blood formed the extraordinary design of stealing the crown of England, and he contrived his plot with great artfulness. The regalia were at this time in the care of an aged but most trustworthy keeper, named Talbot Edwards, and Blood’s first aim was to make his acquaintance. Accordingly, he one day in April went to the Tower, in the disguise of a parson, with a woman whom he represented as his wife, for the purpose of visiting the regalia. After they had seen them, the lady pretended to be taken ill, upon which they were conducted into the keeper’s lodgings, where Mr. Edwards gave her a cordial, and treated her otherwise with kindness. They parted with professions of thankfulness, and a few days afterwards the pretended parson returned with half-a-dozen pairs of gloves, as a present to Mrs. Edwards, in acknowledgment of her courtesy.
An intimacy thus gradually arose between Blood and the Edwardses, who appear to have formed a sincere esteem for him; and at length he proposed a match between their daughter and a supposed nephew of his, whom he represented as possessed of two or three hundred a-year in land. It was accordingly agreed, at Blood’s suggestion, that he should bring his nephew to be introduced to the young lady at seven o’clock in the morning on the 9th of May (people began the day much earlier then than now); and he farther asked leave to bring with him two friends, who, he said, wished to see the regalia, and it would be a convenience to them to be admitted at that early hour, as they were going to leave town in the forenoon.
Accordingly, as we are told by Strype, who received his narrative from the lips of the younger Edwards, ‘at the appointed time, the old man had got up ready to receive his guest, and the daughter had put herself into her best dress to entertain her gallant, when, behold! parson Blood, with three more, came to the jewel house, all armed with rapier blades in their canes, and every one a dagger and a pair of pocket pistols. Two of his companions entered in with him, and a third stayed at the door, it seems, for a watch.’ At Blood’s wish, they first went to see the regalia, that his friends might be at liberty to return; but as soon as the door was shut upon them, as was the usual practice, they seized the old man, and bound and gagged him, threatening to take his life if he made the smallest noise. Yet Edwards persisted in attempting to make all the noise he could, upon which they knocked him down by a blow on the head with a wooden mallet, and, as he still remained obstinate, they beat him on the head with the mallet until he became insensible; but recovering a little, and hearing them say they believed him to be dead, he thought it most prudent to remain quiet. The three men now went deliberately to work; Blood placing the crown for concealment under his cloak, while one of his companions, named Parrot, put the orb in his breeches, and the other proceeding to file the sceptre in two, for the convenience of putting it in a bag.
The three ruffians would probably thus have succeeding in executing their design, but for the opportune arrival of a son of Mr. Edwards from Flanders, accompanied by his brother-in-law, a Captain Beckman, who, having exchanged a word with the man who watched at the door, proceeded upstairs to the apartments occupied by the Edwardses. Blood and his companions thus interrupted, immediately decamped with the crown and orb, leaving the sceptre, which they had not time to file.
Old Edwards, as soon as they had left the room, began to shout out, ‘Treason! Murder!’ with all his might; and his daughter, rushing out into the court, gave the alarm, and cried out that the crown was stolen. The robbers reached the drawbridge without hindrance, but there the warder attempted to stop them, on which Blood discharged a pistol at him. As he fell down, though unhurt, they succeeded in clearing the other gates, reached the wharf, and were making for St. Katherine’s-gate, where horses were ready for them, when they were overtaken by Captain Beckman.
Blood discharged his second pistol at the captain’s head, but he escaped hurt by stooping, and immediately seized upon Blood, who struggled fiercely; but finding escape impossible, when he saw the crown wrested from his grasp, he is said to have exclaimed, in a tone of disappointment, ‘It was a gallant attempt, however unsuccessful; for it was for a crown!’ A few of the jewels fell from the crown in the struggle, but all that were of any value were recovered and restored to their places. Blood and Parrot (who had the orb and the most valuable jewel of the sceptre in his pocket) were secured and lodged in the White Tower, and three others of the party were subsequently captured.
The king, when informed of this extraordinary outrage, ordered Blood and Parrot to be brought to Whitehall to be examined in his presence. There Blood behaved with insolent effrontery He avowed that he was the leader in the attempt upon the life of the Duke of Ormond, in the preceding year, and that it was his intention to hang him at Tyburn; and he further stated that he, with others, had on another occasion concealed themselves in the reeds by the side of the Thames, above Battersea, to shoot the king as he passed in his barge; and that he, Blood, had taken aim at him with his carbine, but that ‘his heart was checked by an awe of majesty,’ and that he had not only relented himself, but had prevented his companions from proceeding in their design. This story was probably false, but it seems to have had its designed effect on the king, which was no doubt strengthened by Blood’s further declaration that there were hundreds of his friends yet undiscovered (he pretended to have acted for one of the discontented parties in the state), who were all bound by oath to revenge each other’s death, which ‘would expose his majesty and all his ministers to the daily fear and expectation of a massacre.
But, on the other side, if his majesty would spare the lives of a few, he might oblige the hearts of many; who, as they had been seen to do daring mischief, would be as bold, if received into pardon and favour, to perform eminent services for the crown.’ The singularity of the crime, the grand impudence of the offender, united perhaps with a fear of the threatened consequences, induced the king to save Blood from the vengeance of the law. He not only pardoned the villain, but gave him a grant of land in Ireland, by which he might subsist, and even took him into some degree of favour. It is alleged that Blood occasionally obtained court favours for others, of course for ‘a consideration.’ Charles received a rather cutting rebuke for his conduct from the Duke of Ormond, who had still the right of prosecuting Blood for the attempt on his life. When the king resolved to take the ruffian into his favour, he sent Lord Arlington to inform the duke that it was his pleasure that he should not prosecute Blood, for reasons which he was to give him; Arlington was interrupted by Ormond, who said, with formal politeness, that ‘his majesty’s command was the only reason that could be given; and therefore he might spare the rest.’
Edwards and his son, who had been the means of saving the regalia—one by his brave resistance, and the other by his timely arrival—were treated with neglect; the only rewards they received being grants on the exchequer, of two hundred pounds to the old man, and one to his son, which they were obliged to sell for half their value, through difficulty in obtaining payment.
After he had thus gained favour at court, Blood took up his residence in Westminster; and he is said by tradition to have inhabited an old mansion forming the corner of Peter and Tufton streets. Evelyn, not long after the date of the attempt on the crown, speaks of meeting Blood in good society, but remarks his ‘villanous, unmerciful look; a false countenance, but very well spoken, and dangerously insinuating.’ He died on the 24th of August, 1680.