Crimes of the Century – Theft of the Crown Jewels
Crime of the Century? Stealing the English Crown Jewels
Century of Crime? 17th Century. May, 1671.
Criminal of the Century? Col. Thomas Blood.
In late April, or early May of 1671, Colonel Thomas Blood, an Irishman, planned to steal the Crown Jewels of England, stored in the Tower of London, easily one of the most audacious robberies in the history of the world.
In preparation for his robbery, Blood and a female companion who pretended to be his wife, entered the Tower of London to check out the proposed target of their robbery – The Jewels! In the 1670s, the jewels were on display in the tower and, with a small fee paid to the official custodian, they could be viewed by the public.
While scoping the place out, Blood’s lady-friend feigned a stomach-ache and collapsed on the floor. This distraction served to keep Talbot Edwards, custodian of the jewels, and his wife, occupied, while Blood checked out the jewels.
Did he steal them?
No. He wasn’t that stupid! He waited for days! He visited the Tower several times, slowly winning over the confidence and trust of Mr. and Mrs. Edwards.
Eventually, on the 9th of May, 1671. Blood figured that the jewels were ripe for the picking. Along with some accomplices whom he passed off as his nephew, and some friends, he revisited the Tower of London and convinced Mr. Edwards to let him actually hold the Crown Jewels!
The Jewels were stored in the Jewel-Keeper’s Apartment in one of the towers, in a special basement strongroom. While anyone could go into the strongroom to check out the jewels and drool over them, to actually TOUCH them, you had to unlock a security-cage to gain access to them. Feeling trustworthy of Blood and his companions, Mr. Edwards, already an old man at nearly eighty years of age (77 to be precise), led the men downstairs and opened the jewel-cage.
Immediately after unlocking the gate, Edwards had a cloak thrown over his head! He was struck on the skull with a mallet, knocking him out. He was then bound and gagged, and Blood and his partners in crime removed the Crown Jewels from their protective cage.
The thing was…they didn’t have a bag with them. And they couldn’t be seen CARRYING the jewels out of the Tower, so they had to get creative.
Using a saw, they cut the royal sceptre in half to fit it into their clothing. They smashed the crown flat using the mallet, and stuffed it into their coats. Blood even took the Royal Orb and shoved it down the front of his pants to hide it! Then, they made their escape!
Depending on which accounts you read next, one, two, or a combination of the following events occurred:
The first version is that old Mr. Edwards managed to fight out of his bonds and managed to raise a cry of treason. Tower guards were alerted and arrested the men.
The more colourful version goes like this…
On his way home to his parents house at the Tower of London, young Wythe Edwards, a soldier recently back from a foreign posting in Belgium, happened upon the one member of Blood’s gang, who was standing outside the apartment, keeping watch.
In the confusion that followed, Wythe’s father fought out of his bonds and raised the cry of treason and theft! Wythe, realising what had happened, tried to stop the robbers from escaping!
Whether or not young Wythe was present at the theft of the Jewels, what happened next was that the men in Blood’s company escaped with the jewels. They ran across the courtyard to their horses, firing on the tower’s warders (the famous Beefeaters), with pocket flintlock pistols, when they tried to arrest them!
Blood and his companions were home and free!…almost! If not for yet another member of the Edwards family!
Nearly to the gate, and the main exit of the Tower, Wythe Edwards’ brother-in-law, Capt. Beckham, tackled Blood to the ground! Blood tried to shoot him with his musket, but missed! He tripped on his cloak and fell over and before he could get up, Beckham had jumped on top of him to hold him down!
Surrounded, outnumbered and out of ammunition, Blood and his companions, in total, a party of four men, were arrested by the tower guards for attempting to steal the Crown Jewels.
What Happened Next?
Despite the fact that he was clearly guilty, Blood refused to be sentenced by just anybody! He demanded an audience with the king!
Amazingly, his request was granted! And he was dragged in chains to Whitehall Palace, London residence of Charles II. Here, he was questioned and interrogated, not only by the king, but by almost the entire royal family!
After much consideration, the king asked Blood:
“What if I should give you your life?”
Or in other words, grant a royal pardon.
“I would endeavour to deserve it, sire!”, was Blood’s reply, and the colonel was duly pardoned of his crime.
Along with a pardon, the king gave Blood land…and money! His own noble estate in Ireland, from which he could earn up to five hundred pounds (a tidy sum in those days) every year!
Exactly WHY Charles let Col. Blood off the hook is anybody’s guess! The reason that is often cited is that Charles kinda liked the fact that Blood was a cheeky blighter who had the balls to try and steal the Crown Jewels, and own up to it! In fact, when he was being interrogated, Blood was told that he had stolen jewels worth up to a hundred thousand pounds sterling!
Blood promptly replied that he would happily sell them back to the king for the sum of six thousand pounds, for that was, he believed, all they were worth. This so amused King Charles that he let him go.
After his pardon, Blood turned over a new leaf. He became a favourite of the king, and regularly visited the royal court at Whitehall, where he managed to secure a job in the court staff.
Later on in life, Blood insulted George Villers, Duke of Buckingham, one of Blood’s patrons. Villers demanded a hefty fine be paid (up to 10,000 pounds, a monumental sum of money in those days) as settlement for the insult. The matter ended up in court as a defamation case, and Blood was sent to prison!…The duke never did get the ten thousand pounds…
Blood’s stay at His Majesty’s Pleasure did not last very long. And within a year, he had been released from jail. However, he fell ill shortly afterwards, and died on the 24th of August, 1680, at the age of 62.
Although Blood’s life was one of a scallywag and thief, his descendants enjoyed a rather more respectable reputation in the eyes of history. One of them was Gen. Bindon Blood, a respected British Army officer during the Victorian Era and the First World War, who died at the ripe old age of 97, in 1940!