Born in Ireland in 1618, by 1671 Thomas Blood had already had a colourful life. He initially fought for King Charles I in the English Civil War, but then switched sides and joined the Roundhead army. After the civil war he was involved in an attempt to kidnap the Duke of Ormonde from Dublin Castle and hold him for ransom. He called himself Colonel, although he does not seem to have ever been given that rank when serving with any army.
In the spring of 1671 Blood came up with a plan to considerably boost his fortunes. He dressed up as a parson and visited the Tower of London with a woman who pretended to be his wife. They paid to see the Crown Jewels and Blood’s ‘wife’ faked an illness that allowed them to get to know the Master of the Jewel House, Talbot Edwards, and his family.
Blood then returned to the Tower with a thank you gift of four pairs of gloves for Mrs Edwards. Thomas Blood gained the trust of the Edwards family and then made them an offer it was difficult to refuse. Blood announced that he had a nephew who was looking for a wife and that Talbot Edwards’ daughter would be an ideal candidate. If the two married, the daughter would be eligible to a considerable income. Another visit was arranged to allow the couple meet each other.
On 9th May 1671 Blood arrived with his ‘nephew’ and two friends. Whilst Mrs Edwards and her daughter were preparing dinner, the five men went to the basement where the jewels were kept. Once they were in the chamber a cloak was thrown over Mr Edwards and he was hit with a mallet, bound, gagged and stabbed.
Blood then removed the metal grille that was protecting the jewels. Things took a slightly comical turn at this point, with Thomas Blood using the mallet to flatten the crown so it could be hidden beneath his cloak. One of the ‘friends’ stuffed the Orb down his trousers, which must have had the potential to be quite painful! In the meantime another member of the gang cut the Sceptre in two as it was too long to fit in the swag bag they had with them.
Then Talbot Edwards who, despite being 77 years old, had put up a brave struggle, managed to remove his gag and shout – ‘Treason! Murder! The crown is stolen’. This coincided with the arrival of Edward’s son. Knowing the game was up, Blood and his fellow robbers fled toward their horses.
On their way they dropped the Sceptre and shot one of the warders trying to stop them. But they didn’t get far and Thomas Blood was soon in chains. He refused to answer questions from anyone but the King. When he arrived at the palace, he was interrogated by King Charles II and the King’s brother Rupert. Bizarrely, the King pardoned Blood and gave him land in Ireland that had an income of £500 a year. Blood also became a regular at Court from that point on.
There are three main theories to explain why King Charles pardoned Thomas Blood. The first is that the King feared an uprising if Blood was put on trial and executed. The second is that Charles liked a rascal and admired Blood’s audacity in making the attempt and almost succeeding. Finally, the robbery may have been an inside job. The King was short of money and it is possible he arranged for Blood to steal the jewels in order to raise cash for the royal coffers. The last thing he would have wanted was a captured man telling that story.
The true reasons for the robbery and pardon will never be known, but Colonel Thomas Blood remains the only person who has got even close to stealing the Crown Jewels.