"... a lad who had once come within an ace of stealing the Crown Jewels" Thomas Blood and the theft of the Crown Jewels in 1671

9 May 1671, Colonel Thomas Blood and his gang tried to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

“Secondly, and a sad come-down it is if you're a purist, meet Colonel Tom Blood, cashiered, bought out, and all too obviously our Anti-Hero, in his lodgings, a seedy attic in Blackfriars, with a leaky ceiling and the paper peeling off the walls in damp strips. He has five pence in his pocket, his linen is foul, his boots are cracked, he hasn't shaved, there's nothing for breakfast but the stale heel of a loaf and pump water, and his railing harridan of a landlady has just shrieked abusively up the stairs to remind him that he is six weeks behind with the rent. But Colonel Blood is Irish and an optimist, and lies on his unmade bed with his hands behind his head, whistling and planning how to elope with a rich cit's wife once he has brought the silly bag to the boil and she has assembled her valuables. He'd need a razor from somewhere, to be sure, and a clean shirt, but these – like poverty, hunger, and a shocking reputation – were trifles to a resourceful lad who had once come within an ace of stealing the Crown Jewels.“ (George MacDonald Fraser, "The Pyrates")

“It was for a crown!" as imagined by Henry Perronet Briggs (1793 – 1844)

a bit of a lifetime achievement award for a scoundrel and con artist to get his body exhumed by the authorities to make sure that he is dead, this time for keeps, what? It happened to Colonel Thomas Blood after he died, back in 1680, and it was an honour well deserved. After a bit of changing sides during the Civil War, he became a judge, again a famous twist of fate for all self-respecting rascals across the globe, but, unfortunately, Blood had chosen the wrong side and was on the run when King Charles II returned, the monarch being not quite that merry in dealing with ex-Roundhats after the Restoration. Blood had to flee back home to Ireland, maybe not the brightest move for a convicted Cromwellian, but the good Colonel (cashiered) became Dublin’s darling boy when he tried to sneak into Dublin Castle in disguise to murder the Lord Lieutenant James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, and spark off a Republican revolution, the plot failed gloriously, but Blood could flee to the Netherlands, became a friend of Admiral de Ruyter, of Royal Navy-trashing and Medway-raiding fame, went to Scotland, took part in the Pentland Rising of 1666 and finally waylaid Ormonde in London, captured the Duke and had almost strung him up at Tyburn. Admittedly, all of Blood’s plots somehow failed in the end, but that didn’t discourage a man of the Colonel’s (cashiered) calibre and he was due for his chef d’oeuvre – stealing the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

Colonel Thomas Blood 

as a parson and chumming up with Mr Edwards, the custodian of the preciousnesses, Blood conned the old man into letting him and his cronies into Jewel House after closing time and knocked the old man over the head with a mallet for his pains. They bound and gagged the old man and began their heist in earnest. To hide the jewels under their cloaks, Blood used his mallet to flatten the new St Edward’s Crown, while his brother-in-law sawed the Sceptre with the Cross in two and a third man stuffed the Sovereign’s Orb down his trousers. Meanwhile, Edwards’ son came home and spotted a fourth man, left by Blood to stand cave. The youngster decided to investigate, the “guard” warned his fellow gang members and Edwards could free himself from his gag and shouted: “Treason! Murder! The crown is stolen!" Blood and his gang tried to flee, while the alerted warders apparently fell over themselves. The thieves were brought to bay at St Catherine’s Gate by soldiers arriving on the scene, commanded by Edwards’ son-in-law, a Captain Beckman. Obviously, the whole Tower crew was a family business back then. Blood, however, cried out "It was a gallant attempt, however unsuccessful! It was for a crown!" in a spirit of self-adulation and was put behind bars. He wouldn’t stay there for long.

King Charles II, a Merry Monarch – by John Michael Wright (1617 – 1694)   

On 10 May 1671, a day after the attempted heist, Blood dined, of all the places, at the home of the Treasurer, one Mr Leigh, along with John Evelyn, the other great 17th century diarist, who later noted down: “Blood, that impudent, bold fellow who had not long before attempted to steal the imperial crown itself out of the Tower, pretending only curiosity of seeing the regalia there, when, stabbing the keeper, though not mortally, he boldly went away with it through all the guards, taken only by the accident of his horse falling down. How he came to be pardoned, and even received into favor, not only after this, but several other exploits almost as daring both in Ireland and here, I could never come to understand.“ In fact, Blood was obviously brought soon after his apprehension to meet the King and Prince Rupert, allegedly because Charles and his brother wanted to see and question the fellow themselves. "What if I should give you your life?“ the merry monarch asked and Blood answered boldly: “I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire!“ and the Colonel was pardoned along with a land grant worth £500 a year, giving the lie to the platitude that crime doesn’t pay. Merry or not, many, like Evelyn and, of course the Duke of Ormonde, racked their brains to figure out the reason behind the king’s pardon and various theories have been put forth ever since. But, as the diarist had it, probably while keeping a tight grip on his wallet: “This man had not only a daring but a villanous, unmerciful look, a false countenance, but very well-spoken and dangerously insinuating.“ and, sometimes being a true-blue con artist is it’s own reward and reason, even in the eyes of a king. And Colonel Thomas Blood obviously was a master of his craft.

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