Crown jewels stolen by Col Blood

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Crown jewels stolen by Col Blood

The 9th of May 1671 AD

Ah! Everyone loves a conspiracy theory, and the story of Colonel Blood and the Crown Jewels is one of the best.

An Irishman educated in England, Blood was a Parliamentary supporter in the Civil War , and aided Cromwell ’s army after it, though his contribution was said to have been more as a spy than a soldier, and the origin of his claimed colonel’s rank is unsure.

When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 the Irish estates Blood had been given as a reward for his services were confiscated, and he turned his hand to various adventures, twice trying to kidnap the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Duke of Ormonde.

At various points in his career Blood was heavily involved with dissident religious movements, but mysteriously he had a knack of disappearing just before they were targeted by government forces. This not unnaturally has led to the suspicion that his spying continued well beyond the Civil War.

In 1671 Blood’s most famous exploit took place, the attempted theft of the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London . The 53-year-old Blood, posing as a cleric, gradually befriended Talbot Edwards, the king’s Jewel Keeper, enticing him with a tale about an eligible and rich young nephew who would make a good husband for the Keeper’s daughter.

On May 9th Blood struck, having tricked Edwards into letting him and two accomplices into the jewel room. Edwards was knocked on the head with a mallet, and then when he continued to struggle was stabbed in the stomach by one of the accomplices. Blood flattened the crown with the mallet so he could hide it in his coat while one of his henchmen tried to file the sceptre in two to make it easy to conceal.

Luck deserted Blood at this point, the long-absent son of the aged keeper choosing that very time to make his first visit in years. The jig was up, and the gang tried to flee, but they were all caught – Blood by one Captain Beckman, a veteran of the Civil War like Blood himself.

The conspiracy theory kicks in with what happened after Blood’s arrest. He refused to speak about the raid to anyone except the king. Those who refused to talk in those days usually had their tongues brutally loosened, but incredibly Blood’s request was granted.

The king interviewed him in private at length. Blood had a price on his head for previous crimes – the Ormonde kidnap attempts, and the violent rescue of a friend from government custody where guards had died. But shortly afterwards he was released, and even more mysteriously was granted a pension of £500 a year, and had his Irish estates returned to him.

Whether Blood was working for King Charles, as so often short of money at that time; or was being repaid for his spying; or perhaps knew something that could embarrass the crown, has been speculated on for centuries, but with Blood nothing was ever straightforward, even in death. Just after his funeral in 1680 his body was exhumed to check he had not faked his demise.

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