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What happened on this day in history.
On this day in history in 1671, Colonel Blood stole the Crown Jewels.
Thomas Blood had been one of Cromwell’s soldiers, and as was the case with most of Cromwell’s men, had received his back pay for military service in the form of a grant of land in Ireland. At the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, these land grants were reduced or nullified.
Blood was naturally irritated at having his land snatched from him and tried to take revenge with an attempted kidnap of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The plan miscarried and Blood had to flee to Holland to evade capture. In 1671, still intent on revenge, Blood crept back to London and, with a group of conspirators, planned an audacious theft.
Over a period of several weeks, he befriended the Keeper of the Jewels, Talbot Edwards, and after acquiring his trust, persuaded him to hold a private exhibition of the State Jewels for Blood and a group of friends. On May 9th 1671, Blood and his associates were admitted to the Tower of London and, as the Jewels were taken out of the strong box, Blood whacked Edwards over the head with a mallet and tied him up. Blood used the same mallet to flatten out the crown, in order to conceal it under his coat. An accomplice sawed the sceptre in two and concealed it in the arms of his coat, while another stuffed the orb down his trousers.
Just as Blood was making off with the booty, Edwards’ son, having been away in Flanders for several years, picked the right moment to visit his father and arrived at the Tower. He rescued his father and sounded the alarm and Blood and his fellow conspirators were captured while still in the confines of the Tower.
At his trial, Blood avowed that he would “answer to none but the king” and, in accordance with his demand, was brought before Charles II. When asked what he would do if his life should be spared, Blood calmly replied: “I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire.” For some unaccountable reason, Charles released Blood and even restored his land. Historians have speculated that Blood was in the pay of the king and that Charles, stressed out at the state of his finances, had arranged for the Crown Jewels to be furtively broken up and sold to replenish the royal treasury.
Blood died on 24th August 1680 and was buried in the churchyard of St Margaret’s, Westminster. On his grave was written the epitaph:
'Here lies the man who boldly hath run through
More villainies than England ever knew.'
St Margaret’s is now demolished but the churchyard continues as a public garden. [Christchurch Gardens, Victoria Street, Westminster, London, SW1E 5NE]
Hanrahan, David. Colonel Blood: The Man Who Stole the Crown Jewels.
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