When I first saw the heading that Captain Blood stole the British crown jewels, I immediately thought that it was the swashbuckling pirate of movie fame. However, I soon learned that the silver screen pirate Captain Peter Blood was the title hero of a novel written by Rafael Sabatini, the same Italian born author who wrote Scaramouche.
The Captain Blood who stole the crown jewels was Thomas Blood, also known as Colonel Blood, an Irishman with just as colorful a background as Sabatini’s Captain Blood. However, sorting out that colorful past has turned out to be somewhat difficult as a number of sources have different accounts of his life and the event that took place on May 9, 1671.
Thomas Blood was born in 1618 in County Meath, Ireland. At the time, Ireland was ruled by the British. One report says his father was a prosperous blacksmith and his grandfather was a member of the British Parliament. Another source said his father was a member of Parliament. Blood was educated in England and returned to Ireland at age 20 with his new bride, Maria.
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In 1642, the English Civil War erupted between King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. Blood was still loyal to the British crown and returned to England to fight for King Charles I. Before the English Civil War ended, Blood lost his loyalty to the crown and switched sides, fighting with Cromwell and his Roundheads.
In 1653, Cromwell defeated King Charles I. Blood was rewarded by Cromwell with a large estate in England. One source reported that with the estate, Blood was made a Justice of the Peace.
In 1660, the monarchy was restored and Charles II was crowned as King of England. Since Blood had ended up fighting with Cromwell, his lands were taken away from him and he was forced to flee back to Ireland.
In 1663, Blood was determined to exact revenge on the British monarchy by plotting to kidnap James Butler, the Duke of Ormond and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Butler lived at Dublin Castle. Blood and several others disguised themselves and tried to force their way into the castle, but they were found out. All of them except Blood were captured and executed, and Blood managed to escape, but not without having a price placed on his head by the crown.
In 1667, Blood hatched a plan to rescue Captain Mason, a friend of his, from the British. Mason was being transported to York by a small group of guards. Blood did manage to rescue Mason, but not without killing several groups and being wounded himself. Once again, a price of £500 was placed on his head.
In 1670, Blood planned a second attempt to kidnap the Duke of Ormond and hang him at Tyburn. However, the Duke was rescued and Blood again managed to escape. Many believed that Blood was hired by George Villiers, the Second Duke of Buckingham, and others believed it was act of revenge.
In 1671, Blood hatched his most daring plan of all. After Charles I had been defeated, the British crown jewels had been melted down to make coins and who knows what else. The jewels were sold and the staff and orb melted down and destroyed. When Charles II was crowned king, he had another crown, orb and 2 staffs made and Blood planned to break into the Tower of London and steal them.
Once again, I found differing accounts of what led up to Blood gaining access to the Jewel House. One report states that Blood disguised himself as a parson and then befriended Talbot Edwards, the Keeper of the Jewels. Edwards was happy to take the parson to see the Jewels in the Jewel House.
Supposedly, on a later visit with his wife, Parson Blood’s wife suffered a severe stomach ache and Edward’s wife took her upstairs to where they lived, to rest. Several days later, Blood returned and presented Mrs. Edwards with 4 pair of white gloves as a thank you for her kindness. Parson Blood and Talbot Edwards became friends and Blood arranged for his wealthy nephew to meet the Edward’s daughter.
On this day, May 9, 1671, Blood, his alleged nephew and two other men arrived at the Edward’s place at 7am. The nephew convinced Edwards that he really wanted to see the crown jewels, so Edwards, believing he was pleasing his possibly future son-in-law took them to the Jewel Room.
As Edwards unlocked the room, Blood supposedly knocked him unconscious and stabbed him. The four men grabbed the crown jewels. Blood hammered the crown flat with the mallet he used to strike Edwards, and stuffed it into a bag. Blood hid the orb in his pants. The scepter was too long and they tried to saw it in half, when Edwards regain consciousness and cried out to alarm the Tower guards. Another report said that as Blood and his accomplices were about to make off the crown jewels, Edward’s nephew showed up unexpectedly and upon seeing what was happening, alerted the guards. Either way, Blood and the other three men were captured.
In those day and with Blood’s history, one would have expected King Charles II to have quickly ordered Blood’s execution, but he didn’t. Circumstances again differ but Blood eventually ended up in front of the king. He was questioned by the king, Prince Rupert, the Duke of York and a variety of other members of the royal family.
While being questioned by King Charles II, Blood told him that the crown jewels were only worth about £6,000 instead of the reported £100,000. The king was so taken by Blood’s bravado that he pardoned the infamous Captain or Colonel Blood that he was given land in Ireland and an income of £500 pounds a year, which is the equivalent to about £72,380 as of 2014. Figuring that in 2014, the pound to dollar rate was about 1.25 pounds to dollars, meaning that Blood’s annual income would be worth about $90,475.
Blood died from an illness on August 24, 1680 at the age of 62, ending the life of one of the more colorful figures in British history.
Sources for the above includes: Captain Blood Steals Crown Jewels; The Life and Work of Rafael Sabatini; Stealing the Crown Jewels; Colonel Thomas Blood; 9th May 1671 – Thomas Blood attempts to steal the Crown Jewels; The King, the Crown and the Colonel; The Theft of the Crown Jewels.