A bold and charming scoundrel

Thomas blood was born in Clare around 1618. His father was an ironmater who also owned lands in Co. Meath and Co. Wicklow, while his grandfather was Edmund Blood of Kilnaboy and Applevale.

Thomas spent most of his early life in England. In 1648 he married a Miss Holcroft in Lancashire and shortly afterwards he returned to Ireland as an officer in the Cromwellian army. He received grants of land in lieu of payment for army service. These services are thought to have involved espionage during the English Civil War.

However this particular Clare man’s claim to fame was his involvement in the robbing of the Crown Jewel’s.

The Crown Jewels were kept at the Tower of London in a basement protected by a large metal grille. The Keeper of the Jewels was Talbot Edwards who lived with his family on the floor above the basement.

One day in 1671 Blood, disguised as a ‘parson’ went to see the Crown Jewels and became friendly with Edwards, returning at a later date with his wife. As the visitors were leaving. Mrs Blood had a violent stomach-ache and was taken to Edward’s apartment to rest. The grateful ‘Parson Blood’ returned a few days later with 4 pairs of white gloves for Mrs. Edwards in appreciation of her kindness to his wife.

The Edwards family and ‘Parson Blood’ became close friends and met frequently. Edwards had a daughter and was delighted when ‘Parson Blood’ proposed a meeting between his wealthy nephew and Edward’s daughter.

On 9th May 1671, ‘Parson Blood’ arrived at 7am with his ‘nephew’ and two other men. While the ‘nephew’ was getting to know Edward’s daughter the others in the party expressed a desire to see the Crown Jewels.

Edwards led the way downstairs and unlocked the door to the room where they were kept. At that moment Blood knocked him unconscious with a mallet and stabbed him with a sword.

The grille was removed from in front of the jewels and the crown, orb and sceptre were taken out. The crown was flattened with the mallet and stuffed into a bag, and the orb stuffed down Blood’s breeches. The sceptre was too long to go into the bag so Blood’s brother-in-law Hunt tried to saw it in half!

At that point Edwards regained consciousness and began to shout “Murder, Treason!.” Blood and his accomplices dropped the sceptre and attempted to get away but Blood was arrested as he tried to leave the Tower by the Iron-Gate, after unsuccessfully trying to shoot one of the guards.

In custody Blood refused to answer questions, instead repeating stubbornly, “I’II answer to none but the King himself”.

Blood knew that the King had a reputation for liking bold scoundrels and reckoned that his considerable Irish charm would save his neck as it had done several times before in his life.
Blood was taken to the Palace where he was questioned by King Charles, Prince Rupert, The Duke of York and others members of the royal family. King Charles was amused at Blood’s audacity when Blood told him that the Crown Jewels were not worth the £100,000 they were valued at, but only £6,000.

The King asked Blood “What if I should give you your life?” and Blood replied humbly. “I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire!”

Blood was not only pardoned, to the disgust of Lord Ormonde, but was given Irish lands worth £500 a year. Blood became a familiar figure around London and made frequent appearances at Court.
Edwards who recovered from his wounds, was rewarded by the King and lived to a ripe old age, recounting his part in the story of the theft of the Jewels to all the visitors to the Tower.

In 1679 Blood’s phenomenal luck ran out. He fought with his former patron the Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham demanded £10,000 for some insulting remarks Blood had made about his character. As Blood became ill in 1680 the Duke never got paid, as Blood died on August 24th of the year at the age of 62.

He may have achieved fame in a manner not recognisable to most of us in the modern era but Thomas Blood left a considerable mark having left his native county before turning his hand to unsuccessfully acquiring the Crown Jewels.

Courtesy of the Clare Champion
February 2005