Colonel Thomas Blood
Colonel Thomas Blood
Who stole the Crown from the Tower of London on 9th of May, 1671.
THIS desperate man was the son of a blacksmith in Ireland; but from other accounts his father appears to have been concerned in (or possessed of property in) ironworks, and to have acquired an easy fortune in that kingdom. He was born about the year 1618, and came to England while a young man, and married, in 1648 in Lancashire, the daughter of Mr Holcroft, a gentleman of good character in that county (the owner of Holcroft Hall). He returned afterwards into Ireland, served as a lieutenant with the Parliament forces, and obtained an assignment of land for his pay; besides which, Henry Cromwell put him into the Commission of the Peace (J.P.).
These favours gave him such an inclination to the republican party as was not to be altered ; and after the King's restoration some accidents contributed to increase his disaffection to the Government. Upon associating a little with the malcontents, he found his notions exactly justified, and that there was a design on foot for a general insurrection, which was to be begun by surprising the castle of Dublin, and seizing the person of James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, then Lord Lieutenant. Into this scheme he entered without any hesitation; and though many of the persons involved in the dangerous undertaking were much his superiors in rank, yet he was very soon at the head of the affair, presided in all their councils, was the oracle in all their projects, and generally relied on in the execution of them. But, before its execution (9 or 10 March 1663), the whole conspiracy, which had been long suspected, was betrayed by one of the confederate council, Philip Arden. Blood advanced the expected day to 5 March, notwithstanding his knowing of the betrayal, but Blood's brother-in-law, one Lackie, a minister, was, with many others, apprehended the day before, tried, convicted, and executed. Blood made an attempt to rescue Lackie, but after that failure, he kept out of reach, not withstanding the Duke of Ormonde and the Earl of Orrery laboured to have him secured, and a proclamation was published by the former, with the promise of an ample reward for apprehending him. He fled to the hills and was hidden by native Irish and such old Cromwellians as would shelter him. He assumed various disguises, and continually changed his place of refuge, sometimes assuming to be a quaker, sometimes an anabaptist, an independent, and even a Roman Catholic priest. Rapidly flitting about among all sorts of people, entering sympathetically into their grievances and family affairs, instead of shrouding himself in mystery and thus exciting suspicion, he succeeded in baffling pursuers, and became acquainted with many desperate characters.
When the danger became urgent, he found means to get over into Holland, where he was well received, and admitted into great intimacy with some of the most considerable persons in the republic, particularly Admiral de Ruyter. His daring spirit took him from thence to England with such recommendations to the zealous Fifth Monarchy men, and other malcontents, that he was immediately admitted into all their councils, even supervising their courts martial, and when individuals were condemned to death interceded to spare their lives; and had a large share in all the dark intrigues that were then carrying on for throwing the nation again into confusion. In this situation he gave another strong instance of his bold and enterprising genius; but finding the Government apprised of their designs, and foreseeing that the persons principally concerned could not escape being apprehended, he resolved to withdraw into Scotland, where he so wrought upon the discontents of the people that he contributed not a little to the breaking out of the insurrection there, and was present in the action of Pentland Hills, 27th of November, 1666, in which the insurgents were routed and more than five hundred killed.
He fled after this defeat back to England, and from thence to Ireland, where he landed within three miles of Carrickfergus; but Lord Dungannon pursued him so closely that he was obliged to retire into England. He had not been long in this kingdom before he performed a fresh exploit, which was as extraordinary, more successful, and made greater interest in the world than anything he had yet done. This was the rescue near Doncaster of his friend Captain Mason from a guard of eight troopers, men selected by the Duke of York for their courage and trustworthiness, who were conducting him northwards to his trial at the assizes. This was achieved with the help of three companions but during the engagement Blood was wounded and several troopers lost their lives. While recuperating, and with a price of five hundred pounds on his head, he disguised himself as a medical practitioner and lived quietly at Rumford, Kent, under the name of Thomas Allen.
Whether his next enterprise was entirely of his own contrivance is a point not to be decided; it was seizing the person of his old antagonist, the Duke of Ormonde, in the streets of London; but whether with a view to murder, or carry him off till he had answered their expectation, is not perfectly clear. He actually put his design in execution on 6th of December, 1670, the month after William, prince of Orange came to England, and was very near completing his purpose. Together with five companions, Blood waylaid Ormonde's coach as it passed through St. James's Street when returning to Clarendon House. Blood, and his son-in-law, Thomas Hunt, took the Duke from his coach intending to take him to the common gibbet at Tyburn to revenge the death of those of Blood's companions hanged earlier in Ireland. However, the Duke was fortunately rescued out of his hands after Blood rode ahead to arrange the rope on the gallows; but himself and his associates escaped, though closely pursued. An account of this transaction was immediately published by authority, together with a Royal Proclamation, offering a reward of one thousand pounds for apprehending any of the persons concerned.
It was believed by some commentators that George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham, had engaged Blood to perpetrate this crime, and Ormonde's son, Lord Ossory, in the king's presence distinctly charged Buckingham with the baseness of such private revenge. Thomas Carte, biographer of Ormonde, got the story of the rebuke and challenge from Robert Lesley of Glaslogh, in co. Monaghan, who had received it from the lips of Dr. Turner, bishop of Ely. Buckingham was later to introduce Blood to the king as a man who could make discoveries. Bishop Kennet, who names Blood's associates, 'Richard Holloway, a tobacco cutter of Frying-Pan Alley, Thomas Hunt, one Hurst and Ralph Alexander', believes that the plan was not to hang the duke but to hold him in custody against a signed agreement to restore the estates in Ireland that Blood had formerly possessed.
The miscarriage of this daring design, instead of daunting him, or creating the least intention of flying out of the kingdom, put him on another more strange and hazardous scheme to repair his broken fortunes. He proposed to those desperate persons who assisted him in his former attempt to seize and divide amongst them the Royal Insignia of Majesty kept in the Tower of London -- viz. the crown, globe, sceptre and dove -- and as they were blindly devoted to his service, they very readily accepted the proposal, and left it to him to contrive the means of putting it into execution.
He devised a scheme of putting himself into the habit of a Doctor of Divinity, with a little band, a long false beard, a cap with ears, and all the formalities of garb belonging to that degree, except the gown, choosing rather to make use of a cloak, as most proper for his design. Thus habited, he, with a woman whom he called his wife (although his real wife was then sick in Lancashire), went to see the curiosities in the Tower; and while they were viewing the regalia the supposed Mrs Blood pretended to be taken suddenly ill, and desired Mr Talbot Edwards (the keeper of the regalia) to assist her with some refreshment.
Mr Edwards not only complied with this request, but also invited her to repose herself on a bed, which she did, and after a pretended recovery took her leave, together with Blood, with many expressions of gratitude. A few days after, Blood returned and presented Mrs Edwards, the keeper's wife, with four pairs of white gloves, in return for her kindness. This brought on an acquaintance, which being soon improved into a strict intimacy, a marriage was proposed between a son of Edwards and a supposed daughter of Colonel Blood.
The night before the 9th of May, 1671, the doctor told the old man that he had some friends at his house who wanted to see the regalia, but that they were to go out of town early in the morning, and therefore hoped he would gratify them with the sight, though they might come a little before the usual hour. [In this enterprise Blood had engaged three accomplices, named Parrot (a silk-dyer of Southwark who had been a lieutenant to Major-General Harrison and may have been the same Parrot hanged for his part in Monmouth's rebellion in 1685), Tom Hunt and Richard Hallowell or Holloway.] Accordingly two of them (Hunt and Parrot) came, accompanied by the doctor, about eight in the morning, and the third, the youngest, held their horses, that waited for them at the outer gate of the Tower ready saddled. They had no other apparatus but a wallet and a wooden mallet, which there was no great difficulty to secrete but all were armed with rapiers in their canes and a dagger and pocket-pistols hidden in their clothing.
Edwards received them with great civility, and immediately admitted them into his office ; but as it is usual for the keeper of the regalia, when he shows them, to lock himself up in a kind of grate with open bars, the old man had no sooner opened the door of this place than the doctor and his companions were in at his heels, and without giving him time to ask questions, silenced him, by knocking him down with the wooden mallet and throwing a cloak over his head and a gag thrust into his mouth, 'a great plug of wood with a small hole in the middle to take breath at. This they tied on with a waxed leather, which went round his neck. At the same time they fastened an iron hook to his nose, that no sound might pass from him that way'.
They then instantly made flat the bows of the crown to make it more portable, seized the sceptre and dove, put them together into the wallet, and were preparing to make their escape when, unfortunately for them, the old man's son, who had not been at home for ten years before, returned from sea at the very instant; and being told that his father was with some friends who would be very glad to see him at the Jewel Office, he hastened thither immediately, and met Blood and his companions as they were just coming out, who, instead of returning and securing him, as in good policy they should have done, hurried away with the crown and globe, but not having time to file the sceptre, they left it behind them.
Old Edwards, who was not so much hurt as the villains had apprehended, by this time recovered his legs, and cried out murder, which being heard by his daughter, she ran out and gave an alarm; and Blood and Parrot, the latter putting the globe in his loose breeches, making great haste, were observed to jog each other's elbows as they went, which gave great reason for suspecting them.
Blood and his accomplices were now advanced beyond the main-guard; but the alarm being given to the warder at the drawbridge, he put himself in a posture to stop their progress. Blood discharged a pistol at the warder, who, though unhurt, fell to the ground through fear; by which they got safe to the little ward-house gate, where one Still, who had been a soldier under Oliver Cromwell, stood sentinel. But though this man saw the warder, to all appearance, shot, he made no resistance against Blood and his associates, who now got over the drawbridge and through the outer gate upon the wharf.
At this place they were overtaken by one Captain Beckman, who had pursued them from Edwards's house. Blood immediately discharged a pistol at Beckman's head; but he stooping down at the instant, the shot missed him, and he seized Blood, who had the crown under his cloak. Blood struggled a long while to preserve his prize; and when it was at length wrested from him he said: "It was a gallant attempt, how unsuccessful soever; for it was for a crown!
Before Blood was taken, Parrot had been seized by another person; and young Edwards, observing a man that was bloody in the scuffle, was about to run him through the body, but was prevented by Captain Beckman.
Upon this disappointment Blood's spirits failed him; and while he remained a prisoner in the jail of the Tower he appeared not only silent and reserved, but dogged and sullen. He soon changed his temper, however, when, contrary to all reason, probability, and his own expectation, he was informed the King intended to see and examine him himself. This was brought about by the Duke of Buckingham, then the great favourite and Prime Minister, who infused into his Majesty (over whom he had for some time a great ascendancy) the curiosity of seeing so extraordinary a person, whose crime, great as it was, displayed extraordinary force of mind, and made it probable that, if so disposed, he might be capable of making great discoveries. He is allowed on all hands to have performed admirably on this occasion. He answered whatever his Majesty demanded of him clearly and without reserve; he did not pretend to capitulate or make terms, but seemed rather pleased to throw his life into the King's hands by an open and boundless confession. He took care, however, to prepossess his Majesty in his favour by various, and those very different, methods. At the same time that he laid himself open to the law he absolutely refused to impeach others. While he magnified the spirit and resolution of the party to which he adhered, and had always acted against monarchy, he insinuated his own and their veneration for the person of the King; and though he omitted nothing that might create a belief of his contemning death, yet he expressed infinite awe and respect for a monarch who had condescended to treat him with such unusual indulgence.
It was foreseen by the Duke of Ormonde, as soon as he knew the King designed to examine him, that Blood had no cause to fear ; and indeed his story and behaviour made such an impression on the mind of his Sovereign that he was not only pardoned but set at liberty, restored estates of £500 annual value, and had a pension given him to subsist on. This conduct of his Majesty towards so high and so notorious an offender occasioned much speculation and many conjectures.
His interest was for some time very great at Court, where he solicited the suits of many of the unfortunate people of his party with success. But as this gave great offence to some very worthy persons while it lasted, so, after the disgrace and dissolution of the ministry styled the Cabal, it began quickly to decline, and perhaps his pension also was ill paid; for he again joined the malcontents, and acted in favour of popular measures that were obnoxious to the Court.
In this manner he passed between nine and ten years, sometimes about the Court, sometimes excluded from it, always uneasy and in some scheme or other of an untoward kind, till at last he was met with in his own way, and either circumvented by some of his own instruments, or drawn within the vortex of a sham plot, by some who were too cunning for this master in his profession. It seems there were certain people who had formed a design of fixing an imputation of a most scandalous nature upon the Duke of Buckingham, who was then at the head of a vigorous opposition against the Court, and who, notwithstanding he always courted and protected the fanatics, had not, in respect to his moral character, so fair a reputation as to render any charge of that kind incredible.
But whether this was conducted by Colonel Blood, whether a counter-plot was set on foot to defeat it and entrap Blood, or whether some whisper thrown out to alarm the Duke, which he suspected came from Blood, led his Grace to secure himself by a contrivance of the same stamp, better concerted, and more effectually executed, is uncertain ; but his Grace, who was formerly supposed a patron of the colonel, thought it requisite, for his own safety, to contribute to his ruin. The notion Blood induced the world to entertain of this affair may be discovered from the case which he caused to be printed of it; but it fell out that the Court of King's Bench viewed the affair in so different a light that he was convicted upon a criminal information for the conspiracy, and committed to the King's Bench prison; and, while in custody there, he was charged with an action of scandalum magnatum, at the suit of the Duke of Buckingham, in which the damages were laid at ten thousand pounds.
Notwithstanding this, Colonel Blood found bail, and was discharged from his imprisonment. He then retired to his house in the Bowling Alley, in Westminster, in order to take such measures as were requisite to free himself from these difficulties; but finding fewer friends than he expected, and meeting with other and more grievous disappointments, he was so much affected thereby as to fall into a distemper, that speedily threatened his life. He was attended in his sickness by a clergyman, who found him sensible, but reserved, declaring he was not at all afraid of death. In a few days he fell into a lethargy, and on Wednesday, 24th of August, 1680, he departed this life.
On the Friday following he was privately, but decently, in terred in the new chapel in Tothill Fields. Yet such was the notion entertained by the generality of the world of this man's subtlety and restless spirit, that they could neither be persuaded he would be quiet in his grave, nor would they permit him to remain so; for a story being spread that this dying, and being buried, was only a new trick of Colonel Blood's, preparatory to some more extraordinary exploit than any he had been concerned in, it became in a few days so current, and so many circumstances were added to render it credible, that the coroner thought fit to interpose, ordered the body to be taken up again on the Thursday following, and appointed a jury to sit upon it. By the various depositions of persons attending him in his last illness they were convinced, and the coroner caused him to be once more interred, and left in quiet.
Upon Blood's attempt to
steale the Crown
by Andrew Marvell
When daring Blood, his rents to have regain'd,
Upon the English Diadem distrain'd,
He chose the Cassock, surcingle, and Gown
(No mask so fit for one that robbs a Crown);
But his lay-pity underneath prevayl'd
And while he spar'd the Keeper's life, he fail'd.
With the Priests Vestments had he but put on
A Bishops cruelty, the Crown was gone.
An Elegie on Colonel Blood, notorious for stealing the Crown, etc. who died 26 (sic) Aug. 1680, printed in London, 1680, by JS, is in seventry-six lines of rhymed verse; it begins:
'Thanks, ye kind Fates, for your last favour shown.'
It is reprinted in volume vi of the Ballad Society's Roxburghe Ballads, and ends with the Epitaph:
Here lies the man who boldly hath run through
More villanies than ever England knew;
And ne're to any friend he had was true.
Here let him then by all unpitied lie,
And let's rejoice his time was come to die.
Other Blood Family Online References
Thomas Blood from County Clare
The Crown Jewels
Colonel Holcroft Blood - son of Colonel Thomas Blood
Colonel Holcroft Blood's Ordanance
The Ormonde Family Genealogy
Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, and the Blood family
Lady Charlotte E. Blood, wife of General Sir Bindon Blood
George Johnstone Stoney (1826-1911)
William Bindon Blood - noted civil engineer