Thomas Blood

Thomas Blood
Thomas Blood

Colonel Thomas Blood (1618 – 24 August 1680) was an Irish colonel best known for attempting to steal the Crown Jewels of England from the Tower of London in 1671. Described as a "noted bravo and desperado",[1] he was also implicated in one attempted kidnapping and one attempted murder of the Duke of Ormonde, had switched allegiances from Royalist to Roundhead during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, and later, despite his notorious reputation, found favour at the court of King Charles II.


Early life

Blood was born in County Clare,[2] the son of a successful blacksmith and raised in County Meath in Ireland. His family was respectable and his grandfather a member of Parliament and resident at Kilnaboy Castle.[3] He was educated in England. At age 20, he married Maria Holcroft, the daughter of John Holcroft a Lancashire gentleman from Golborne, and returned to Ireland.[4]

At the outbreak of the First English Civil War in 1642, Blood returned to England and initially took up arms with the Royalist forces loyal to Charles I. However, as the conflict progressed he switched sides and became a lieutenant in Oliver Cromwell's Roundheads.[3] In 1653 at the cessation of hostilities Cromwell awarded Blood land grants as payment for his service and appointed him a justice of the peace. Following the Restoration (when Charles II returned to the throne) in 1660, Blood fled with his family to Ireland.[3][4] The Act of Settlement 1662 (which sought to revert the Cromwellian Act of Settlement 1652) affected Blood's finances and drove him to unite fellow supporters of Cromwell in Ireland and stir up an insurrection.[4]

Irish discontent

As part of the expression of discontent, Blood conspired to storm Dublin Castle, usurp the government, and kidnap James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for ransom. On the eve of the attempt the plot was foiled. Blood managed to evade the authorities by hiding with his countrymen in the mountains and ultimately escaped to the Netherlands. A number of Blood's collaborators were captured and subsequently executed. As a result, some historians state that Blood swore vengeance against the Duke.[4]

While in the Netherlands, Blood is said to have gained the favour of Admiral Ruyter (an opponent of England during the Anglo-Dutch Wars), and was implicated in the Scottish Covenanters Pentland Rising of 1666.[4] At some point during this period Blood became the client of the wealthy George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, who 19th-century commentators believed used Blood as a means to punish his own political and social adversaries, since his own class ranking did not allow him to meet them "in the field".[1]

In 1670, despite his status as a wanted man, Blood returned to England and is believed to have taken the name Ayloffe and practised as a doctor or an apothecary in Romford Market, east of London.[3] A second attempt, this time on the life of the Duke of Ormonde, followed.

Since the duke's return to England, he had taken up residence at Clarendon House.[5] Blood had followed Ormonde's movements and noted that he frequently returned late in the evening accompanied by a small number of footmen. On the night of 6 December 1670, Ormonde was attacked by Blood and his accomplices while driving up St James's Street. The duke was dragged from his coach, bound to one of Blood's henchmen, and taken on horseback along Piccadilly with the intention of hanging him at Tyburn. The gang also pinned a paper to the duke's chest spelling out their reasons for his capture and execution.[4][5] Ormonde, however, together with one of his servants who had given chase on horseback, succeeded in freeing himself and escaped. The plot's secrecy meant that Blood was not suspected of the crime, despite a reward being offered for the capture of the attempted assassins. In the aftermath Ormonde's son, Thomas Butler, in the king's presence, accused the Duke of Buckingham of being behind the crime. Butler threatened to shoot Buckingham dead in the event of Ormonde's meeting with a violent end.[1]

Theft of the Crown Jewels

Blood did not lie low for long, and in 1671 he made his infamous attempt to steal the Crown Jewels. In April or May of that same year, he visited the Tower of London, dressed as a parson and accompanied by a female companion pretending to be his wife. During this time the Crown Jewels could be viewed on a visit to the Tower by the payment of a fee to the custodian. While viewing the Crown Jewels, Blood's "wife" feigned a stomach complaint and begged the newly appointed Master of the Jewel House, 77-year-old Talbot Edwards, to fetch her some spirits.[3][4][5] Given the proximity of the jewel keeper's domestic quarters to the site of the commotion, Edwards' wife invited them upstairs to their apartment to recover, after which Blood and his wife thanked the Edwardses and left.[4][5]

Over the following days Blood returned to the Tower to visit the Edwardses and presented Mrs. Edwards with four pairs of white gloves as a gesture of thanks. As Blood became ingratiated with the family, an offer was made for a fictitious nephew of Blood's to marry the Edwardses' daughter, whom Blood alleged would be eligible, by virtue of the marriage, to an income of several hundred pounds.[4][5]

On 9 May 1671, in furtherance of the deception, Blood convinced Edwards to show the jewels to him, his supposed nephew, and two of his friends while they waited for a dinner which Mrs. Edwards was to put on for Blood and his companions. At the time of the plot the jewel keeper's apartment was located in Martin Tower above a basement where the jewels themselves were kept behind a metal grille. Reports suggest that Blood's accomplices carried canes that concealed rapier blades, as well as daggers and pocket pistols. In entering the Jewel House, one of the men made a pretence of standing watch outside while the others joined Edwards and Blood. The door was then closed and a cloak thrown over Edwards, who was then struck with a mallet, knocked to the floor, bound, gagged, and stabbed to subdue him.[4][5]

After removing the metal grille, Blood used the mallet to flatten out St. Edward's Crown so that he could hide it beneath his clerical coat. Another conspirator, Blood's brother-in-law Hunt, filed the Sceptre with the Cross in two (as it did not fit in their bag), while the third man Parrot stuffed the Sovereign's Orb down his trousers. Meanwhile Edwards refused to stay subdued and fought against his bindings. Accounts vary as to whether Edward's struggle caused sufficient disturbance to raise the alarm or whether the attempt was foiled in more fortuitous circumstances.[1]

Popular reports describe Edwards' son, Wythe, returning from military service in Flanders and happening upon the attempted theft.[4][5] At the door of the Jewel House, Wythe was met by the impromptu guard who challenged him before the young Edwards entered and went upstairs. The "guard" then alerted his fellow gang members. Around the same time the elder Edwards managed to free the gag and raised the alarm shouting, "Treason! Murder! The crown is stolen!"

As Blood and his gang fled to their horses waiting at St. Catherine's Gate, they dropped the sceptre and fired on the warders who attempted to stop them, wounding one.[6] One drawbridge guard was struck with fear and failed to discharge his musket. As they ran along the Tower wharf it is said they joined the calls for alarm to confuse the guards until they were chased down by a Captain Beckman, a brother-in-law of the younger Edwards. Although Blood shot at him, he missed and was captured before reaching the Iron Gate. Having fallen from his cloak, the crown was found while Blood refused to give up, struggling with his captors and declaring, "It was a gallant attempt, however unsuccessful! It was for a crown!"[4][5] The globe and orb were recovered although several stones were missing and others were loose. Hunt and Perrot were also taken-but not punished.[6]

Following his capture Blood refused to answer to anyone but the king and was consequently taken to the palace, bound in chains, where he was questioned by King Charles, Prince Rupert, the Duke of York, and other members of the royal family. The King asked Blood, "What if I should give you your life?" and Blood replied humbly, "I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire!"[3]

To the disgust of Lord Ormonde, Blood was not only pardoned, but also given land in Ireland worth £500 a year.[7] The reasons for the king's pardon are unknown. Some historians have speculated that the king may have feared an uprising in revenge by followers of Blood, who were thought to have taken an oath to their leader.[5] Others speculate that the king had a fondness for audacious scoundrels such as Blood, and that he was amused by the Irishman's claim that the jewels were worth only £6,000 as opposed to the £100,000 at which the Crown had valued them.[3]

There is also a suggestion that the king was flattered and amused by Blood's revelation that he had previously intended to kill the king while Charles was bathing in the Thames but had been swayed otherwise, having found himself in "awe of majesty".[4] It has also been suggested that his actions may have had the connivance of the king himself, because the king was very short of money at the time.[8]


Following his pardon Blood became a familiar figure around London and made frequent appearances at Court, where he was employed to advocate in the claims of suitors to the Crown. In John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester's History of Insipids he wrote of Blood:

Blood, that wears treason in his face,
Villain complete in parson's gown,
How much he is at court in grace
For stealing Ormond and the crown!
Since loyalty does no man good,
Let's steal the King, and outdo Blood!

In 1679 Blood fell into dispute with his former patron the Duke of Buckingham, and Villiers demanded £10,000 for some insulting remarks Blood had made about his character. In the court proceedings for defamation which followed, Blood was convicted by the King's Bench in 1680 and granted bail—although the Irishman never paid the damages.[3]


Blood fell ill in 1680. He was not released from prison until July 1680 and fell into a coma by 22 August.[9] He died on August 24 at his home in Bowling Alley, Westminster. His body was buried in the churchyard of St. Margaret's Church (now Christchurch Gardens) near St. James's Park. It is believed that Blood's body was exhumed by the authorities for confirmation—such was his reputation for trickery, it was suspected he might have faked his own death and funeral in order to avoid paying his debt to the Duke of Buckingham.[10] Blood's epitaph read:

Here lies the man who boldly hath run through
More villainies than England ever knew;
And ne'er 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.

Assuming his body was exhumed, Blood's grave is now alleged to be located in the graveyard of Saint Andrew's church in Hornchurch. Located next to the church building nearest the main road, is an unmarked grave, apart from a now faded skull and cross bones.


Blood's son Holcroft Blood became a distinguished military engineer and commanded the Duke of Marlborough's artillery at the Battle of Blenheim. A number of his descendants, including Bindon Blood, Maurice Petherick, and Brian Inglis, also went on to have distinguished careers in British and Irish society.


See also


  1. ^ a b c d The New American Cyclopaedia: A popular dictionary of general knowledge, Volume 3, George Ripley, Charles A. Dana, 1859 (D Appleton & Company) pages 372 to 373
  2. ^ Clare County Library: Colonel Thomas Blood
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h The Theft of the Crown Jewels,, E.P.C (2008)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m London by Charles Knight, London 1851 (H.G. Bohn) pages 230-232
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Portraits Memoirs and Characters of Remarkable Persons from the reign of Edward III to the Revolution, by James Caulfield, Volume II, London, (1813) R.S Kirby pages 177-181
  6. ^ a b Old and New London: A Narrative of its History, its People and its Places by Walter Thornbury and Edward Walford, Cassell & Co. Limited (1881)
  7. ^ In contrast Edwards' family was awarded less than £300 by the King, a sum which was never paid in full, and he returned to his duties at the Tower regaling visitors with his tales of the attempted theft. He died in 1674 and his tomb rests in the chapel of St Peter's Ad Vincula, at the Tower of London.
  8. ^ Churchill, Winston. My Early Life: A Roving Commission, 1930
  9. ^ Marshall, Alan (2002). Intelligence and espionage in the reign of Charles II, 1660-1685 (1st pbk. ed. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 223. ISBN 0521521270. 
  10. ^ "Short biography of Thomas Blood at Christchurch Gardens". Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  11. ^ 2000 AD #1645 (July 2009)

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