Colonel Thomas Blood, Anglo-Irish officer and self-styled colonel best known for his attempt to steal the Crown Jewels of England and Scotland from the Tower of London in 1671, dies at his home in Bowling Alley, Westminster on August 24, 1680. He is also known for his attempt to kidnap and, later, to kill, his enemy, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond.
Sources suggest that Blood is born in County Clare in 1618, the son of a successful land-owning blacksmith of English descent. He is partly raised at Sarney, near Dunboyne, County Meath. He receives his education in Lancashire, England. At the age of 20, he marries Maria Holcroft, the daughter of John Holcroft, a gentleman from Golborne, Lancashire, and returns to Ireland.
At the outbreak of the First English Civil War in 1642, Blood returns to England and initially takes up arms with the Royalist forces loyal to Charles I. As the conflict progresses he switches sides and becomes a lieutenant in Oliver Cromwell‘s Roundheads. Following the Restoration of King Charles II to the Crowns of the Three Kingdoms in 1660, Blood flees with his family to Ireland.
As part of the expression of discontent, Blood conspires 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 is foiled. Blood manages to escape to the United Dutch Provinces in the Low Country although a few of his collaborators are captured and executed.
In 1670, despite his status as a wanted man, Blood returns to England. On the night of December 6, 1670, he and his accomplices attack Ormonde while he travels St. James’s Street. Ormonde is dragged from his coach and taken on horseback along Piccadilly with the intention of hanging him at Tyburn. The gang pins a paper to Ormonde’s chest spelling out their reasons for his capture and murder. Ormonde succeeds in freeing himself and escapes. Due to the secrecy of the plot, Blood is not suspected of the crime.
Blood does not lie low for long, and within six months he makes his notorious attempt to steal the Crown Jewels. After weeks of deception, on May 9, 1671, he convinces Talbot Edwards, the newly appointed Master of the Jewel House, to show the jewels to him, his supposed nephew, and two of his friends while they wait for a dinner that Mrs. Edwards is providing. The jewel keeper’s apartment is in Martin Tower above a basement where the jewels are kept behind a metal grille. Reports suggest that Blood’s accomplices carried canes that concealed rapier blades, daggers, and pocket pistols. They enter the Jewel House, leaving one of the men to supposedly stand watch outside while the others joined Edwards and Blood. The door is closed and a cloak is thrown over Edwards, who is struck with a mallet, knocked to the floor, bound, gagged and stabbed to subdue him.
As Blood and his gang flee to their horses waiting at St. Catherine’s Gate, they fire on the warders who attempt to stop them, wounding one. As they run along the Tower wharf it is said they join the calls for alarm to confuse the guards until they are chased down by Captain Beckman, brother-in-law of the younger Edwards. Although Blood shoots at him, he misses and is captured before reaching the Iron Gate. The Jewels are recovered although several stones are missing and others are loose.
Following his capture, Blood refuses to answer to anyone but the King and is consequently taken to the palace in chains, where he is questioned by King Charles, Prince Rupert and others. To the disgust of Ormonde, Blood is not only pardoned but also given land in Ireland worth £500 a year. The reasons for the King’s pardon are unknown although speculation abounds.
In 1679 Blood falls into dispute with the Duke of Buckingham, his former patron, and Buckingham sues him for £10,000, for insulting remarks Blood had made about his character. In the proceedings that follow, Blood is convicted by the King’s Bench in 1680 and granted bail, although he never pays the damages.
Blood is released from prison in July 1680 but falls into a coma by August 22. He dies on August 24 at his home in Bowling Alley, Westminster. His body is buried in the churchyard of St. Margaret’s Church (now Christchurch Gardens) near St. James’s Park. It is believed that his body was exhumed by the authorities for confirmation as, such was his reputation for trickery, it is suspected he might have faked his death and funeral to avoid paying his debt to Buckingham.