The British crown of state is regarded as one of the empire’s most precious treasures. However, the dazzling symbol of power came close to being stolen. The story of the unbelievable robbery still stirs up great emotions today. The strangest thing is that it was not done for money – it was supposed to be a kind of political revenge!
In the second half of the 17th century, the precious crown, sceptre and royal apple were placed in the famous Tower fortress, in the cellars under St. Martin’s Tower. The security of the valuables was the responsibility of one man, who lived with his family on the upper floors of the vault. The man’s name was Talbot Edwards.
His job was to open and close the doors daily for visitors who wanted to see the royal insignia for themselves. A thick metal grating separated the treasures from the onlookers, but at the same time did not obstruct the view. What’s more, you could put your hand through it and touch the exhibits.
The rules of visiting the “museum” did not prohibit this at all – such practices were not discontinued until 1815, when a visitor damaged the crown.
One April day in 1671, Edwards heard a cry for help. He went out into the street, and there he saw a mortally terrified elderly Anglican clergyman standing bent over a middle-aged woman.
Her face was contorted with a grimace of pain. The merciful caretaker immediately brought the sufferer water, helped her up, and then led her to his apartment in the tower. There she gradually recovered. Her companion, meanwhile, introduced himself to Talbot as Thomas Blood, and immediately melted into thanks for the help given to his fainting spouse. Then the couple moved away.
The next day the priest appeared again, this time with a gift for Mrs. Edwards. He handed her several pairs of elegant French gloves, which I’m sure cost quite a bit. At first the Edwards did not want to accept them, but Blood insisted. As a result, the gift was accepted and the family soon became friends.
The clergyman visited St. Martin’s Tower more and more often and the Edwards were delighted with him. And when their daughter Lucy met his nephew, a rich, attractive young man, they began to treat Blood as a member of the family. In fact, there were reasons for this: the bachelor quickly proposed to Lucy and was accepted.
In May, on the day of the engagement, Thomas Blood noticed two pistols hanging on the wall in Talbot’s apartment. The clergyman learned from the caretaker that they were the sole armament of St. Martin’s tower.
The guns clearly caught the priest’s eye, so he convinced Talbot to sell them for £10. The money could have bought three brand new guns, which Edwards intended to do the very next day.
The robbery of the century
On the evening of May 8, the Edwards were in a great mood: after all, it’s not every day that you manage to provide your beloved daughter with a happy life! The parents of the future bride believed that it was God himself who sent them Thomas Blood. Speak of the devil! The clergyman had just knocked on the door, apologized to the caretaker for visiting at a late hour, and explained why he had come.
It turned out that two of Blood’s good friends, who happened to be in London at the time, were very anxious to see the royal insignia. They had originally planned to take more time for the tour, but something came up. They received an important letter and had to return home immediately. So before leaving they want to look at the crown, the sceptre and the royal apple for a while.
Perhaps Edwards will be so kind as to let the unexpected guests into the vault outside working hours? For example, early in the morning? Talbot felt an inner opposition, because he believed that the rules applied to everyone equally and should not be violated. On the other hand, he really wanted to do a favor for his future relative. Eventually he agreed to open the door to the vault.
At 7 o’clock in the morning he let Thomas Blood and his friends into St. Martin’s tower, waved his hand to his future son-in-law who was waiting by the carriage, turned his back on all the honourable company and was about to lead the guests to the cellars when suddenly he felt a powerful blow on his head.
When the janitor lost consciousness, the clergyman took the keys to the vault from him, bound him, and then gagged him. The jewel lovers opened the metal grating together. They tried to put the royal insignia into a specially prepared leather bag. Unfortunately, they chose the wrong package – only the royal apple fit in it. There was no more room for the crown and the scepter. Then Blood flattened the crown with a staff, and his accomplices sawed the scepter into two parts.
Life is completely unpredictable. Coincidences happen in it that no author of a novel would invent. For in the meantime. Fate would have it that early on the morning of May 9, Edwards’ son Wythe returned home from Flanders after nearly ten years of military service.
He showed up without warning, causing an outburst of joy among the female part of the family. His mother literally flooded with tears of happiness. She told him that his father had gone to the cellars to show the royal insignia to his good friends. The son ran downstairs. On the stairs he encountered a clergyman, accompanied by two men, making his way quickly toward the exit.
Concerned, he went below where he saw his bound father lying on the floor. He freed him, then set off in pursuit of the thieves, shouting loudly: – Treason! They have stolen the crown!
The Tower of London fortress, as an important strategic facility within the city, was well guarded. That is why guards immediately appeared in response to the officer’s screams. However, Thomas Blood turned out to be not only a bold thief but also an excellent marksman.
Before he was captured by the commander of the vault guard, the assailant managed to shoot three soldiers. Only the “nephew” of the false clergyman managed to escape the pursuit, and his further fate is unknown. Thomas Blood and his accomplices were imprisoned in the Tower Prison. Londoners expected the men to leave solitary confinement only after they had been led to the gallows – for no one doubted that the robbers would be executed. Clever citizens began to rent rooms in advance in buildings whose windows overlooked the square where the death sentences were usually carried out. However, the course of events was completely different than expected.
I will speak only to the King
It turned out that Thomas Blood at one time fought on the side of a fierce opponent of the Stuart monarchy – Cromwell. For his services he received the rank of an officer and a beautiful estate in Ireland. Unfortunately, he lost it all when King Charles II returned to the throne in 1660. Blood held a grudge for years, but he believed that the day would come when he would get even with the Stuarts.
He had to wait as long as 11 years for the right moment. During that time, the former Cromwell supporter tried his hand at cattle breeding and medicine. He also took part in several uprisings against the monarchy. There was even a bounty on his head of £1,000, a colossal sum for the time!
So Blood went into hiding for a time, claiming to be Dr. Allan of Essex County. Then he had the idea of stealing the insignia of the hated dynasty and transformed himself into an Anglican clergyman. When Blood was put in jail, he refused to answer any questions. He said he would only talk to the king.
But what did the man himself say? Charles II, known as the “merry monarch,” came up with a bold idea. He ordered that the rebel and the thief be brought to the royal residence in Whitehall. The details of the conversation between the daring criminal and the English king are not known. However, after its conclusion, Charles II not only pardoned Blood, but also returned to him all the estates in Ireland and assigned him a pension of 500 pounds.
As for the deformed royal insignia, court jewelers restored them to their former beauty, then placed them again in the cellars under St. Martin’s tower, where they remained until 1841. Then the great fire that consumed the Tower of London forced their “relocation.”