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 iron-works, and to have acquired an easy fortune in that kingdom. He was born about the year 1628, and came to England while a young man, and married, in Lancashire, the daughter of Mr Holcraft, a gentleman of good character in that county. 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, though scarcely twenty-two years of age. 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 the Duke of Ormond, 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, on the very eve of its execution the whole conspiracy, which had been long suspected, was discovered, His brother-in-law, one Lackie, a minister, was, with many others, apprehended, tried, convicted, and executed; but Blood made his escape, and kept out of reach, not withstanding the Duke of Ormond 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 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. He went from thence to England with such recommendations to the Fifth-Monarchy Men, and other malcontents, that he was immediately admitted into all their councils, 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 about 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 of his friend Captain Mason from a guard of soldiers who were conducting him to his trial at the assizes.
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 Ormond, 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, and was very near completing his purpose. However, the Duke was fortunately rescued out of his hands; 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. 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, 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 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 Desborough, Kelfy and Perrot.] Accordingly two of them came, accompanied by the doctor, about eight in the morning, and the third 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.
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. 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 Perrot, 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, Perrot 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 Ormond, 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, 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, interred 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.