Martin-Tower

London has been making headlines around the world recently thanks, in part, to the estimated £200 million  heist which took place in Hatton Garden last week. So we thought it was a good time to take a look back to one of London’s most famous robberies (or attempts at least)…

The attempt dates back to 1671 when a self-styled colonel, Irish adventurer Thomas Blood, made an attempt to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

The Irishman – whose history included fighting on both sides in the English Civil War, first with the Royalists and then with the Parliamentarians when he saw the tide was turning – visited the Tower of London several times in the lead-up to the attempt as he, disguised as a parson, cultivated a relationship with Talbot Edwards, an elderly keeper of the jewels, and his family.

On the night of 9th May, he and a group of accomplices, including his son, attended a dinner put on by the Edwards at the Tower. While waiting for the meal, Blood asked to see the jewels which were housed behind a grille in the basement of the Martin Tower (pictured above) above which the Edwards had an apartment.

Edwards complied and once in the Jewel House, Blood and his accomplices attacked him, knocking him to the floor with a mallet and then stabbing him before binding and gagging him.

They then turned their attention to the jewels – Blood used a mallet to flatten St Edwards Crown so he could hide it beneath his coat while his brother-in-law Hunt filed the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross in two to fit it in his bag and a third man, Robert Perot, stuffed the Sovereign’s Orb down his trousers.

Things didn’t go smoothly after that and the alarm was raised before the gang could make their getaway. It has been suggested it was Edwards who raised the alarm – that despite efforts to shut him up he managed to remove his gag and raise the alarm  – but other versions say it was his son, returning from service in Flanders, who raised the alarm on seeing the gang.

In any event, the gang fled, evading efforts of the warders to stop them, before Blood, Hunt and Perot were captured on the Tower of London wharf. The crown, globe and orb were all recovered, albeit damaged.

Blood refused to speak after his capture and was eventually taken before King Charles II for interrogation. But he was evidently so impressed with his captive that he not only pardoned Blood but also rewarded him with land in Ireland.

Blood did later end up briefly in prison after a dispute with the Duke of Buckingham and died soon after his release in August, 1680, but in the intervening years he had become something of a celebrity around London including the Royal Court.

Security around the Crown Jewels, meanwhile, was upgraded somewhat in the wake of the attempt. While others have tried to steal them, none have ever been successful.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station is Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Saturday and Monday (last admission 5pm); COST: £24.50 an adult/£11 a child (5-15 years)/£18.70 concession/£60.70 a family of four (discount applies to online bookings); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.

Advertisements

No series on the treasures of London would be complete without a mention of the Crown Jewels, housed – except when being used – under tight security in the same place they’ve been since the early 1300s – the Tower of London.

The jewels, which are described as a ‘working collection’, include the coronation regalia and feature some 23,578 gems  – the Imperial State Crown alone boasts 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and five rubies.

The regalia itself is made up of the crowns of the sovereigns, consorts and Princes of Wales as well as sceptres, orbs, rings, swords, spurs, bracelets, robes, and the oldest piece, a 12th century anointing spoon.

It and three steel coronation swords are the only pieces to survive the destruction of all the pre-Civil War regalia in 1649-50, carried out at the behest of Oliver Cromwell following the execution of King Charles I (many of the earlier crown jewels, dating from the Anglo-Saxon period, had already been replaced in the early 13th century after items were lost while being taken across The Wash during the reign of King John in 1216).

Following Cromwell’s destruction, new regalia was made on the orders of King Charles II. Modelled on that of his father, it was used in the king’s coronation on 23rd April, 1661, and cost more than £12,000.

Today, St Edward’s Crown – with which the sovereign is crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury – is the principal piece of the regalia. Other items include the Sovereign’s Sceptre, topped with 530 carat First Star of Africa – the largest flawless cut diamond in the world, Queen Victoria’s small diamond crown, and the Imperial Crown of India. There is also a crown made for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, for her 1937 coronation which features the famous Koh-i-Nur (‘Mountain of Light’) diamond.

Until 1303, the Crown Jewels had been housed at Westminster Abbey. Following a successful robbery that year, however (after which most items were recovered), they were moved to the Tower.

The most famous attempt to steal the Crown Jewels was made by an Irishman, Colonel Thomas Blood, in 1671. He and his gang had arranged to see the jewels (this could be done for a fee) but when they arrived, used a mallet to knock out the jewel keeper before stabbing him.

Colonel Blood had hidden King Charles II’s crown under his cloak, squashing its arches of in the process, while his companion Robert Perot had stuck the coronation orb down his breeches and Blood’s son was in the process of sawing the sceptre in half when the keeper’s son returned unexpectedly and raised the alarm.

Arrested, Blood got off rather lightly – King Charles II decided, apparently for some unknown reason, to pardon him. Security around the jewels, however, was tightened – iron bars were used instead of wooden ones and people were thenceforth forbidden from handling the jewels.

The Crown Jewels are now housed in the Jewel House at the Tower, built in 1967 in the west wing of the Waterloo Barracks, and guarded by the Yeomen Warders.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday (until 28th February); COST: £18.70 adults; £10.45 children under 15; £15.95 concessions; £51.70 for a family (prices, which include a voluntary donation, are valid until 28th February); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/. For more on the Crown Jewels, see www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchUK/Symbols/TheCrownJewels.aspx or the Royal Collection website, http://bit.ly/i9FM3