For some reason, the Washington Post has resurrected a ‘version’ of
Colonel Blood, the scoundrel who tried to steal Great Britain’s crown jewels
It does so, referring to an article in Ireland’s History magazine. About the only peg the Post can hang this one on is what happened at Strängnäs in Stockholm.
So far just the three, possibly four misrepresentations:
- Thomas Blood (1617/1618 to 1680) was no colonel (except in his own representation)
- He didn’t ‘try’ to steal Great Britain’s crown jewels: he did do the business.
- It’s not Ireland’s History magazine. It’s History Ireland. And the source turns out to be a book review from 2004.
- The Strängnäs theft involved ‘crown jewels’, not because they had any part in State ceremonials, but only in the sense that they were the property of the royal family —
part of the funeral regalia of King Charles XI and Christina the Elder, both buried in the 17th century at the Strangnas Cathedral. The jewels, officials said, would have been buried with the monarchs but were later removed and placed in a glass case for public viewing.
It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood
The History Ireland piece may not be more surely grounded than the WaPo one. It kicks off:
Thomas Blood was born in County Clare around 1618…
The DNB version (which comes with cited evidence) differs:
born at Sarney, co. Meath. His early life is obscure, but it was later claimed that his father (who was possibly Neptune Blood) was a blacksmith and ironworker, ‘serious, honest and of no inferior credit’.
In 1654-5 he asserted he was a ‘gentleman’ on grounds of owning 220 acres of land at Sarney. If we prefer to the Calendar of the State Papers, Relating to Ireland Preserved in the Public Record Office, page 133, we find Blood owning a small house at Dunboyne, with an income of £100 a year from his ‘ancient inheritance’. Anyone unclear of those two locations will find them cheek-by-jowl just off the M3.
There is evidence that Blood (or Blude) served under the Royalist Sir Lewis Dyve in the Civil War. When Blood was in the hottest water, he claimed service under Prince Rupert (who went character witness for him as a ‘very stout bold fellow’). Quite when and how, though, Blood seems to have switched sides — which might suggest he was somehow attached to General George Monck, who also swung both ways: that service would renew Blood’s Irish connection.
The change of allegiance was confirmed by marriage to the daughter of Lt-Col John Holcroft, a parliamentarian. Of the six children to this marriage, Holcroft Blood became the Duke of Marlborough’s general of artillery, and Charles Blood an informer for the Duke of York. The Blood family were back to County Meath between 1651 and 1660, loyal to parliament and the reformed church, receiving the commendation of lord deputy Henry Cromwell..
With the restoration of Charles II Stewart, Blood’s previous came back to haunt him — especially in the person of the incoming Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Ormond. When Ormond snatched some of Blood’s lands as part of the Restoration settlement, Blood sought revenge.
This led to the ‘Blood plot’ of May 1663, to seize Dublin Castle and the Lord Lieutenant. The plot was betrayed by a paid informant, Philip Alden. Blood urged the plotters to go ahead. Seven MPs were expelled from parliament for complicity, and an eighth, Col. Alexander Jephson, was hanged (15 July 1663 — see Prendergast, pp266-7) ). Blood was now ‘on the run’ with a price on his head.
He had a sequence of close escapes in the Irish countryside, in returning to visit his wife, in visiting his in-laws in Lancashire, in conspiring with unrepentant Cromwellians in London (where he also escaped the Plague and the Great Fire), in being around the Covenanters’ abortive Pentland Rising (November 1666).
Blood will out
Blood adopted a quieter life as a quack-doctor (‘Dr Aycliff’ and ‘Dr Allen’ — watch this second alias) in Shoreditch, with his wife and family. The eldest son, Thomas Blood was apprenticed to an apothecary (but was involved in his father’s later exploits, and took to highway robbery under the name ‘Hunt’).
Starting in 1667 Blood (the elder) began a history of extraordinary episodes:
- His plot-mate, Captain John Mason, was on his way, under guard, to trial and (almost certain) execution at York. At Darrington (where the low-on-fuel warning comes up, just after the last convenient filling-station on the A1) Blood led a rescue party. Five of the escort-guards were shot; Blood himself took a heavy flesh-wound — but was recognised.
- In 1670 ‘Dr Allen‘ (see above) and four others way-laid the duke of Ormond in his coach, heading home to Clarence House. It was alleged the aim was to whisk Ormond to Tyburn and string him up. Ormond may have been over sixty, but was no easy catch. He fought back. His assailants fired at him — missed — and left the scene in haste. A committee of the House of Lords had three of the attackers identified as Thomas Blood (alias Dr Allen, Aylett, Aylofe, or Aleck), Thomas Blood junior (alias Hunt), and Richard Halliwell (alias Holloway). Blood’s head-bounty was increased to £1000, and he took refuge in Holland (which would provide a good base for a potential double-agent).
- Six months later, Talbot Edwards, the deputy keeper of the Crown Jewels (making a few bob on the side), had a request to view from ‘Dr Ayliffe’ and his wife. The good doctor’s wife was taken ill, and Edwards had her taken to his private quarters to recover. In the process ‘Dr Ayliffe’ proposed a marriage between Edward’s daughter and his love-struck ‘nephew’ (none other than afore-noted Thomas Blood). Come wedding-day, ‘Dr Ayliffe’ brought with him his party: they included Captain Robert Perot (or ‘Perratt’ who would hang for his involvement in the Monmouth Rebellion), and Richard Halliwell (see above). ‘Dr Ayliffe’ suggested a viewing of the sparklers as part of the hospitality. Edwards agreed, and all progressed to the Martin Tower. There Edwards was grabbed, gagged with a convenient wooden plug, and told to stay stumm. He didn’t, was silenced with several blows to the head, and stabbed just enough to prove the willing.
By blood a king, in heart a clown (Tennyson)
The Crown jewels taken! What next?
There was a share out. Blood took the crown, Perot the orb, Thomas Blood tried to cut the sceptre in two.
Edwards’ son made an unexpected return from foreign parts (there are more coincidences here than a Dickens’ novel), found his wounded father, and raised the alarm. Blood was doing his runner, and went arse-over-tit, tripping over a cart-handle — and was arrested.
With all the prime suspects in choky, Thomas Blood Junior went for broke, and demanded a face-to-face with Charles II Stewart himself. Probably amazed by the presumption, his majesty agreed.
12 May 1671: the king and the thief met. Blood made a partial confession, edged with his usual inventions, and was asked:
— What you would do if your life were spared?
— I would endeavour to deserve it.
Blood went back to the Tower. His fate became entangled in the ‘declaration of indulgence’ (15 March 1672), intended to placate the non-conformists as a war with the Dutch loomed. A warrant for Blood’s release was delivered to the Tower by Henry Bennet (the Earl of Arlington and pander to royalty). Blood hastened to be seen, quaffing and swanning around Whitehall. A month later, Blood had a full pardon, his Irish lands restored, and a pension of £500 a year.
From face to foot, he was a man of Blood
It was the Popish Plot that did for Blood.
His tenuous (?) link with Buckingham came adrift when he was inveigled into the scheme of ever-upwardly-mobile Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby, to concoct a charge of sodomy against Buckingham. When the plot fell apart, all kinds of excrement hit the ventilator (there’s another post, Malcolm!). Blood and others were consigned to the Gatehouse prison.
Blood caught gaol fever. Despite being released, it was only to die. Which he did, 24 August 1680.
Even then the legend followed him. The authorities had to exhume his corpse from Tothill Fields to show he really had deceased.
A big mystery
Much of the latter part of Blood’s life makes more sense if he was some kind of double-agent. For more on that, see Alan Marshall, p. 130, which is also referenced in Nadine Akkerman, p. 103)
A small legacy
Blood gave all the tokens of being a ‘sincere protestant’, in the Cromwellian tradition. He was convinced that his ‘deliverances’ during the 1660s were divinely-inspired. He listed and recorded these in a note-book. That came into the possession of Samuel Pepys after Blood’s capture in 1671.