The King, the Crown and the Colonel
After the execution of Charles I in 1649 many of the Crown Jewels were sold or destroyed. Oliver Cromwell ordered that the orb and sceptres should be broken as they stood for the ‘detestable rule of kings’. All the gemstones were removed and sold and the precious metal was used to make coins.
When the monarchy was restored in 1660, two new sceptres and an orb costing £12,185 were made for the coronation of Charles II in 1661. Can you spot any of these items in the picture above?
During the ceremony, the new King held the Sceptre with the Cross in his right hand and the Sceptre with the Dove in his left. The sceptre was a rod or staff which represents royal power and the dove refers to the Holy Spirit. The King was crowned with St Edward’s Crown. At some point the King also held the orb, a hollow golden sphere decorated with a band of jewels and a jewelled cross on top. The orb refers to the King’s role as protector of the church.
Charles II allowed the Crown Jewels to be shown to members of the public for a viewing fee paid to a custodian (keeper) who looked after the jewels in the Martin Tower at the Tower of London. In 1671 Thomas Blood was the first and only man who attempted to steal them.
After that, the Crown Jewels were kept under armed guard in a part of the Tower known as the Jewel House.
Read these sources to find out more about Thomas Blood’s life of crime and his dramatic attempt to steal the Crown Jewels.
Thomas Blood (c1618-1680) was a rebel, a republican (supporter of government without a king) and a master of disguise. His adventures had involved him dressing as a priest, a doctor of divinity and a Quaker. He took part in numerous plots.
Blood was called both ‘Captain’ and ‘Colonel’ at the time. After his attempt at stealing the Crown Jewels, Blood even acted as a spy for Sir Joseph Williamson, an important politician in Charles II ‘s government, and he often attended court.
Thomas Blood was born in Ireland. He fought in the Civil War on the side of Parliament and served as an officer in Cromwell’s army in Ireland. He was granted land in Ireland for his services.
After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Thomas Blood lost all his lands. He took his revenge when he tried to kidnap James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at Dublin castle in 1663. The plot was discovered and Blood fled to Holland.
In 1666 Blood fought on the side of the Scottish Covenanters at Rullion Green to resist changes in the law about the conduct of church services made by Charles II. He returned to England and, not long after, rescued his friend John Mason whilst on his way to trial at York under armed escort.
Thomas Blood made a second attempt to kidnap the Duke of Ormonde in London. The plan failed and Blood and his accomplices got away. It has been suggested that the Second Duke of Buckingham, George Villiers, was behind the plan.
In 1671, as part of his attempt to steal the Crown Jewels, Blood and his son had got friendly with the keeper. He even arranged a marriage between his ‘nephew’ and keeper Edward’s daughter. However, Blood and his son were caught and imprisoned in the Tower.
Several petitions were sent from Blood, his wife Mary and their son, to the Secretary of State, Lord Arlington. They claimed that their health was ‘much impaired by close confinement in the Tower’. King Charles II visited Blood in the Tower in private.
Father and son were pardoned and Blood was given a pension in August of that year. It is not clear why Thomas Blood was treated with such generosity. Perhaps it was a reward for previous services. The poet Andrew Marvell even wrote a poem at the time about Blood’s attempt to steal the Crown Jewels.
Blood’s body was dug up after he died in 1680 because of stories that he had faked his own death.
Key stage 3
The lesson considers the story of Thomas Blood and the questions encourage pupils to investigate the sources and try to work out how and why Thomas Blood tried to steal the Crown Jewels.
Pupils could use the sources as stimulus material for to a piece of creative writing on the story of Thomas Blood and the Crown Jewels.
Create a drama or role-play activity on Thomas Blood.
Pupils could use the following extract from John Evelyn’s Diary 1641-1706 as a stimulus to discussion as to why Thomas Blood was pardoned:
‘How he came to be pardoned, and even received into favour, not onely after this, but severall other exploits almost as daring both in Ireland and here, I could never come to understand. Some believed he became a spie of severall parties, being well with the Sectaries and Enthusiasts, and did his Majesties services that way, which none alive could do so well as he; but it was certainely as the boldest attempt, so the onely treason of this sort that was ever pardon’d. This man had not onely a daring but a villainous unmercifull looke, a false countenance, but very well spoken and dangerously insinuating.’
(Edited by William Bray, published 1819, p437)
Pupils could discuss the meaning of this poem by Andrew Marvell (1621-1681), written in August 1672, and compare this version of events with source 2.
Whilst valiant Blood, his rents to have regain’d
Upon the Royal Diadem distrain’d,
He chose the cassock, surcingle and gown,
The fittest mask for those who robb the Crown;
But his lay pity underneath prevailed,
And while he sav’d the Keeper’s life, he failed
With the Priests vestments had he but put on
A Bishop’s cruelty, the Crown was gone.
Andrew Marvell, Complete Poetry (London: JM Dent & Sons, Ltd, 1984)
distrain’d: to seize the property of (a person) in order to compel payment of debts
lay pity: brotherly love, compassion, fellow feeling, humanity, kindness, sorrow, sympathy
prevailed: to be in force, use, or effect; triumph
Royal Diadem: a crown worn as a sign of royalty
surcingle: the fastening belt on a clerical robe
vestments: a garment, especially a robe or gown worn a by priest
The Crown Jewels
Find out more about the British Crown Jewels