Thomas Blood attempted to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of
London on 9 May 1671, escaping with St Edward's crown and the
coronation regalia hidden in the breeches of his accomplices. When
he was arrested, he happily acknowledged that the outrage 'was a
gallant attempt that failed...but it was for a crown'. But Blood
was not just a daring thief attempting one of the greatest crimes
in English history: he had already been involved in an abortive
coup d'etat in his native Ireland, the attempted murder of the Duke
of Ormond outside Clarence House, and an attempted assassination of
Charles II while the king was swimming in the River Thames. Why was
Blood not immediately executed for treason? The plain truth is that
this brash adventurer was more useful to Charles alive than hanging
from the gallows. Smooth-talking and brimming with Irish charm and
wit, Blood became a spy for the king, eavesdropping on the whispers
and gossip within the feverish atmosphere of the court, while also
acting as a double agent for those conspiring to kill the king or
being employed by politicians to bring down their rivals. 'It's no
matter if one lets me fall,' Blood proclaimed, 'another takes me
up. I'm the best tool they have'. Robert Hutchinson grippingly
describes the hotbed of political intrigue and conspiracy
surrounding the 'Merry Monarch'.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
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