The Crown Jewels display at the Tower of London contains over 23,000 gems among the crowns, scepters, rings and orbs in the collection. The world’s two largest diamonds, the Cullinan I and Cullinan II are included in the display. The former weighs more than 530 carats and is mounted on the royal Scepter; the latter decorates the front of the Imperial State Crown. With all this tempting wealth around, it comes as a surprise that there has only been one major attempt to steal the Crown Jewels.
In 1671, an Irishman named Colonel Blood came up with a plan. Although Blood came from a respectable family, his grandfather was a Member of Parliament; he became embroiled in a series of incidents including attempting to kidnap two Dukes. During the English Civil War, he originally fought on the side of the King, but switched his allegiance to Oliver Cromwell, who awarded him land and made him a justice of the peace. When the King was returned to the throne, he lost his land grants and had to flee England.
Embittered Blood came back to England under an assumed name and hatched a plot to get his hands on the Crown Jewels. The Colonel, disguised as a parson, became friendly with Talbot Edwards, The Keeper of the Jewels. At the time the jewels were kept in a basement at the Tower and Edwards was allowed to show visitors the jewels for a free to supplement his wages. One day the ‘Parson’ arrived with his nephew, whom he hinted was a wealthy landowner and a good match for Edward’s daughter, and two other men. They expressed a desire to see the jewels. Edwards led the way downstairs and Blood knocked him unconscious and stabbed him. As Blood and his men were gathering the crown, scepter and jewels accounts vary that Edwards regained consciousness and shouted for help, or that his son returned and raised the alarm. However it came to pass, the would-be robbers were arrested at the gate. Colonel Blood counted on his Irish charm and King Charles’s fondness for bold adventurers to save him, and indeed Blood was not only pardoned, but given back his confiscated Irish lands.
After the incident, security was tightened and visitors were no longer allowed to touch the Crown Jewels. Today visitors step onto moving walkways which move people past the well-lit display cases, which are made of two-inch thick shatter-proof glass. And lest anyone get ideas from the story of Colonel Blood, the Beefeaters, highly trained former military men, mount sentries throughout the tower complex – every street and path is guarded 24 hours a day by the British Army and the exact technology used to guard the collection has never been advertised!