Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Up & Down Again British Crown Jewels by Katherine Pym

Crown Jewels
For some reason, to-be monarchs expect to be surrounded by gold, silver and jewels when crowned and when they attend state ceremonies. In the old days—really old like ancient times—it is said those who wore crowns were set a part. They were different than the everyday guy who walked the dusty paths of the planet.

The Up:
Over the years, the British crown jewels piled up, including gold thread, silver and gold plate, embedded with precious metals and stones. Their worth cannot be calculated. Well, I suppose it can but my sources won’t do it, and who am I to argue? I could easily say their worth is in the millions and millions or more.

British Imperial State Crown
The British Imperial State Crown is mounted with more than 3000 precious jewels. It must be very heavy after a few hours. Whoever wears this crown will have a sore neck and shoulders for several days afterward. 

Tower of London
The Maltese cross at the top of this crown has a great sapphire. Legend says it came from Edward the Confessor’s ring. It was removed from his finger after his death and before his coffin was sealed. The Stuart sapphire at the back of the crown may have come from Scotland in 1214.

The Down:
King Charles I had a hard time of it almost from the get-go. He married a Roman Catholic girl, which was hugely frowned upon. He allowed her to remain Catholic. He trussed up the Church of England to be more papist.

He annoyed a lot of people who wanted the church services less papist. They wanted music during services to cease, and they were tired of statues, gold and jewels shining from the altar, the stained glass windows.

The man in charge of the crown jewels at this time was Sir Henry Mildmay, a royalist who jumped over to the Parliamentary side soon after Charles I left London to fight in the civil wars. Two years into the fighting, Parliament ordered the royal plate be melted down. Some argued the plate was ancient, the decorations worth more than the plate, but they were shouted down.

Historical treasures of banqueting plate and coronets worth in today’s market of almost £388,000 were melted and minted. After the fighting was over, the king lost his head and most royalists fled or fell under the Commonwealth rule. It didn’t take long for Parliament to sell the king’s personal estate and the crown jewels.

Sir Henry Mildmay was summoned to make an inventory. Once a royalist who changed sides, now he was royalist again. He locked the Jewel House door and wouldn’t come out. It was a standoff of 6 weeks. Finally, Parliament grew frustrated and stormed the building. Henry Mildmay was flung into Fleet prison.

All the gold and silver was melted down and the jewels sold off. They had destroyed the holy relics of a monarchical system that had lasted for centuries.

Up Again:
When King Charles II returned from exile in 1660, Sir Henry Milmay was again summoned to the palace. He feared for his life and tried to run away but was caught. He was sentenced to be dragged through the streets each year on the anniversary of King Charles I’s death (end of January per the Julian calendar).

Nothing remained of the original crown jewels or coronation regalia. A local goldsmith was called in where, for a mere £1.6 (modern costs), he made duplicates of the old jewels.

After King Charles II’s coronation all the jewels and regalia were stored in the White Tower in the Tower of London. It was where William the Conqueror had stored his treasure but moved again after the great fire of 1666 to the Martin Tower.

Colonel Thomas Blood
Down Again:
The only successful person to steal the crown jewels was Colonel Blood (yes, a real name, and he wasn’t a pirate). Blood was an unhappy man who had done well under Cromwell. It annoyed him when his government failed and he lost all his lands in Ireland.

The way he did it was interesting:
In early 1671 Blood, disguised as an old, grizzly clergyman, went to view the crown jewels with his supposed ‘wife’. The caretaker and his family lived on the floor above. Happy to oblige, the caretaker showed them the jewels.

Suddenly the clergyman’s wife bent over, groaning of a terrible stomachache. The caretaker took the poor, sad lady to his apartments, where his wife took care of her. The next day, the old couple returned, this time with a pair of gloves for the caretaker’s wife, in thanks for her care of the old woman.

The couples became friends. The clergyman and his wife visited often. It gave Blood plenty of time to study the layout of the protected jewels.

While friends, Blood said he had a nephew who would be a perfect suitor for the caretaker’s daughter. They should meet. The caretaker and his wife agreed.

With other men waiting nearby, Blood and his ‘nephew’ arrived early at Martin’s Tower. While the caretaker’s wife and daughter were still getting ready, Blood asked if they could show the nephew the crown jewels.

Blood and the nephew surprised the caretaker, bound and gagged him; then Blood’s gang went to work. They removed selected items, stashed them in overly baggy clothes or beat them with mallet until they were flattened and easily hidden.

Unfortunately, they were caught when the caretaker’s son surprised them. The gang was overpowered and their robbery foiled.

King Charles II

Up Again:
Blood was taken into custody and housed in the Tower which was a dark place in the 17th century. When taken for interrogation, Blood refused to talk to anyone but the king. Everyone was surprised when he agreed. After quite a long discussion between Charles II and Blood, the king, humored by Blood’s daring, pardoned him and restored his lost lands in Ireland to him.

Many thanks to:
Harnrahan, David C. Colonel Blood, The man who Stole the Crown Jewels. Sutton Publishing, Ltd., UK, 2003
Tales from the Tower, Secrets and Stories from a Gory and Glorious Past. Think Books, London, 2006
Wikicommons, Public Domain


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