The road to the War of the Two Kings is a long and complicated one, with issues of pertinence on both sides of the Irish Sea. But there are a couple of unrelated incidents of note in Ireland, with relation to military history, worth discussing in the intervening time as well. The first, and the one that I will be talking about today, concerns one of the Restoration ages most infamous figures, and one of its most mysterious. It’s a short entry, but still worth exploring.
Thomas Blood was of the gentry in Ireland in the 17th century, and had a very unremarkable upbringing. He was the son of a land owning Protestant, probably born in County Clare around 1618. His family owned land throughout Ireland, but especially in Meath and Wicklow. Blood was educated partly in England, married, raised a family, and looked set for an altogether unremarkable life.
The Eleven Year Wars in Ireland and the Civil Wars in England changed all of that, as it did for so many of Blood’s contemporaries as well. When the call to arms came from Charles I, Blood enthusiastically travelled to England to answer it. He fought for the Royalist cause for a few years, but at some point and for vaguely remembered reasons, defected to the Parliamentarian faction and fought under Oliver Cromwell in the New Model Army. Blood was not alone in such an act, and there are many possible explanations, not least that he simply recognised the winning side when he saw it.
Blood received land and position in Ireland from Cromwell at the conclusion of the wars, and seemed well set-up for the next few years. But the restoration undermined all of this, and Blood suffered at the hands of the returning Charles II, whose 1662 Act of Settlement ended up leaving Blood near financial ruin, as property and land he had won from the Parliamentarians was confiscated from him.
In the face of this perceived persecution, Blood decided to commit an extreme act. He had no love for James Butler, the recently returned Earl of Ormonde, who was back in his previous position as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland on the order of Charles II, and saw an opportunity to redress the wrongs done to him through the leader of the King’s administration in Ireland.
Blood formed a plot with other disaffected former Parliamentarians, the main crux of which was to be a sudden attack on Dublin Castle, the centre of royal government in Ireland. The castle was to be seized and Ormonde was to be captured. It is possible that risings in different parts of the country, not unlike the 1641 rebellion I suppose, were also planned, but Blood apparently never had the means of doing this, and may not even have been the main leader of the conspiracy that has since borne his name. Whatever the methods of the plot, its success was dubious from the start, and we can infer some instability or presumptuous on Blood’s part for even attempting to follow through on it.
Ormonde was no fool when it came to matters like this, and in a land at peace his intelligence operations were of a much better level than they had been during the wars. He was well forewarned by spies and informers of the plans being hatched against him, and at first did not take them very seriously. But when he received word that Blood and his confederates were prepared to act very soon, Ormonde had enough.
The conspirators were hunted down and arrested, with several of them ending up on an executioners block because of their attempted act. Blood was not among them. He managed to evade arrest and fled north, surviving with the help of some friends in the rural regions before managing to get out of Ireland entirely, going into what was essentially an exile in the Low Countries, having been declared at outlaw by Ormonde. Blood carried an even greater enmity towards Ormonde than he had before because of the whole business, and some speculate this enmity drove Blood on to some of his later acts (just a moment).
Blood’s plot is a bizarre little entry in the annals of Irish military history, and part of me only places it here out of a desire to record it for greater posterity. It was a ramshackle and altogether humdrum affair, with dubious means, motives and a terrible execution. In the aftermath of the Restoration, Ormonde power and position were all but unassailable (they wouldn’t be for long) and an attempt at kidnapping seems strange to modern eyes. But the incident does serve to show that the aftermath of the Restoration was not an entirely peaceful time in Ireland, and that the land was still full of disaffected elements, not all of which were Catholics with a grudge.
Blood would go on to have a career filled with even greater notoriety. He was implicated as being involved in a brief Scottish Covenanter rebellion – the Pentland Rising – in 1666. In 1670 he travelled and set up shop in London, despite his outlawed status, and attempted to assassinate Ormonde shortly afterward, in an extraordinary operation that involved the ambushing of the (then) Duke’s carriage in the streets of the city and an attempt to lynch him at Tyburn like a common criminal. Ormonde escaped and survived, and Blood evaded prosecution yet again. The following year, the most famous deed of his life was undertaken, as he and a group of others attempted to steal the Crown Jewels of England. They nearly got away with the jewels, an epic story in itself, but Blood was captured this time.
Extraordinary, Charles II became taken with Blood, and essentially pardoned him before, to the disgust of Ormonde, giving him a position at court as well as titles to land in Ireland. Charles II is purported to have had a certain fascination with the “scoundrel” type, and could be easily swayed to offer leniency and even favour to the kind of man that Blood was. Blood would eventually wind up in prison, but this was not due to any active criminal act on his part, but because of his inability to pay the awarded damages in a defamation lawsuit. He died in 1680, just a short while after his release from prison.
His is just a small part of Ireland’s military history. But there is more to tell before the next great conflict.
To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.