On the morning of May 9, 1671, Thomas “Colonel” Blood and a small group of associates enacted the final act of their long con to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Through some clever deception and the overpowering of a guard, the Irish "master of disguise" finally had his hands on the long-awaited prize. Flattening the imperial crown into a plate in order to best conceal, Blood was apprehended on his escape just as he had reached his horse. However, the most surprising bit, King Charles II's reaction, happened next:

Blood responded to his capture with characteristic bluster, defying his jailers and announcing that he would only answer to King Charles II himself. Surprisingly, the King agreed and had Blood brought before him for an audience. What followed was one of history’s most unusual interrogations. Little is known about what was actually said, but Blood supposedly confessed his crimes and gave the King a rambling account of his adventures. He even admitted that he once planned to snipe Charles with a musket while the king was bathing in a river. He lost his nerve, he claimed, after finding himself “in awe of His Majesty.” Asked what he would do if given his freedom, he replied only that he “would endeavor to deserve it.”

Blood’s crimes were serious enough to have earned him a traitor’s death, yet rather than condemning him, Charles II shocked the realm by issuing a full pardon and granting him land in Ireland worth 500 pounds a year. Just why the king would make such an extraordinary concession has long been debated. Many early accounts claimed Charles was simply amused by Blood’s brutish demeanor and fascinating life story, but the truth is likely far more complex. The Colonel had a history of cloak-and-dagger dealings, and he’s suspected of having worked as a hired agent for the Duke of Buckingham, one of the chief intriguers of Charles II’s court. With this in mind, it’s possible that the Tower heist was an inside job and that the Duke pulled some strings on his behalf. Some scholars even believe the cash-strapped Charles II was in on the scam and planned to pocket part of the loot and buy replacement regalia using public funds.

Head over to History to read more about the heist.