Theft of the Irish Crown Jewels

strangecasecrownjewelsThe Order of St. Patrick was created in 1783 by George III as a corresponding association to the English Order of the Garter.  The king was the head and Sovereign of the Order; and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was the Grand Master in the absence of the Sovereign.  At ceremonies the Sovereign or the Grand Master wore a jeweled insignia.  In 1831, William VI replaced the insignia with a more elaborate one.   394 stones were taken from English crown jewels and the Order of the Garter star.   Rumor had it Queen Charlotte donated the jewels because they belonged to her husband’s mistress, but no matter.

The Honours of St. Patrick consisted of two principal pieces–the star and the badge.  The Badge of St. Patrick was made of blue enamel with a green shamrock of emeralds.  The motto of the Order was spelled pink diamonds from Brazil of the first water.  The badge was completed by a cross of rubies.  The Star of St. Patrick consisted of Brazilian diamonds with eight star-points with a central shamrock made of emeralds and a cross of rubies in the centre on a background of blue enamel.  The set was rounded out by three collars and badges belonging to the Knights of St Patrick as well as two silver state maces, the Irish Sword of State, a jewelled sceptre and two massive silver spurs.

When the jewels were not being worn, they were in the custody of the Ulster King of Arms.  In 1903, the jewels were transferred to a safe, which was to be placed in the newly constructed strongroom in Dublin Castle beside the Ulster King of Arms’ office.  Unfortunately, the safe was too large to fit into the strongroom so if it was left in the Ulster King of Arms office.  Arthur Vicars was the Ulster King of Arms had both keys in his possession.  On July 6, 1907, a cleaning lady came into straighten up the office.  The door and safe were open and jewels were gone.

Apparently at that time, Dublin Castle was party central.  In fact, Vicars was found dead drunk with the insignia around his neck after one hard drinking gathering.  A crowd of “undesirables” were involved in these parties.  These include Captain Richard Gorges, sent home from the Boer War for molesting drummer boys, Francis Shackleton, a cash-poor swindler well-known for frequenting the wrong type of gentleman’s club. There was Lord Haddo, the party boy son of the then viceroy, the king’s official representative in Ireland, and Francis Bennett-Goldney, revealed as a master thief after his death.  Rumors went round during the investigations they were all involved in gay orgies.  Shackleton was rumored to be lover of the king’s brother-in-law.  This was not long after Oscars Wilde had been in a significant scandal after being called a sodomite by the Marquis of Queensbury.  The king was in a panic.  The investigation had to be stopped before any skeletons popped up.

Vicars took the fall.  He was not arrested, but lost his position.  All files were destroyed.  Shakelton and Gorges were asked to leave Ireland.  Vicars went to his grave protesting his innocence.  He was killed by the IRA in 1921.

Theories abound as to what happened to the jewels.  Some say Shakelton stole them and sold them to finance his explorer brother, Ernest’s, polar expedition.  Vicars smuggled it to his mistress.  Even that the IRA stole them and took them to the US.  In 1976, a file of the Irish government that was opened to the public for the first time contained the following intriguing memorandum, dated 1927:

‘The President would not like them [the jewels]to be used as a means of reviving the Order [of St. Patrick]or to pass into any hands other than those of the State . . . He understands that the Castle Jewels are for sale and that they could be got for £2,000 or £3,000. He would be prepared to recommend their purchase for the same reason.”

This leaves the possibility open they may still be out there