I WONDER how many people would know or even thought that we had Crown Jewels? Well, we had, until they were stolen. But before we look at their disappearance, perhaps we should look at how we happened to have them at all.
Here we have to find out a little about the Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick. This order was created by King George III in 1783 to reward those in high office and Irish peers, otherwise known as Knight’s Companions, on whose support whatever government was in power depended. Initially, this order consisted of 15 members, increasing to 22 in 1883. Their attire was a mantle of sky-blue satin with the star of the order embroidered in silver on the right breast.
The order became more or less dormant with the creation of the state in 1921. The order would still technically exist but only three members all from the royal family would be appointed after independence, while no knight has been created since 1936, with the last existing member – Prince Henry of Glouster – dying in 1974. Queen Elizabeth would still be sovereign of the order. St Patrick is the patron and the motto is ‘Quis separabit?’, which translates from the Latin into “Who will separate us?” The English equivalent is the Noblest Order of the Garter, which dates back to the 14th century and is the oldest order of chivalry in the United Kingdom. Scotland’s version is the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle.
When created, the insignia of the order of St Patrick, which became known as the Irish Crown Jewels, consisted of a large eight-pointed jewelled star of the order of St Patrick, a diamond brooch or badge composed of rubies, emeralds and Brazilian diamonds, and five gold collars. These pieces were valued at £50,000 at the time; in present day terms, their combined worth would be well over €1 million. These pieces would have been worn by the lords lieutenant who would be the grand master; the registrar was the dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, which was designated as the chapel of the order. The great hall or St Patrick’s Hall in DublinCastle was the chancery where the knights were installed. The knight would then submit to the cathedral his banner along with a symbolic sword, helmet and crest, which would then be placed on or above an allotted stall in the cathedral.
The majority of the 394 stones used in the creation of the St Patrick’s insignia were taken from the jewellery of Queen Charlotte. (Perhaps this is a good time to fit in a strange event that took place in December 2007 relating to this article: this was the return of a safe to Dublin Castle which had been held in Kevin Street Garda Station since 1907, when it was the focal point of the incident which saw the jewels disappear.)
While the statutes state that the Irish Crown Jewels were among other items to be safeguarded by the Ulster Office of Arms, statute 20 expressly ordered that jewels be deposited in a steel safe in the chancery of the order in ‘the Office of Arms of Ireland’, which had been moved to the Upper (Dublin) Castle Yard from the Bermingham Tower in 1903.
During a visit to Ireland by King Edward VII in 1903, Sir Arthur Vicars was invested as knight commander of the Royal Victorian Order. Following these developments, a strongroom was to be constructed in the upper yard to enable the safe which contained the jewels to be moved there from BerminghamTower.
When this work was completed, it was discovered to the consternation of Vickers and chairman of the board of works Sir George Holmes that the safe was too big to pass through the strongroom door; nor was there an alternative method of getting the safe into the room. Although Holmes offered to find a solution, Vicars declared himself happy to have the safe remain in the library outside the strongroom as it was planned to replace it anyway, a plan that was never put in place, so the crown jewels stayed in the library.
There were seven latch keys to the door of the Office of Arms; there were only two keys to the safe, both held by Vickers, one of which he always carried, while the other was always left in a locked drawer in a desk at his home. Some time in May of 1907, Vickers unwittingly left behind him the safe key on the key ring he always carried, which contained the other keys to his office. They were found by a maid, Mrs Farrell, who sent them to the Chief Heralds Office by way of a male servant. Other than Vickers, other key holders who held offices in the building included Francis Shackleton (Dublin herald), brother of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest; Pierce Gun Mahony (herald); a Mr Horlock (a clerk and Cork herald); and Francis Bennett-Goldney (mayor of Canterbury and Athlone pursuivant).
Shackleton was a close friend of Vickers and had lived with him for a couple of years. Somehow he worked his way into the upper echelons of Dublin society. The king’s brother-in-law and ninth duke of Argyll, John Campbell, known for his homosexuality, was probably his closest associate.
The jewels were present and accounted for on the morning of 11 June 1907, when Vicars showed them to John Hodgson, who was the librarian to the duke of Northumberland. On 6 June, the Dublin Daily Express had published an announcement from the viceregal lodge that King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra would arrive at Kingstown aboard the royal yacht on 10 July in order to fulfil a number of engagements: a trip to the Irish International Exhibition at Herbert Park, which had been opened by Lord Aberdeen on 4 May 1907, a visit to Leopardstown races, and the elevation of two Irishmen to the peerage.
When Mrs Farrell went to clean the library on 3 July, she found the door already open. There was no investigation by Vickers as to how this came about. On the morning of Saturday 6 July, Mrs Farrell found the door to the strongroom open; the inner grill was locked but the key was in the lock along with the key to the bookcases and presses in the library. She locked the door and left the keys for the messenger’s attention.
When he brought the matter to Vickers’ attention, again no action was taken. At 2.15pm that afternoon, Vickers requested William Stivey, a messenger, to deposit the gold collar of the recently-deceased knight lord de Ros in the safe. Stivey found the safe already open, the jewels missing, along with items and jewellery belonging to Vickers’ mother placed there for security. Because of the open doors, it could not be ascertained when the robbery took place.
DublinCastle was home to the Dublin Metropolitan Police, who were called in. The officers who turned up were Superintendent John Lowe, detective branch, Detective Officer Owen Kerr and Assistant Commissioner William V Harrell. Scotland Yard was called in and descriptions of the missing items circulated to police forces worldwide.
It was proven that no doors had been forced nor duplicate keys used. The lord lieutenant and Vickers came to the conclusion this was a practical joke and that the missing regalia would arrive in the post. This never happened.
Detective Inspector John Kane of Scotland Yard compiled a report in which he named the person he thought was the thief; the commissioner of the DMP refused to accept Kane’s report, which has gone missing. A friend of Vickers suggested that Shackleton might be the culprit, but it was believed he was visiting friends in England during this period. Vickers pushed this idea forward but gained no great support.
An angry King Edward was pushing to have Vickers removed, and although Lord Aberdeen was sympathetic to him, he was not going to ignore the king’s order. Although not a suspect, the messenger was dismissed on 12 October 1907, while Vickers and all his staff except Mahony suffered the same fate on 23 October. Vickers agitated for a full public investigation and eventually the king agreed that some kind of enquiry would have to take place.
On 6 January1908, the Crown Jewels Commission (Ireland) was established. Its terms were to examine the theft of the regalia of the Order of St Patrick and to establish whether Vickers had exercised sufficient care for them. The commission met for the first time on 10 January, when it was decided it would sit in private and could not compel witnesses to attend.
Vickers refused to cooperate as he felt he would not have the opportunity to vindicate himself. Evidence of liabilities accrued by Francis Shackleton in 1907 emerged; however, Kane stated he found no evidence against Shackleton so therefore he was not the person to be named as the culprit.
The commission’s enquiry is treated as a whitewash which concentrated more on the behaviour of Vickers and his lacksadaisical attitude to the loss of the jewels. They concentrated on his conduct rather than trying to establish who committed the crime. Vickers was found guilty of negligence and lack of care for the jewels, but not the theft.
In 1910, Shackleton was declared bankrupt and served time in prison.
Vickers set up home in Kilmorna House, Listowel, CountyKerry. In 1917, aged 53, he married Miss Gertrude Wright. Vickers’ life seemed to be troubled all the way and in 1920 he was attacked in his home. However, he displayed the courage that had brought him so far and beat off his attackers. But when the IRA returned on 14 April 1921, it was different. The attackers stated that they only wanted to burn the house, but when Vickers walked out the door at 10am he was killed; the house and its contents, like many others, was then wantonly destroyed.
An enquiry carried out by historian, author and researcher Sean J Murphy in 2008 indicates that Francis Shackleton was the probable thief, and I would respect his view, especially as while Shackleton was supposedly in England at the time of the theft, his disreputable friend Captain Richard Gorges was on the scene at the time and stole or helped steal the jewels. It is also alleged that Mahoney in an interview with the Gaelic American newspaper confirmed that Shackleton and Gorges were responsible, a fact verified by Gorges himself some years later to Bulmer Hobson, who wrote the original article, adding that the jewels were sold in Amsterdam with an understanding that they would not be broken down for three years. He added the DMP investigators knew who was guilty but covered it up in order to avoid Shackleton revealing details of homosexual orgies that took place in the castle.