Irish Crown Jewels

The Irish Crown Jewels. This image was published by the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police twice a week after the theft of the jewels was discovered.

The Irish Crown Jewels were the heavily jewelled star and badge regalia of the Sovereign and Grand Master of the Order of St. Patrick. They were stolen from Dublin Castle in 1907 along with the collars of five knights of the Order. The theft was never solved and the jewels never recovered.


The Order of St. Patrick was an order of knights established in 1783 by George III as King of Ireland to be an Irish equivalent of the English Order of the Garter and the Scottish Order of the Thistle. The British monarch, as monarch first of Ireland and later of the United Kingdom, was the Sovereign of the Order; and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was the Grand Master in the absence of the Sovereign. The insignia were worn by the Sovereign at the investiture of new Knights as members of the Order, and by the Grand Master on other formal ceremonial occasions.

The original regalia of the Sovereign were only slightly more opulent than the insignia of an ordinary Knight Member of the Order. These were replaced in 1831 by new ones presented by William IV as part of a revision of the Order's structure, and containing 394 precious stones taken from the English Crown Jewels of Queen Charlotte and the Order of the Bath star of her husband George III.[1] On the badge of Saint Patrick's blue enamel, the green shamrock was of emeralds and the red Saint Patrick's Saltire of rubies; the motto of the Order was in pink diamonds and the encrustation was of Brazilian diamonds of the first water.[1][2] Notices issued after the theft described the jewels thus:

A Diamond Star of the Grand Master of the Order of St. Patrick composed of brilliants (Brazilian stones) of the purest water, 4 58 by 4 14 inches, consisting of eight points, four greater and four lesser, issuing from a centre enclosing a cross of rubies and a trefoil of emeralds surrounding a sky blue enamel circle with words, "Quis Separabit MDCCLXXXIII." in rose diamonds engraved on back. Value about £14,000.
A Diamond Badge of the Grand Master of the Order of St. Patrick set in silver containing a trefoil in emeralds on a ruby cross surrounded by a sky blue enamelled circle with "Quis Separabit MDCCLXXXIII." in rose diamonds surrounded by a wreath of trefoils in emeralds, the whole enclosed by a circle of large single Brazilian stones of the finest water, surmounted by a crowned harp in diamonds and loop, also in Brazilian stones. Total size of oval 3 by 2 38 inches; height 5 58 inches. Value £16,000.

When not being worn or cleaned, the insignia of the Sovereign and those of deceased Knights were in the custody of the Ulster King of Arms, the senior Irish officer of arms, and kept in a bank vault.[5] The designation "Crown Jewels" was first applied to the star and badge regalia of the Sovereign in a 1905 revision of the Order's statutes. The label "Irish Crown Jewels" was publicised by newspapers after their theft.[6]


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. The new safe was too large for the doorway to the strongroom, and Arthur Vicars, the Ulster King of Arms, instead stored it in his office. Seven latch keys to the door of the Office of Arms were held by Vicars and his staff, and two keys to the safe containing the insignia were both in the custody of Vicars. Vicars was known to regularly get drunk on overnight duty and he once awoke to find the jewels around his neck. It is not known whether or not this was a prank or a practice for the actual theft.

The insignia were last worn by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Aberdeen, on 15 March 1907, at a function to mark Saint Patrick's Day on 17 March. They were last known to be in the safe on 11 June, when Vicars showed them to a visitor to his office. The jewels were discovered to be missing on 6 July 1907, four days before the start of a visit by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to the Irish International Exhibition, at which it was planned to invest Bernard FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown into the Order. The theft is reported to have angered the King, but the visit went ahead.[7] However, the investiture ceremony was cancelled.[5] Also stolen were the collars of five Knight Members of the Order: four living (the Marquess of Ormonde and Earls of Howth, of Enniskillen, and of Mayo) and one deceased (Richard Boyle, 9th Earl of Cork).[8] These were valued at £1,050.[9]


Dublin Police notice of theft of crown jewels.

A police investigation was conducted by the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP).[8] Posters issued by the DMP depicted and described the missing jewels. Detective Chief Inspector John Kane of Scotland Yard arrived on 12 July to assist.[2] His report, never released, is said to have named the culprit and to have been suppressed by the RIC.[2] Vicars refused to resign his position, and similarly refused to appear at a Viceregal Commission into the theft held from 10 January 1908. Vicars argued for a public Royal Commission instead, which would have had power to subpoena witnesses. He publicly accused his second in command, Francis Shackleton, of the theft. Kane explicitly denied to the Commission that Shackleton, brother of the explorer Ernest Shackleton, was involved. Shackleton was exonerated in the Commission's report, and Vicars was found to have "not exercise[d] due vigilance or proper care as the custodian of the regalia." Vicars was compelled to resign, as were all the staff in his personal employ.

Rumours and theories

In the House of Commons in August 1907, Patrick O'Brien blamed "loyal and patriotic Unionist criminals",[10] Lord Haddo, the son of the Lord Lieutenant, was alleged by some newspapers to have been involved in the theft;[11] Augustine Birrell, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, stated in the Commons that Haddo had been in Great Britain throughout the time period within which the theft took place.[12] In 1912 and 1913 Laurence Ginnell suggested that the police investigation had established the identity of the thief, that his report had been suppressed to avoid scandal,[13] and that the jewels were "at present within the reach of the Irish Government awaiting the invention of some plausible method of restoring them without getting entangled in the Criminal Law".[14] In an adjournment debate in 1912 he alleged:[15]

The police charged with collecting evidence in connection with the disappearance of the Crown Jewels from Dublin Castle in 1907 collected evidence inseparable from it of criminal debauchery and sodomy being committed in the castle by officials, Army officers, and a couple of nondescripts of such position that their conviction and exposure would have led to an upheaval from which the Chief Secretary shrank. To prevent that, he suspended the operation of the Criminal Law, and appointed a whitewashing commission with the result for which it was appointed.

His speech was curtailed when a quorum of forty MPs was not present in the chamber.[15] He elaborated the following week on the alleged depravity of "two of the characters", later naming them as army captain Richard Gorges and Shackleton when challenged by Birrell, who denied any cover-up and urged Ginnell to give to the police any evidence he had relating to the theft or any sexual crime.[16] Walter Vavasour Faber also asked about a cover-up;[17] Edward Legge supported this theory.[18]

After Francis Shackleton was imprisoned in 1914 for passing a cheque stolen from a widow,[5][19] Earl Winterton asked for the judicial inquiry demanded by Vicars.[20]

On 23 November 1912, the London Mail alleged that Vicars had allowed a woman reported to be his mistress to obtain a copy to the key to the safe and that she had fled to Paris with the jewels. In July 1913 Vicars sued the paper for libel; it admitted that the story was completely baseless and that the woman in question did not exist; Vicars was awarded damages of £5,000.[21] Vicars left nothing in his will to his half-brother Pierce Charles de Lacy O'Mahony, on the grounds that Mahony had repudiated a promise to recompense Vicars for the loss of income caused by his resignation.[22]

Another theory was that the Irish Republican Brotherhood had smuggled the jewels to the United States.[1]

A 1927 memo of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, released in the 1970s, stated that W. T. Cosgrave "understands that the Castle jewels are for sale and that they could be got for £2,000 or £3,000."[1]

In 1968 the Irish journalist Bulmer Hobson published an account of the theft[23] which stated that the jewels had been stolen by Shackleton in complicity with Captain Richard Gorges, after they had plied Vicars with so much whiskey that he had passed out. Hobson claimed the jewels were taken to Amsterdam by Shackleton, and pledged for 20,000 pounds, with the proviso that they not be broken up for three years. Both men were homosexual, and official fears that a witch-hunt might cause greater scandal (as had the Dublin Castle homosexual scandals of 1884), may have been a reason for the compromising of the investigation.[24] In 1911 Shackleton further defrauded Lord Ronald Gower of his fortune.

A 2002 book suggests the jewels were stolen as a Unionist plot to embarrass the Liberal government, and later secretly returned to the Royal Family.[25]

Fictional accounts

A 1967 book suggests that the 1908 Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" was inspired by the theft; author Arthur Conan Doyle was a friend of Vicars, and the fictional Valentine Walters, who steals the Plans but is caught by Holmes, has similarities with Francis Shackleton.[26]

Jewels, a Bob Perrin novel based on the theft, was published in 1977.[27]


  1. 1 2 3 4 O'Riordan, Tomás (Winter 2001). "The Theft of the Irish Crown Jewels, 1907". History Ireland. 9 (4).
  2. 1 2 3 "The Theft of the Irish 'Crown Jewels'". Online exhibitions. Dublin: National Archives of Ireland. 2007. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  3. "DMP – poster 1". Dublin Metropolitan Police. 2007 [Original date 8 July 1907]. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  4. "DMP – poster 2". Dublin Metropolitan Police. 2007 [Original date 8 July 1907]. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  5. 1 2 3 "Chapter 12: The Illustrious Order of St. Patrick". History of Dublin Castle. Office of Public Works. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  6. Galloway, Peter (1983). The Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick: 1783 – 1983. Phillimore. ISBN 9780850335088.
  7. Legge 1913, p.55
  8. 1 2 "CSORP/1913/18119 – page 1". National Archives of Ireland. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  9. "DMP – poster 3". National Archives of Ireland. 2007. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  10. HC Deb 13 August 1907 vol 180 cc1065-6
  11. Legge 1913, pp. xv, 62–63
  12. HC Deb 01 April 1908 vol 187 cc509-10
  13. HC Deb 28 January 1913 vol 47 cc1189-90
  14. HC Deb 23 January 1913 vol 47 cc589-90
  15. 1 2 HC Deb 06 December 1912 vol 44 cc2751-2
  16. HC Deb 20 December 1912 vol 45 cc1955-62
  17. HC Deb 13 February 1913 vol 48 cc1159-61
  18. Legge 1913, pp. 64–65
  19. "The Case of Francis Shackleton". Auckland Star. 8 March 1913. p. 13. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  20. HC Deb 19 February 1914 vol 58 cc1113-4
  21. "The Irish Crown Jewels" (Volume XLVII, Issue 20). Marlborough Express. August 29, 1913. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  22. "Will of Sir Arthur Vicars – page 4". National Archives of Ireland. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  23. Hobson, Bulmer (1968). Ireland Yesterday and Tomorrow. Tralee.
  24. Trevelyan, Raleigh (1978). Princes Under The Volcano. William Morrow & Company. pp. 337–8.
  25. Cafferky, John; Hannafin, Kevin (2002). Scandal & betrayal: Shackleton and the Irish crown jewels. Collins. ISBN 9781903464250.
  26. Bamford, Francis; Bankes, Viola (1967). Vicious Circle: The Case of the Missing Irish Crown Jewels. Horizon Press.
  27. Perrin, Robert (1977). Jewels. Pan Books. ISBN 9780330255875.

External links

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