Room Two: The King’s Room

The impressive history of the Office of Arms is marred by one unhappy event – the disappearance of the Irish Crown Jewels. These insignia were the property of the Crown and symbolic of its connection with the Order of St Patrick. It was discovered they were missing on 6 July 1907, days before King Edward VII arrived in Dublin on one of the rare royal visits to Ireland. The King’s rage, coupled with, and perhaps fuelled by, the whirlwind of scandal and innuendo that came to surround the event, meant that heads would roll.

The chief casualty in this case was Sir Arthur Vicars, Ulster King of Arms, loyal servant of the Crown and the person responsible for the safe custody of the King’s Irish Jewels. His dismissal was a tragic end to an otherwise stellar career, and left him bitter to the end. The affair also left Dublin Castle the home of one of Ireland’s great unsolved mysteries, for the jewels have never been recovered.

The Investiture of the Right Hon. the Earl of Mayo as Knight of St Patrick, 1905

Count Casimir Dunin Markievicz – 1905 – Oil on canvas – Office of Public Works

Since the creation of the Order of St Patrick, Ulster King of Arms has been the Order’s ‘Knight Attendant’, responsible for the organisation of the Order’s ceremonies and the keeping of its correspondence and papers.

This painting shows the Lord Lieutenant, William Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley (1867–1932), presiding over an investiture in 1905. Sir Arthur can be seen wearing a crimson cape, left of the Lord Lieutenant.

The painting was painted by Casimir Dunin Markievicz (1874–1932), a Polish count. He married Constance Gore-Booth, the daughter of an Irish landlord, who became better known as Countess Markievicz, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. Casimir included his wife in the painting, to the right, wearing green. Green was the colour of Irish nationalism at the time.

The Bedford Tower, Dublin Castle

Unknown Artist – 1900 – Photographic print – National Library of Ireland.

This photograph shows the Bedford Tower in the Upper Castle Yard, flanked by two archways. The one on the right leads to Cork Hill. Through the Cork Hill archway, on the left, immediately joined to the rear of Bedford Tower, was the main Guard House of Dublin Castle.

In November 1903, Sir Arthur Vicars succeeded in obtaining a new office for himself and his staff, in the Bedford Tower. This included a strongroom specially constructed for the safekeeping of valuables. However, a small free-standing safe in which the Irish Crown Jewels were kept was discovered to be too big to fit into the new strongroom and it was agreed that it could stay in the Library of the new Office.

The Library was located on the ground floor, to the right of the three arched openings of the entrance arcade, behind the window.

Reward Poster

A. Thom & Co. – 1907 – Ink on paper – National Library of Ireland.

On Saturday 6 July 1907, Sir Arthur Vicars was busy in his office, preparing for the imminent arrival of King Edward VII four days later. Shortly after 2pm he asked the Office Messenger to put something in the safe – giving him the safe key to do so.

The messenger discovered the safe closed, but unlocked. When Sir Arthur tried the safe, he also found it unlocked. On opening the case in which the Jewels were usually kept, he exclaimed: ’My God, they are gone!’ In addition to the Jewels, five gold collars of the Order of St Patrick and the jewellery of Sir Arthur’s mother had also been stolen.

Both keys to the safe were in the possession of Sir Arthur Vicars. One he kept on his person at all times, and the other he kept in his home in Clonskeagh.

News of the theft caused an international sensation. Posters like this would have ensured that nobody was ignorant of the scandal as it unfolded.

Charles Vane-Temple-Stewart, 6th Marquess of Londonderry

Sir Thomas Alfred Jones – 1889 – Oil on canvas – Office of Public Works.

Jewelled insignia of the Order of St Patrick were presented by King William IV for the use of the Grand Master of the Order in 1831. The Grand Master was, ex officio, the Lord Lieutenant. Because they were the property of the Crown, they were described as ‘Crown Jewels’.

The jewels consisted of three pieces. First, there was a large diamond star containing 394 individual gems. The rays of the star were composed of diamonds, with a cross of St Patrick formed of rubies at its centre, on which was superimposed an emerald shamrock. Second, there was an oval diamond badge surmounted with a diamond harp. Thirdly, there was a gold enamelled badge set with emeralds and rubies.

This portrait shows the Marquess of Londonderry, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, dressed in his robes as Grand Master of the Order of St Patrick. In it, the Irish Crown Jewels can be clearly seen – the diamond star above his left hand, the enamelled gold badge next to the same hand and the diamond oval badge resting on his blue sash.

Jewel Box

Unknown Maker – 1831 – Mahogany, brass and velvet – National Library of Ireland.

This brass-bound, mahogany box was delivered to the Office of Arms, then housed in Dublin Castle’s Record Tower, on 15 March 1831. In it were the new insignia of the Order of St Patrick, the Irish Crown Jewels.

The oval brass plate matter-of-factly describes the contents once housed within:

Brilliant Star, Brilliant Badge, Gold Badge, ORDER OF SAINT PATRICK, for the use of The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

This description surrounds the monogram of the King. The fine craftsmanship of the box reflects the importance and value of its former contents. The ghostly outline of the stolen Jewels provides a tantalising and tangible connection to them – this was their last known location.

The box was returned to the Office of Arms at the National Library anomalously, by post, in 1928.

The Loss of the Crown Jewels

Thomas Fitzpatrick – 1907 – Ink on paper – The Lepracaun Cartoon Monthly.

When news of the disappearance of the Irish Crown Jewels broke, it caused a public sensation across the globe. The disappearance was a huge embarrassment to the British Administration in Ireland, headquartered at Dublin Castle.

The absence of conclusive proof as to what had happened to the Jewels spawned a number of theories.

This poster at once illustrates the barely credible yet basic circumstances of the affair – expensive jewels disappearing through the gate of Dublin Castle, under the noses of soldiers, constables and special detectives stationed there, at the heart of the British Administration in Ireland. These circumstances automatically suggest subterfuge, begging the questions ‘Who?’ and ‘How?’, while at the same time undermining the probity and integrity of the political administration.

Vicious Circle

Francis Bamford and Viola Bankes – 1965 – Ink on paper – Max Parrish and Co Ltd.

Vicious Circle was the first reliable and comprehensive account of the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the Irish Crown Jewels to be published. One of the main advantages of this book was the ability of the authors to interview several people who had been alive when the theft occurred, or who personally knew those involved. However, as they point out, this also had its drawbacks:

Our efforts to unravel the tangled yarns of evidence and narrative were, almost from the beginning, made more difficult by that enveloping cloak of silence with which, for his own reasons, King Edward the Seventh sought to shroud the whole affair.

Bamford and Bankes conclude their book by looking at the possible culprits:

Francis Shackleton, the Cork Herald who shared a house with Sir Arthur Vicars in Clonskeagh.

Pierce Mahony, Sir Arthur’s nephew – ‘Had it been he who was responsible for introducing the actual thief into the Office of Arms?’ Was his death in 1914 accidental, or did he commit suicide?

Francis Bennet-Goldney – Athlone Pursuivant and Mayor of Canterbury, on whose death it was discovered that items in his private collection had been misappropriated from the Duke of Bedford and Canterbury Town Hall.

Captain Richard Gorges, who shared a ‘mutual interest in the unspeakable’ with Shackleton [he was homosexual] and who would later confess to being part of the robbery.


Robert Perrin – 1977 – Ink on paper – Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Jewels is a fictionalised account, based on the known facts and circumstantial evidence of what may have happened to the Irish Crown Jewels. Its narrative relays how the robbery of the Jewels could have been perpetrated by Francis Richard Shackleton and his male lover, Captain William Howard Gorges. As the author states in his note:

The only important characters that are fragments of my imagination are Frank Robinson, the Dublin locksmith, and Rufus Levinson, the London diamond merchant. I am certain, however, that these characters existed at the time under different names.

According to Jewels, Shackleton and Gorges met in South Africa during the Boer War, where they became lovers. They were reunited later in Ireland and, due to Shackleton’s need for money, hatched a plan to steal the Irish Crown Jewels. In this telling, Shackleton provided access to Sir Arthur’s safe key, allowing it to be copied, but arranged to be in England with a solid alibi when the theft was taking place. Gorges committed the robbery in his military uniform, passing almost unnoticed among the soldiers who guarded the Castle.

The book suggests that neither man was publicly charged with the crime, due to the fear of exposing a homosexual scandal. Shackleton was an associate of John Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll (1845–1914), who was married to Princess Louise, a sister of King Edward VII.

Scandal & Betrayal: Shackleton and the Irish Crown Jewels

John Cafferky and Kevin Hannifin – 2002 – Ink on paper – The Collins Press.

Scandal & Betrayal investigates the connection between Francis Shackleton and the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels, but arrives at a much more complicated theory as to what happened to them.

The authors of this book:

believe a hard-line faction of Unionists conspired to steal the Irish Crown Jewels with the intention of undermining support for home rule within the Liberal party’s ranks. They intended to ruin the reputations of Lord Haddo and his father [the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Aberdeen] with a homosexual scandal. Lord Aberdeen, the most committed supporter of home rule, would have to resign, fatally weakening the home rule faction within the Liberal party and the British cabinet.

They go on to suggest that Shackleton provided the conspirators with Sir Arthur’s second safe key, which he kept in the home they shared, from which a copy was made. They believe he was blackmailed into doing this because of his homosexuality, which was taboo in the Edwardian world.

Opening of the Irish International Exhibition

Unknown Artist – 1907 – Photographic print – National Library of Ireland.

This photograph shows the last public event that Sir Arthur Vicars superintended – the opening of the Irish International Exhibition in Dublin in May 1907. On the stage can be seen Sir Arthur (touching his nose), the Lord Lieutenant (reading aloud) and the Dublin Herald, Francis Shackleton, to the right of Vicars.

When King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra came to Ireland in July 1907, they visited the Exhibition. The King was furious about the loss of the Crown Jewels and demanded the dismissal of Sir Arthur. Sir Arthur refused to go, and a Viceregal Commission of Inquiry was convened. This Commission had very narrow terms of reference, primarily ‘To inquire whether Sir Arthur Vicars exercised due vigilance and proper care as the custodian’ of the Jewels – not to try and find the thief.

The outcome was a foregone conclusion. He was dismissed and his successor, Sir Nevile Rodwell Wilkinson, was appointed on 28 January 1908.

Sir Arthur retired from public life, his reputation and career destroyed. He would claim until the end (and it was a bitter end) that he had been made a scapegoat.

Kilmorna House, Co. Kerry

Unknown Artist – 1925 – Photographic print – National Library of Ireland.

Following his dismissal, Vicars’s career was effectively over and he eventually settled at Kilmorna House, Co. Kerry.

Sir Arthur married Gertrude Wright, on 4 July 1917, and the two settled into retirement at Kilmorna. When the War of Independence broke out, Sir Arthur made no secret of the fact that he was against the Irish Republican Army’s struggle for Irish independence from the Crown.

Kilmorna was attacked in May 1920. As Myles Dungan puts it, ‘As far as the IRA was concerned, he [Vicars] was too friendly with British officers from the Listowel Barracks, whom he regularly entertained at Kilmorna.’

The house was attacked again on 14 April 1921. Sir Arthur, sick in bed, was informed that the IRA only intended to burn the house. However, he was shot and killed, still wearing his dressing gown, in the garden of Kilmorna. When his body was found, a notice had been placed around his neck that read, ‘Spy. Informers beware. IRA never forgets.’

The Will of Sir Arthur Vicars (copy)

Sir Arthur Vicars – 1920 – Ink on paper – National Archives of Ireland.

This document was drawn up on 14 May 1920, shortly after Sir Arthur Vicars’s home at Kilmorna was first raided by the IRA in the War of Independence. An extract reads:

I might have had more to dispose of had it not been for the outrageous way in which I was treated by the Irish Govt. over the loss of the Irish Crown Jewels in 1907 … when they shielded the real culprit & thief Francis R. Shackleton (brother of the Explorer who did’nt [sic.] reach the South Pole). My whole life & work was ruined by this cruel misfortune & by the wicked and blackguardly acts of the Irish Government. … I am unconscious of having done anyone wrong & my very misfortune arose from my being unsuspicious & trusting to a one time friend & Official of my former Office.

As can clearly be seen, Sir Arthur protested his innocence to the end. The effect of these words by Sir Arthur leaves the accusation against Francis Shackleton hanging in the air – for posterity.