Heraldry in Ireland, part 3. The theft of the Irish crown jewels.

Sir Arthur Vicars

One of the most notable Ulster King of Arms was Sir Arthur Vicars, left, who held the post from 1893   until 1908 when he was forced to resign in disgrace due to his part in the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. The story begins with a report in the London Times of 8 July 1907 that the "Crown Jewels and other Insignia of the Order of St Patrick", popularly known as "The Irish Crown Jewels" had disappeared from a safe in Dublin Castle, Ireland. Inside a safe in the Office of Arms in Dublin Castle were kept the regalia of the Grand Master of the Order of St Patrick.   The jewels formed a star with eight points, and a cross of rubies in the centre and had been the property of Queen Charlotte, but King George IV had given them to Lady Conyngham, his mistress.   On the death of the King, Lady Conyngham apparently returned them to the Queen, who, not surprisingly, did not wish to keep them.   She gave them to her son, the new King William IV.  The king had a delicate problem about what to do with them, but thought that they would form a fine ceremonial badge for the Order of St Patrick and for the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to wear on ceremonial occasions.

This regalia had been created in 1830 from diamonds and rubies once belonging to Queen Charlotte and was used on State visits to Ireland. Queen Victoria used the regalia on four occasions and Edward VII once, in 1903. Responsibility for the jewels' safe keeping rested with Sir Arthur Vicars who held the post of Ulster King of Arms and was an expert in genealogy.   In June 1907,  Vicars and many others in Dublin were looking forward to an official visit by King Edward VII the following month but the workload of the preparations soon gave way to scandal and horror when it was discovered that the jewels had apparently been stolen from the safe without any trace of forced entry.  The jewels were valued at £14,000 at the time, over one million pounds sterling in today's money. In the official report of the theft he was found negligent and forced to resign. One "grave charge" against him was that he "associated with a man of undesirable character" and "introduced this man into his office". In defence this man was said to be a friend of influential peers and "came from a well-known and highly respected family". He is not officially named.


Irish crown jewelsVicars vigorously protested his innocence. His three assistants also resigned. One of these, with the job title "Dublin Herald", was a young man of "charismatic personality" called Frank Shackleton, brother of the Arctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Shackelton was, and still is, widely regarded as the most likely suspect. He was probably the "man of undesirable character". He "lived by his wits and his charm, ingratiating himself into the highest social circles". There is a very strong suspicion that Sir Arthur Vicars was "set-up" to protect someone else, and that the King himself was involved. In Vicars’ will he states that he was made a scapegoat when they "shielded the real culprit and thief Francis R. Shackleton". Shackleton  was never charged with the theft. However some six years later he was found guilty of "fraudulent conversion" when he and another cheated a woman out of nearly £6,000. He was sentenced to 15 months hard labor. He changed his name to "Frank Mellor", and under that name he lived in Cator Road in London 1919-1920. He then lived for a time in Penge. In about 1934 Frank Mellor moved to Chichester where he ran an antiques shop. He died there in 1941.

Two questions remain. Why would Edward VII want to protect Frank Shackleton? In early 1907 Ernest Shackleton was making arrangements to lead his first expedition to the Antarctic, an expedition being followed closely by Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. They visited Ernest when his ship was at Cowes on 4 August 1907. In September 1907, shortly before leaving for the Antarctic, Shackleton gave a lecture to the King and Queen at Balmoral where he said the King was "very jolly" and "enjoys a joke very much". Was the unfortunate Vicars sacrificed to save the family name of a national hero?

And what of the Irish Crown Jewels? They may have been sold to a Dutch pawnbroker, or to private collectors, or buried outside Dublin or even (according to an official document) offered for sale to the Irish Free State in 1927. To this day their whereabouts is unknown

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