The story of “one of those mysterious and charismatic characters in British history whose breathtaking exploits underline the wisdom of the old maxim that truth can be stranger than fiction.”
In what is ostensibly a biography of Thomas Blood (1618-1680), the daring fighter, spy, turncoat, and adventurer, Hutchinson (The Spanish Armada, 2014, etc.) glosses over many of his subject’s feats, writing mostly of changing politics during the English civil war and the restoration of Charles II. Blood fought for Charles I in the civil war and switched sides after the king’s execution, an act that netted him vast lands in Ireland. He was part of an abortive rebellion in Ireland after the restoration, and revenge—especially against the Duke of Ormond, lord lieutenant of Ireland—drove him on. He was leader of a group who kidnapped Ormond in London with a view to hanging him, but Ormond escaped. That act brings in two more shady characters, the Duke of Buckingham and Barbara Palmer, Charles II’s mistress. Both were sworn enemies of Ormond, and it seems likely to Hutchinson that they may have instigated the attack. After Blood attempted to steal the crown jewels from the Tower of London, he met with the king, who not only pardoned him, but also granted him a pension, removed the writ of attainder, and paid him a salary for his “services,” which included spying against nonconformists. Blood was a serial turncoat with a number of disguises, even posing as a doctor, but he was no petty thief; he only wished to regain his lands. Readers hoping to discover an Errol Flynn–type swashbuckler will be disappointed; Blood does not come across as the rip-roaring, lovable rogue one might anticipate.
A good history of difficult times in England and Ireland, but Hutchinson provides little significant information about the spy.