How a Leamington ‘lad’ lost the Irish Crown Jewels and his life

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 12.22.50Arthur Edward Vicars was born at Winton Lodge in Holly Walk in Leamington on the twenty seventh of July1862. He was the youngest of four children born to William Henry Vicars, a retired colonel in the 61st Regiment of Foot, and his wife Jane. The family lived in some style as befitted a retired Army officer and employed a nurse, lady’s- maid, housemaid and a children’s maid.

As a schoolboy Arthur Vicars spent much time with his half- brothers in Ireland and also developed a great interest in heraldry and genealogy. He subsequently pur- sued a career in genealogy and in 1893 the 29 year old Vicars scaled the pinnacle of Irish genealogy by becoming Ulster King of Arms with a suite of rooms in the imposing Bedford Tower in Dublin Castle. He was made a Knight Commanderof the Victorian Order.

One of his responsibilities as King of Arms was for the safekeeping of the seal and insignia of the Order of St Patrick frequently referred to as the Irish Crown Jewels. These jewels including diamonds and rubies were worn by members of the Order on ceremonial and state occasions and were kept in a safe in the library in Vicars’ rooms. Their value was equivalent to £2 million in today’s terms. On July 10th 1907, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were due to visit Dublin for the investiture of a new Knight of St Patrick at which the jewels would be worn.

Unfortunately for Arthur Vicars however, a few days before the Royal party arrived in Dublin, the safe in Vicars’ office in which they were normally stored was found to be unlocked but worse still, much worse, the regalia had disappeared. The theft was clearly an ‘inside job’ since both the Irish police force and the detective staff had their headquarters in Dublin Castle! Although Vicars continued to deny any involvement in the theft, it was reported that the King wished him to be suspended from the Office of Arms and he was compelled to resign.

In his enforced and premature retirement, Arthur Vicars moved to Kilmorna House in County Kerry where he was known to regularly entertain members of the British Army. This was a particularly risky, nay foolhardy, thing to do at a time when the Irish were engaged in an armed struggle for independence.

On an April morning in 1921, thirty heavily-armed IRA men converged on Kilmorna and set the house ablaze using petrol. Sir Arthur Vicars was dragged from his bed and shot dead in front of Lady Vicars. Around his neck the IRA placed a placard bearing the inscription ‘SPY. INFORMERS BEWARE. IRA NEVER FORGETS’.

No one was ever brought to trial for the theft of the jewels and there was every appearance of a high level cover-up. Arthur Vicars’ will was not made public for over fifty years. He had written in it “I was made a scapegoat ….. they shielded the real culprit and thief Francis R Shackleton” (Shackleton was the brother of the polar explorer Ernest and was on Vicars’ staff as a Herald) Several other Heralds on his staff ultimately met with unpleasant and highly suspicious deaths. Shackleton himself was later imprisoned for fraud in an unrelated case. He was declared bankrupt and after release from prison lived under an assumed name as an antique dealer in Chichester.

To this day, the whereabouts of the jewels is unknown. Sir Arthur Vicars, the Leamington lad who lost the Irish Crown Jewels, is buried in the churchyard of St Peter’s church at Leckhampton near Cheltenham in Gloucestershire where his father lived following a move from less fashionable Leamington Spa.

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