I begin this tale by reminding you of the central thesis of all of my columns, including this one, which is that biologically we humans have a limited number of emotional responses to stimuli, so we tend to repeat ourselves. As that repetitive plotter Antonio puts it in The Tempest, “What's past is prologue”, which he says while plotting yet another assignation. Not that he wants to be king - Antonio is no Richard the Third. He just can't stop himself from plotting. To bring the play to a close, Shakespeare is even forced to induce magic to convert Antonio to pacifism, but that is a dramatist's trick. The reality is not that people never change, it is that PEOPLE never change, from Jack the Ripper to Boy George to Mahatma Gandhi to Genghis Khan to Richard Nixon, history is not a trail of regrets, it is a Mobius strip. Still, if there is nothing new in the story about a lad being arrested with Queen Victoria's undies stuffed down his pants, it is at least entertaining to read about it.
Early on the morning of June 20th, 1837 Alexandria Victoria made a typically teenager's entry into her diary; “I was awoke at 6 o'clock by Mamma....I am Queen.” Except in her case it was real.
And thus the diminutive monarch was set upon a collision course with an equally abbreviated young lad, who first made his appearance in history on December 14, 1838, when his soot blackened face suddenly appeared at the glass door entrance to The Marble Hall in Buckingham Palace...from the inside. No strangers were supposed to be in the palace at that hour. The night porter, Mr, William Cox, was startled by the apparition, and called for assistance. A chase began in the Marble Hall was concluded outside on the Palace lawn, when the intruder was captured near St. James Street by Constable James Stone. The stubby scoundrel was carrying a sword, linen and a letter written to Queen Victoria, amongst other items purloined from the Palace. Oh, and he also had several pairs of her majesty's bloomers stuffed down the front of his trousers.
That afternoon the frightful looking young man (everyone agreed he had a very large head and ugly features) was arraigned in the Queen's Square Police Court, where he gave his name as Edward Cotton. He claimed that a year earlier, while living in Hertfordshire, he had met a man who induced him to travel to London and sneak into the Palace. He claimed that the unnamed man had long since departed, but that he had been living in the palace for the past year, dressed as a chimney sweep to allay suspicions if he were spotted during the day.
During the evenings he sat upon the Queen's throne, and examined the books and paintings in her library. He slept in closets and empty rooms each night, and found what food he could in the kitchen after hours. He often, he claimed, hid behind the furniture and overheard the Queen and her ministers discussing matters of state.
At his next appearance in court, at his trial, our hero was confronted with the truth. His name was actually Edward Jones - the London press began referring to him as “Boy Jones - and he was just 14 years old. He lived in a one room apartment he shared with his poverty stricken father, a tailor, and his five siblings, on York Street in the Westminster section of London. The boy had a “ mischievous and restless disposition”, explained the father, and would often disappear for days with no explanation when he returned. He rarely bathed, and spent his time reading and rereading scrap papers he bought for a penny. In desperation his father had sent Edward to work for a builder. His employer explained that Edward was fascinated with the Queen and often spoke of her, always respectfully.
Edward had entered the Palace, it developed, by coating himself with bear grease and squeezing through a crack in a marble arch by the Palace's front door. And he had been in the palace not for a year, but just for that night. He had first attempted to escape via a chimney, which is how he came to be covered in soot. With the puncturing of his inventions, and with the help of his lawyer Mr. Pendergast, the jury saw Edward as a pitiable character who had no malicious intent. He was found not guilty of trespass and released without bond. The officials hoped that since the boy had been chastised and would be kept under a close watch, he would stay away from the Queen and the Palace. But as David Letterman could explain, chastisement is not enough to disparage a determined stalker.
During this same time Queen Victoria was busy as well. On February 10th, 1840 she was married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and within a few months she was pregnant. On November 21st, of 1840 Victoria gave birth to a daughter. The nation celebrated and cheered, but Victoria thought all infants were ugly and that breast feeding was barbaric.
Thus the Palace was crowded with more than the usual number of servants eleven days later, when, just after one in the morning on Thursday December 2nd , a night nurse named Mrs. Lilly caring for the new princess Victoria, heard a noise coming from the Queen's dressing room. She called other servants and the room was searched. Under the sofa, upon which Victoria had been sitting just two hours earlier, was discovered the grinning horrible edifice of Edward Jones. What might have been cute in a 14 year old was now just creepy in a 17 year old. .
He was described by the author Charles Dickens who interviewed him as “ of a most repulsive appearance; but he was unconscious of this defect as he affected an air of great consequence”. Boy Jones never actually got to meet the Queen, which was good because the young majesty confided to her diary the next day, “But supposing he had come into the Bedroom, how frightened I should have been.” Quite.
This time it was decided to avoid the courts and the publicity. Edward was tried in secret by the Privy Council. Here he claimed that he had actually entered the Palace on Monday November 30th , by scaling a wall to reach an opened window. But because of the large number of people about he had left again, unseen. But he had come back the following night, December 1st, at about 1 A.M., and had hidden in the Palace all the next day until he was caught. The Privy Council noted the new lapse in security, found Edward guilty of being a rogue and a vagabond and sentenced him to three months in the brand new Tothills Fields Bridewall prison, also known as the Westminster House of Correction.
The new Tothill Prison was considered the epitome of modern penitentiary science in 1840, where the most common violation of the rules by inmates was talking. The prisoners were required to be silent for all but a few minutes each day. And for “Boy Jones”, talking seems to have been a primary form of personal entertainment.
Which makes his response to the magistrate who visited him the day before his release disturbing. The officer encouraged Edward to join the Royal Navy. Edward refused. The magistrate then ask him to promise not to ever invade Buckingham Palace again. Edward refused. And the next day, March 2nd, 1841, Edward was released from Tothill. Thirteen days later, Edward was back in the Palace. It makes me wonder why they didn't just hire him.
Just after 1 A.M on March 15th, as a police officer (part of the beefed up security detail inspired by Boy Jones) walking across the grand hall of Buckingham Palace saw a man staring at him through a glass door of the throne room. The officer immediately recognized Edward Jones and started after him. Edward, deciding on a brazen approach, charged the officer. The approach did not work. Edward was nabbed, pinched and restrained. Examining the throne room, officials found a handkerchief filled with cold meat and potatoes, filched from the Palace kitchen, sitting on the arm of the throne. Again the Privy Council considered what to do, and again Edward was sentenced to three months at Tothill Prison, but this time at hard labor.
The labor of choice for prisoners in this most modern of English prisons in 1841 was spending six hours a day walking on the treadmill, described by the “Hidden Lives Revealed" web site as “a big iron frame of steps around a revolving cylinder”, or Picking Oakum (above), defined as teasing apart the strands of a hemp rope so that the strands could be twisted into another rope, which would be presented to inmates to be teased apart again.
After three months of enduring this repetitive repetition in silence, another magistrate offered Edward another chance to join the Navy. Again he refused. Again he was asked to promise to never visit the palace again. Again he refused.
This time, before his release, he was also offered £4 a week (about $600 dollars today) to make appearances at a London Music Hall. This too Edward turned down. What was going on in that huge misshapen head of his, we will never know. Because. this time, as he was released from Tothill, Edward was kidnapped and shanghaied aboard a British Man-of-War bound for Brazil. He actually made it to South America and back to England in 1843. Here, Edward managed to jump ship and walked the 60 miles from Portsmouth to London. There he was arrested loitering near Buckingham Palace, and was returned to his ship under arrest. This time the orders were to keep him away from Britain and under watch.
The next year Edward jumped from ship again, this time into the Mediterranean Sea between Tunis and Algeria. He was rescued and after six years of enforced service was finally set free in the isolated port of Perth (above), on the lonely west coast of Australia. There Edward worked for a time as the Town Crier, until he was arrested for burglary. Then he was sent to Freemantle Prison. After his release from here he got a job as a pie seller. But the pull of the Palace was strong, and Edward somehow managed to return to England, where he was arrested for theft in 1856.
In 1860 one of his brothers, who had a good job in Melbourne, Australia (above), invited Edward to live with him. Back down under, Edward disappeared into anonymity, and there he stayed, until the day after Christmas, celebrated as Boxing Day in England and Australia.
On that day of celebration, Edward Jones, the Boy Jones, got drunk and fell off a bridge over the Mitchell River in Bairndale, Queensland (above). He landed on that enormous head of his and broke his neck. Says his modern-day biographer, Jan Bondeson, “He didn't have any children and never wanted anything to do with women, apart from his beloved queen."
Though out most of his life, Edward Jones remained infamous for those nights he spent in Buckingham Palace with Victoria's underwear in his pants. He hated the teasing and ribbing about it to the day he died. But it made it into his obituary in most of the newspapers in the English speaking world. We don't know what Victoria felt when she heard the news. But I am dying to know what was going in her head, when she did..
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