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The Boy Jones: When a teenager broke into Queen Victoria’s bedroom and stole her underwear

When a member of the British royal family faces a breach of security, it is of immediate interest to the world.

In 1982, a man in his early 30s named Michael Fagan was found twice inside Buckingham Palace. On the first occasion, he roamed rooms that were used by Princess Diana and he allegedly tried sitting on the throne for a bit.

During his second sneak-in, and after managing to get past the palace’s 14-foot-tall wall with its spikes, barbed wire, and all, Fagan eventually reached Queen Elizabeth II’s bedroom. The incident is now considered among the worst risks to the safety of a royal in modern times.

But there were intruders to Buckingham Palace long before Fagan. “The Boy Jones” was a real celebrity stalker of the 19th century who entered the palace multiple times and forced authorities to take extraordinary measures to protect the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. In one instance, the Boy Jones, who first wandered the corridors of the royal palace when just 14, was found having stuffed underwear that belonged to the Queen in his trousers. Was he a madman? Was he a criminal? Sources say he was perfectly lucid about his deeds–his actions were not viewed as being malevolent, rather those of a slightly creepy oddball.

His days as the queen stalker would haunt him for the rest of the life.

A portrait of Queen Victoria by Winterhalter (1859)
A portrait of Queen Victoria by Winterhalter (1859)

Dr. Jan Bondeson from the Cardiff University has extensively researched the story of the Boy Jones, producing a book about the monarch and her little stalker; it was published in 2010. According to Bondeson, Edward Jones was indeed “a very weird character.” As he shared for the BBC, the boy never expressed an interested in women, except for Queen Victoria.

There isn’t any record that explains why Jones ignited his obsession with the monarch, who was the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1877 until her death in 1901, but he normally used doors and windows that were left open on the palace’s ground floor. Jones has been described as being quite ugly and untidy. He seemingly rarely washed. It was assumed that he earned a living as a chimney sweep or a mudlark (a scavenger of the dangerous tidal mudflats of the River Thames).

Security around the royal residence had reportedly been loosely and inefficiently organized during the early years of Victoria’s reign. Drunks or poor people were occasionally found sleeping in the yard, within the boundaries of the palace. People were able to jump the walls quite easily.

The first time the Boy Jones entered the palace it was 1838, and it was on this turn that the impish little man went after the underwear of the monarch. In another instance, he was caught stealing from the kitchen. Twice more he was allegedly found trying out the throne as well. He earned the nickname the Boy Jones by the staff of the palace.

Engraving of the Buckingham Palace from 1837
Engraving of the Buckingham Palace from 1837

Each time he was found roaming around, Jones was handed over to police officers. Authorities were worried about what else he could have possibly done during his illicit endeavors in the royal quarters. How well did he know the palace and what else did he see? This worried everyone. Some sources say he supposedly eavesdropped on some conversations between the Queen and her ministers. The boy also managed to pick up a portrait of the Queen, a letter, and a collection of linens.

When Jones was caught the first time, he was set free very soon. On his other attempts, more precautionary measures were taken, and he was punished. He got away with three months of hard labor for his trouble as of December 1840, when he was discovered under a sofa in a room next to the queen’s private bedroom. The queen even noted the frightening moment in her personal diary, with disbelief at how the intruder came so close to her bedrooms.

After Jones served his punishment, he trespassed inside Buckingham Palace once again, and this time authorities were confused–what was the next best course of action? The Boy Jones was invited to join the Royal Navy, and this way he would be away from home and away from the palace. But he refused. Eventually, he was deported to Brazil, where he was kept on-board a prison ship for some six years.

A memorial plaque belonging to Edward Jones, Photo: ALFAMAX1, CC BY-SA 3.0
A memorial plaque belonging to Edward Jones, Photo: ALFAMAX1, CC BY-SA 3.0

The prison ship certainly didn’t work well for Jones. He was often drunk and was implicated in a number of thefts. He eventually made it back to England, but was soon deported to Australia. He worked for a while as a vendor and he succeeded in returning to England once more, but he was firmly persuaded to go back Down Under, where he became the town crier in Perth.

Related story from us: With quiet determination, Queen Victoria chose a white wedding dress, launching the trend that endures to this day

The notoriety of Jones’ name did not cease and was no different in Australia, where jokes were shared about him the same as in England. He dearly wished he wasn’t associated with his past and at one point he took up another name, that of Thomas Jones. While he rid himself of his old name, he didn’t rid of old habits. He kept on drinking until it caused his death in 1893: Jones was so drunk that he fell off a bridge.

The entire story inspired the plotline for a 1950 film, The Mudlark, in which the Boy Jones was played by Andrew Ray, and Queen Victoria by Irene Dunne.

Stefan Andrews

Stefan is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Vintage News. He is a graduate in Literature. He also runs a blog – This City Knows.