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Meet the teenager who stole Queen Victoria’s panties

Photo: Culture Club/Getty Images
Photo: Culture Club/Getty Images

With more than 5.4 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you’re throwing a term paper together at the last minute, or wondering why you don’t have a Wikipedia page after all those times you broke into White Castle. We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,459,624-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

This week’s entry: The Boy Jones

What it’s about: Perhaps the earliest celebrity stalker. At age 14, Edward Jones snuck into Buckingham Palace disguised as a chimney sweep, and was caught by police with Queen Victoria’s underwear stuffed down his pants. This was only the first of several unauthorized palace tours, and the teenager the newspapers called “the boy Jones” became notorious throughout London.

Biggest controversy: Jones never escaped that notoriety. After two stints in prison for palace-specific-breaking-and-entering, Jones moved to Australia, but he couldn’t leave his reputation behind. Nor did he clean up his act—he was an alcoholic and petty criminal as an adult. In his 60s, he started going by “Thomas Jones,” but was still known for his escapades as “the boy.” His headstone uses Thomas Jones, but prominently mentions his castle break-in, although it misidentifies the palace as Windsor, not Buckingham. (It also says he was transported to Australia as punishment for trespassing, although Wikipedia doesn’t say that elsewhere and it doesn’t fit the timeline of events laid out here, so that could be a mistake as well.)

Strangest fact: After stealing the royal undergarments and a regimental sword, Jones was acquitted! In fact, breaking into the palace was a civil, not a criminal offense until 2007, and various monarchs have been reluctant to stoop to filing a civil suit. However, the crown did find it in their hearts to punish the boy the second time he broke into the palace, as well as the third.

Thing we were happiest to learn: The boy was very good at getting into the palace. Two years after the original incident, Her Majesty had just given birth to her first child, and Jones climbed a palace wall, walked around the palace, and left undetected. He came back the following night and was discovered in the Queen’s dressing room, hiding under a sofa. He was sentenced to three months in prison, and while the first break-in caught the public’s imagination, the second caught the public’s ire, as concern for the newborn princess overrode the novelty of a kid breaking into the castle.

But almost immediately after Jones’ sentence, he was back. This time he helped himself to a snack, but the palace had increased security, and a guard caught him. Jones was sentenced to three months hard labor, and still more palace guards were added.

Thing we were unhappiest to learn: The adult Jones’ life doesn’t seem to have been a happy one. After his second prison sentence, he did a stint in the Navy, at one point sneaking away and walking the 70 miles to London to revisit his old friend the Queen. (Google Maps estimates it’s a 23.5-hour walk) He was caught again, and returned to his ship. Once he moved to Australia, he became Perth’s town crier, which seems to be the highest station he rose to in life.

Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: When Jones enlists, Wikipedia says he was, “sent to do duty in the Navy,” suggesting his reasons for signing up were more for punishment for being caught near the palace again than patriotism. The three ships he served on have to have the three best names in Her Majesty’s navy: HMS Warspite, HMS Inconstant, and HMS Harlequin. Each ship has its own Wiki page; Warspite had previously been named Waterloo and Conqueror, before being burned down by three teenage boys (the boy Jones was not, as far as we know, among them). Inconstant was the fastest warship in the world in 1868, and remained in service (mostly as a training ship) until 1955. Nothing interesting happened to Harlequin.

Further down the wormhole: In between prison and the Navy, Jones turned down an offer to appear in one of London’s music halls. Similar to American vaudeville (but not British vaudeville, which is closer to what Americans would call burlesque), music halls were the center of working-class culture and entertainment in the Victorian era. The popularity of music hall-style songcraft survived into the modern era, informing McCartney compositions like, “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Your Mother Should Know,” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” and the BBC was celebrating music hall performers as recently as 1984, when a series called The Old Boy Network gave surviving music hall veterans a chance to perform, while telling their life stories. Occasionally, the show would cede the spotlight to a performer with a long career that started after the music hall era, like Eric Sykes, whose career spanned stage, screen, and radio, as a writer, actor, and director. He started his career performing for troops in WWII, and 50 years later narrated the original run of Teletubbies. Next week, we’ll look at the iconic children’s show that blew the minds of toddlers and LSD users alike, next week.