Reviewed by: Kate Williams
Author: Jan Bondeson
Price (RRP): £16.99
At five o’clock in the morning in Buckingham Palace on 14 December 1838, the night-porter at the equerry’s entrance, William Cox, saw a small, sooty face appear briefly at his door.
Mr Cox called for reinforcements and gave chase. Finally Constable James Stone apprehended the miscreant on the lawn of the palace. The Boy Jones had begun his reign of intrusion.
Edward Jones was a teenager who was inexorably drawn to the palace. The son of an impoverished tailor of York Street of “mischievous and restless disposition”, Jones declared he had been hiding in chimneys and rolling on the royal bed for nearly a year. He had in fact only been there for a few days and he was acquitted of trespass and theft, for he seemed innocent of malicious intent.
Unfortunately, Jones could not resist the siren call of the royal apartments. Two years later, he was discovered grinning out from under the queen’s sofa in her dressing room. This time, he was sentenced to three months in Tothill Fields prison.
It was to no avail. Only a fortnight after he was released, he was apprehended eating cold potatoes in the picture gallery.
The Boy Jones became the subject of ballads, jokes and portraits. Charles Dickens even applied for a private meeting. After his third strike, the authorities decided on a highly illegal move. Jones was bundled away by secret service agents and put on a ship to Brazil.
Bondeson tells a remarkable story, and he is particularly good on the unfair treatment meted out to Jones. He also has a Victorian journalist’s eye for comedy.
The book is a little thin at 150 pages, including illustrations and a chapter on modern-day stalkers, but Bondeson throws in more than enough local colour from his sources to vividly depict a world in which a young boy could enter the queen’s rooms and end up a celebrity.
Kate Williams is the author of Becoming Queen (Arrow, 2009)