I love to lose myself in royal history. The prestigious role of Poet Laureate has been filled by some of the most talented British poets.
Queen Victoria Was Not Beloved By All
Although being a monarch may seem an enviable role, it carries anxieties which the public doesn’t have to deal with. One of these is the risk of assassination. Kings George III, Edward VIII and Edward VII when the Prince of Wales, managed to fend off attacks from disillusioned, anarchistic or possibly insane assassins. Being female offered and offers no protection; Elizabeth II (b.1926) has thankfully survived several attempts on her life and the diminutive powerhouse that was Queen Victoria (1819-1901) survived eight assassination attempts during her long reign.
On the 10th June 1840, eighteen-year-old Edward Oxford fired two pistols at the pregnant queen from a short distance away as she rode in an open carriage through Hyde Park and on to Constitution Hill in London with her husband Prince Albert (1819-1861.) Oxford missed her and she was uninjured primarily because she believed the sound of the first pistol shot came from the park, probably someone shooting a bird, and so she turned to look. Realising that a pistol, Oxford’s second one, was pointed at her she ducked down and his shot whistled overhead.
The crowd trapped Oxford and the queen and Prince Albert nervously continued their outing to demonstrate they were very much alive and that they trusted that not all of their subjects wielded weapons. Edward Oxford was declared insane and sent to Broadmoor Hospital in Berkshire. After over two decades in an asylum, he was deported to Australia.
If at First You Don't Succeed to Kill...
On the 29th May 1842, John Francis intended to shoot the queen as she processed along The Mall with Prince Albert after their Sunday worship. Fortunately for Victoria, he either lost his nerve or his gun misfired and he fled the scene via Green Park. The queen refused to be restricted to the palace and reasoned that the quickest way to apprehend the would-be assassin was for her to venture out again.
John Francis returned to The Mall on the evening of the 30th May 1842. This time, his shot missed the queen and Prince Albert as they sat nervously in their carriage. He was swiftly apprehended by the plain-clothed policemen on watch. In response to his actions, and probably Edward Oxford’s a couple of years before, the 1842 Treason Act was introduced. John Francis was sentenced to death but this was commuted to transportation by Queen Victoria.
Just over a month after Francis’ attempts, teenager John William Bean fired a gun filled with paper, tobacco and clay piping, but his shots missed Victoria, Albert and their guest, Leopold, King of the Belgians as they journeyed along The Mall on the 3rd July 1842. Bean was spotted as he removed his gun from his coat and fled. A search was made and Bean was arrested and sentenced to 18 months in prison with hard labour because although the materials released from the weapon were not lethal the paper in the shot could have set the queen’s dress on fire.
Desperate Assassin, Insane Assassin
William Hamilton fired a blank towards Victoria’s carriage on the 19th June 1849 from almost the same position that Edward Oxford had chosen in 1840. He swore that he intended no harm to the monarch. His motive for the act was that he was destitute, weary of being out of work and he believed that whilst in a prison he would at least eat properly and have a roof over his head. He was sentenced to seven years transportation which he spent incarcerated in sunny Gibraltar.
Another regicide attempt was made in late June 1850. Robert Pate, an ex-army officer, was notorious in London and even known of by the queen because he often, allegedly, goose-stepped around Hyde Park. He managed to injure Queen Victoria whilst she was sat in her phaeton outside Cambridge House after paying a visit to her dying uncle Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge.
Pate struck her with an iron-tipped cane and she was left with a black eye, a bleeding wound and scarring. Her bonnet was smashed on impact. Pate was wrestled away by the crowd. That evening, the queen defiantly attended the opera and did not disguise her black eye. She was hailed as a hero; Pate was sentenced to seven years transportation in Tasmania.
Pistol Wielding Assailants
On the 29th February 1872, seventeen-year-old Irishman Arthur O’Connor scaled the fence and loitered on the grounds of Buckingham Palace undetected. He wanted to persuade the queen to free every Irish prisoner held in Britain. O’ Connor aimed a pistol at her face as she stepped out of her carriage after taking a trip around the royal parks, but he was overpowered by her trusted servant John Brown and arrested.
He claimed that he had no intention of killing Victoria but he was determined to frighten her into signing documents that secured the release of prisoners. He was sentenced to one year in prison and 20 strikes with the birch. He was eventually sent to Australia. John Brown was rewarded with a medal and money by his grateful and devoted queen. Newspaper reports boldly stated that the queen was unaffected by the event but privately she considered that this attempt on her life at her home was the most frightening of all the attempts.
Roderick Maclean made the last assassination attempt on Victoria in March 1882. Twenty-eight-year-old Maclean was a mentally ill vagrant and poet. He became fixated with her. He also apparently loathed the number 4 and claimed to have tried seven or eight times to shoot Victoria before this attempt.
Maclean shot at Victoria in her carriage at Windsor railway station as she travelled to the castle. He was thrown to the ground by onlookers. When he was tried for treason Maclean was found “not guilty by reason of insanity.” The queen was dissatisfied with the verdict and an alteration in the law ensued to allow harsher sentencing. The verdict of “guilty but insane” came into use which was deemed more appropriate. Roderick Maclean spent the remainder of his life in asylums.
Who would want to be a monarch? I'll pass, thanks.
- The Man Who Tried to Kill Queen Victoria Twice
On May 30 1842, John Francis made his second unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Queen Victoria the day after he made his first.
- The Assassination Attempts on Queen Victoria - History of Royal Women
- 8 Times Queen Victoria Survived Attempted Assassinations - HISTORY
Queen Victoria’s 63-year reign on the British throne would have been considerably shorter had any one of eight assassination attempts succeeded.