Friday, May 18, 2018

5 Minutes of History: Queen Victoria Assassination Attempts


Queen Victoria in her carriage, 1892

“It is worth being shot at to see how much one is loved.”
-          Queen Victoria

It is not so well known that Queen Victoria(1819 – 1901),  survived 8 assassination attempts.  Not many leaders have survived more attempts so, in terms of her quotation above, she could see that she was greatly loved.

The attempts . . .

Edward Oxford
10 June, 1840

On 10 February 1840 Queen Victoria (she was queen from 1837 to her death) married her first cousin, Prince Albert. On 10 June 1840  HRH, four months pregnant (!) and hubby left Buckingham Palace in an open carriage for their regular ride through Hyde Park. Not far outside the palace gates, 18 year old Edward Oxford, described by Albert later as  “a little mean-looking man”,  fired a pair of dueling pistols at them and missed both times.  He later claimed that there were no bullets in the pistols, just gunpowder.  After Oxford was arrested and charged with treason, a jury found that Oxford was not guilty by reason of insanity.  He was sent to Bedlam, where he was a model patient, learning to speak several languages, before moving to Broadmoor in 1864. He was discharged in 1867, deported to Australia and became a pillar of society in Melbourne, where he changed his name to John Freeman (true).  He became a housepainter and author.  Queen Victoria was hostile about the determination and felt that he should have been hanged so that his death would have acted as a deterrent to other potential regicides.

Edward Oxford, 1856


John Francis
29 May, 1842

Two years later the royal couple were again travelling in their open carriage, this time after attending a Sunday morning service at the royal chapel at St. James’s Palace.  John Francis, who Albert later described as “a little, swarthy, ill-looking rascal”, pointed a flintlock pistol at them and pulled the but the weapon failed to fire. Francis then fled.

John Francis

John Francis
30 May. 1842

Although HRH wanted to stay inside at Buckingham Palace until Francis was caught, the authorities had a much better idea, that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert should go out again the next day in their open carriage as bait to flush out Francis.   Albert subsequently wrote to his father “You may imagine that our minds were not very easy.  We looked behind every tree, and I cast my eyes round in search of the rascal’s face.” Plain-clothed officers with a description of the suspect scoured the crowd but then a shot suddenly rang out just five paces from the carriage. Police tackled Francis, whose shot had missed.  He was sentenced to be hanged and quartered before the Queen commuted his sentence to banishment for life.

John Francis’s second attempt.

John William Bean
-   3 July, 1842

Five weeks after Francis’s bungled assassination attempts, 17-year-old John William Bean waited for the queen’s procession as it left Buckingham Palace to travel the short trip to the nearby royal chapel.  Bean, a stunted hunchback, understandably was unhappy with his life.  He wanted a change, any change, even a prison sentence.  As the royal carriage passed, Bean pulled out a pistol and pulled the trigger but the gun didn’t fire.  Weren’t there any firearms in London that worked??  A bystander grabbed his wrist but he escaped.  There weren’t that many four foot hunchbacks in London although hunchbacks were rousted for weeks afterwards.  That night Bean was arrested at the family home.  Bean said the Queen’s life was never in danger as his pistol was loaded with more tobacco than gunpowder and pointed to the ground. He was sentenced to 18 months of hard labor.

William Hamilton
19 June, 1849

On the above date, in the evening of the official commemoration of her birthday, Queen Victoria rode through Hyde and Regent’s Park with three of her children, including the future King Edward VII. Nine years earlier Edward Oxford had stood in the same position as William Hamilton now stood.  Hamilton fired at the carriage as it passed but no one was injured and Hamilton was captured.  Hamilton, an unemployed bricklayer, had moved from Ireland to London 9 years earlier at the time of the Great Hunger.   He told the police he had fired the gun loaded only with powder “for the purpose of getting into prison, as he was tired of being out of work.” He pled guilty and was banished to the prison colony of Gibraltar for seven years.

Sketch from the London News of Hamilton’s attempt on the life of Queen Victoria

Robert Pate
27 June, 1850

On the above date, Queen Victoria and three of her children were visiting her dying uncle at Cambridge House.  Pate, a former British Army officer who had descended into insanity, came upon the Queen in her carriage as he was walking and as she was leaving. Pate hit her on the forehead with his cane, raising a welt and blackening her eye.  As the crowd manhandled the attacker, the Queen stood up and proclaimed, “I am not hurt.”  Her black eye and welt showed otherwise.  although the immense bruise on the right side of her head and the black eye later proved otherwise. Pate, who was the only potential assassin to harm the queen, was sentenced to seven years in the penal colony of Tasmania.   (In 1842 the Security of Her Majesty’s Person Act had lowered the punishment to whipping and seven years’ imprisonment or transportation.)

 Btw, nearly half a century later, on New Year’s Day 1899, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper reported in an article entitled “Notoriety of a Stick” that what was apparently Pate’s weapon was to be sold at auction in London.  The Queen was not amused.  A quiet word was sent from the Palace to the auction house. The cane was withdrawn from sale and it has never come before the public since.

Arthur O’Connor
29 February, 1872

If you are starting to sense patterns and repetitions in these assassination attempts, then the next will only confirm it further.

Seventeen year old Irish nationalist Arthur O’Connor had dreams of being an Irish martyr to the Fenian cause.  On 29 February 1872 he scaled the fence at Buckingham Palace and ran across the courtyard without being detected.  Her Maj had been on a carriage ride in Hyde Park for Leap Year Day.  When she returned to the palace entrance, O’Connor rushed up to the side of the carriage and pointed his flintlock  pistol only 30 cm (one foot) from her.  John Brown, the queen’s personal servant, seized the teenager by the neck and tackled him to the ground as the queen was rushed to safety.  O’Connor’s pistol was broken and unusable  but this was not known to Victoria or John Brown.  O’Connor declared that he never intended to kill Queen Victoria, only to frighten her into signing a document that would release Irish political prisoners being held in British jails. Brown received a medal for his heroism. O’Connor received a year in prison, 20 strokes with a birch rod and exile to Australia.


Roderick Maclean
2 March, 1882

The only man who fired at the Queen with a loaded gun was Roderick Maclean, her last attacker, who ambushed her in her carriage as she emerged from Windsor station after arriving by train from London. The queen wrote later, “there was the sound of what I thought was an explosion from the engine, but in another moment, I saw people rushing about and a man being violently hustled, rushing down the street.” Roderick Maclean, who had fired the shot at the queen, was set upon by a group of nearby Eton students and pummeled with their umbrellas.  After his arrest, Maclean explained that his action was the result of the frustration he felt after sending the Queen a number of poems he had written that were not accepted by her.  At the time it was not uncommon for struggling artists to solicit patronage from the aristocracy, including the head of the Monarchy.

During Maclean’s sentencing, he was found not guilty of high treason, but insane. The sentence bothered the Queen so much, she established a new law known as “Trial of the Lunatics Act 1883.” Under the new law, the same procedures would be enacted, but a sentence of insanity would read, “guilty, but insane.”

MacLean spent the rest of his life in an asylum. 

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