On this day in 1882, Queen Victoria survived her eighth and final assassination attempt. I was surprised to find out that Queen Victoria had been such a regular target. So I thought I’d take a closer look at who these people were. The first attack was in June 1840 when she was pregnant with her first child. Victoria and Albert were out driving in their carriage when Edward Oxford fired two pistols at them. Both shots missed. He was arrested and afterwards sent to Australia. He said he had done it for the notoriety it would bring him.
I was even more surprised to find out that attempts two and three were carried out on two consecutive days, in 1842, by the same man. John Francis was an angry out of work stage carpenter and failed tobacconist who felt he deserved better in life. On the first occasion, his gun failed to go off. He was only seen by Prince Albert and one other person. The next day, the Queen and Prince somewhat recklessly agreed to go out again to see if he would put in another appearance. This time Robert Peel, who was then Prime Minister, had several police officers stationed along the route. One of these was Constable William Trounce. He had been watching a rather furtive looking man for some time. But as the Queen’s carriage approach, he was torn between the job he was meant to be doing and showing respect for his queen. He chose wrong. He decided to salute her. John Francis chose that moment to fire his weapon. Luckily the shot missed and the constable was able to arrest him. John Francis was sentenced to be drawn, hanged and quartered which is not quite the same thing as being hung, drawn and quartered. A condemned person would be drawn (dragged) on a hurdle to the place of execution, hanged until dead and then cut into four parts. His sentence was later commuted to transportation for life. Constable Trounce did not lose his job.
Shortly after that, there was a fourth attack. This time by a man called John Bean. His pistol, which was loaded with paper and bits of broken clay pipe, failed to go off. It seemed like there was a bit of a mania for taking pot-shots at the Queen. Oddly, Robert Peel responded by making it a lesser crime punishable, not by hanging, but by flogging and imprisonment. Even more oddly, it seemed to work. There were no more attempts for another seven years. I don’t know if Queen Victoria ever used the parasol lined with chain-mail that she was given for protection.
In 1849 she was shot at by William Hamilton. He was an unemployed bricklayer who felt he would have a better life in prison. He was jailed on Gibraltar for seven years. Her fifth attacker was Robert Pate in 1850. He is generally described having been often seen behaving eccentrically in London Parks. I tried to find out more but just came up with the fact that his clothes were unusual and there was a vague mention of goose stepping. He was the only one who actually hurt her. He hit her on the head with his stick, giving her a black eye and a scar that lasted for ten years. The Queen insisted on attending the opera a few hours later just so everyone could see that she hadn’t been badly hurt. Her ladies-in-waiting insisted that she shouldn’t go, as she clearly was hurt. “Then” she said, “they will see how little I mind.”
Her sixth attacker, in 1872, was a young Irishman who imagined himself a martyr to the cause of Irish Nationalism. He wanted her to sign a document he had written which ordered the freeing of Irish political prisoners. He expected to be shot by firing squad and die a hero. But the Queen’s servant and very good friend John Brown knocked the pistol from his hand. He was arrested and sent to Australia.
This brings us to March 2nd 1882 and Roderick Maclean. Maclean had suffered a head injury in 1866, declared of unsound mind in 1772 and committed to an asylum in 1880. However, in 1882, he was pronounced ‘cured’ and released. From that time, he had wandered about the country, convinced that anyone wearing the colour blue would cause him harm, as would anything to do with the number four. He had sent a poem to the Queen which had been rejected on her behalf by one of her ladies-in-waiting and he was upset about it. He sold his scarf and concertina, bought a gun and headed for Windsor. He managed to take a single shot at Victoria before he was grabbed by some Eton schoolboys and hit over the head with an umbrella. He was probably the only one of her attackers who was completely insane. He was committed to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum for the rest of his life.
I don’t know what his rejected poem was, but I can tell you about another poem connected with the incident. It is by William Topaz McGonagall, who many consider to be the worst poet in the English language. I’m definitely not going to inflict all of it on you, but here’s a snippet:
God prosper long our noble Queen,
And long may she reign!
Maclean he tried to shoot her,
But it was all in vain.
For God He turned the ball aside
Maclean aimed at her head;
And he felt very angry
Because he didn’t shoot her dead.