Queen Victoria’s reign, we are led to believe, was a long and happy one. She ruled over a period of innovation and great prosperity (for some); of tight corsets, top hats, and clanking steam engines. With its empire at its height, Britain saw enormous changes, both technological and social.
But it wasn’t all caviar and chocolates. Good Queen Vic, God bless ‘er, wasn’t universally loved. In fact, she was the subject of no fewer than seven assassination attempts. Most involved disturbed individuals taking potshots at her with pistols as she passed in her carriage.
Far from terrifying Her Majesty, she seemed to rather enjoy the experience. “It is worth being shot at”, she said, “to see how much one is loved”. Every time someone had a go at her, her popularity increased.
The first attempt was when she was just 21 years old and pregnant, riding through London. On 10 June 1840, 18-year-old Edward Oxford, unemployed, fired on her. He was tried for high treason and found guilty, but was acquitted on the grounds of insanity. He spent the rest of his life in a lunatic asylum.
In 1842, she was targeted twice. First, in May, by John Francis; then in July by John Bean. Francis’s death sentence was commuted to transportation for life. While Bean, who loaded his pistol with just paper, gravel and pieces of clay pipe, was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
In 1849, William Hamilton had a go. He received seven years’ transportation for his trouble.
On 27 June 1850, Robert Francis Pate changed tack. Instead of standing back and firing, he rushed towards her carriage, and bopped her on the forehead with his cane. He was exiled to Tasmania.
In 1872, a “passionately Irish” 17-year-old, Arthur O’Connor, had a go. He was sentenced to one year’s hard labour, and 20 strokes of the birch. He ended his days as an “imbecile” in Hanwell asylum.
And on this day in 1882, at Windsor station, Roderick Maclean became the last in a long line of would-be killers. As the Queen and Princess Beatrice got into their carriage, he fired on them. He was immediately set upon by two pupils from Eton School, who bashed him about the head with their umbrellas until he was arrested. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and confined to a lunatic asylum.
Also on this day
On this day in 1797, the Bank of England printed the first pound note in order to help pay for war with France. Read more here.