The Assassination Attempts on Queen Victoria

Victoria was an extremely popular monarch who was Queen of the United Kingdom and the British Empire for 63 – the longest at the time (second-longest overall, behind her great-great-granddaughter, the current Queen Elizabeth II).

However, that didn’t stop (often insane) people trying to kill her.

7 times.

All of which she survived.

Queen Victoria Is Officially The Baddest Woman In History After Surviving 7 Assassination Attempts

Updated July 3, 2018 15.2k views 11 items

As Britain’s second-longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria ruled Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 until her death in 1901.  If her would-be assassins had gotten their way, that reign would have been a lot shorter.

Queen Victoria survived no fewer than seven – or technically eight – assassination attempts during her long tenure as ruler of England but was only injured once. Her husband, Prince Albert, supposedly threw himself in front of the Queen while protecting her. Somehow, all seven of her almost-assassins all escaped with their lives, but most were sent to Britain’s felon-riddled penal colony, Australia. The Queen was surrounded by death and violence – the widow wore black for fourty years to mourn her husband, she left precise instructions for her own funeral, and even her wet nurse was a killer – but her perseverance through the numerous hardships thrown her way are a testament to her strength.

Unemployed And Mentally Ill, Edward Oxford Tried To Kill The Pregnant Queen In 1840

A few days after being fired from his job at a local pub, Edward Oxford bought two guns and set off for Buckingham Palace. He was eighteen years old and, according to his mother, prone to odd behavior and random maniacal outbursts of alternate rage and laughter.  It was June and when he got to the Palace, he waited with other onlookers for the Queen and her husband to emerge. Late in the evening, a carriage emerged and headed up Constitution Hill toward Hyde Park. Oxford waited for the royals to approach and when they were close, he fired two shots. Oxford was tackled by the crowd, all the while saying that a woman shouldn’t be able to rule England.

At the time, Victoria was four months pregnant and the bravery she showed boosted her popularity with the British public.

Queen Victoria's Diary T... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Queen Victoria Is Officially The Baddest Woman In History After Surviving 7 Assassination Attempts
Photo:  Roger Fenton/WikiMedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
Queen Victoria’s Diary Told A Different Account Of Her Would-Be Murder Than What London Newspapers Reported

In her diary, Queen Victoria described the Edward Oxford assassination attempt as follows:

“At 6, we drove out in our “Drotschky”, as usual, & as we had just left the Palace about ½ way up the road, before Constitution Hill, I was deafened by the loud report of a pistol, & our carriage involuntarily stopped. Albert was sitting on my right. We looked round & saw a little man on the footpath, with his arms folded over his breast, a pistol in each hand, & before ½ a minute elapsed, I saw him aim at me with another pistol. I ducked my head, & another shot, equally loud instantly followed; we looked round & saw that the man had been quickly surrounded & seized. Albert directly ordered the Postillion to drive on as if nothing had happened, to Mama’s house. Just before the 2nd shot was fired & as the man took aim, or rather more while he fired, dear Albert turned towards me, squeezing my hand, exclaiming “my God! Don’t be alarmed.” I assured him I was not the least frightened, which was the case. It never entered my head, nor did it his, after the first shot, that it was meant for me.”

The London Times, however, made Prince Albert out to be a hero who saved the Queen:

“… presented a pistol and fired it directly, either at Her Majesty or Prince Albert, there being no person between him and the carriage. The Prince who, it would seem, had heard the whistling of the ball, turned his head in the direction from which the report came, and Her Majesty at the same instant rose up in the carriage, but Prince Albert as suddenly pulled her down by his side. The man then drew from behind his back a second pistol, which he discharged after the carriage, which proceeding at the ordinary pace, had … passed him a little”

And Oxford’s own testimony at trial supported this account. Oxford claimed that Albert “was about to jump from the carriage and put his foot out, but when he saw me present the second pistol, he immediately drew back.”

The extent of Albert’s gallantry remains unclear.

In 1842, A Thespian Cabi... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Queen Victoria Is Officially The Baddest Woman In History After Surviving 7 Assassination Attempts
Photo: G. H.Miles/Public Domain
In 1842, A Thespian Cabinetmaker Tried To Kill Victoria Twice In One Weekend

Queen Victoria survived the first assassination attempt in 1840 only to have another brush with death two years later. John Francis, a former theater performer and cabinetmaker with a criminal history of theft, took a page from Oxford’s playbook and fired a gun at the Queen as she traveled in a carriage near Buckingham Palace.

Francis actually did this twice in 1842 – once on May 29th and again on May 30th. After first shooting at the Queen on Constitution Hill on May 29th, Francis ran off.  The Prime Minister at the time, Robert Peel, made plans to draw him out and trap him. The Queen was an active participant, insisting that she would be bait, as she again made her way up Constitution Hill the next day. This time, the crowd was full of policemen in plain clothes and they immediately apprehended Francis after he drew his weapon. The gun wasn’t even loaded but Francis was still charged with treason.

Queen Victoria Had Pity ... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Queen Victoria Is Officially The Baddest Woman In History After Surviving 7 Assassination Attempts
Photo: Charles Clifford/Public Domain
Queen Victoria Had Pity On Her Second Would-Be Killer And Stepped In To Commute His Execution

Victoria’s second attempted assassin, John Francis, was charged with high treason and sentenced to execution. However, in the interim month between the shooting and the scheduled execution as Francis was held at Newgate Prison, Queen Victoria and Albert  discussed the matter at length and eventually had pity on her would-be killer. Victoria personally stepped in and commuted Francis’ sentence, banishing him from the Kingdom for life. He served seven years’ labor in Australia.

After A Hunchbacked Dwarf Trie is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Queen Victoria Is Officially The Baddest Woman In History After Surviving 7 Assassination Attempts
Photo: Franz Xaver Winterhalter/WikiMedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
After A Hunchbacked Dwarf Tried To Shoot Her in 1842, Victoria’s Prime Minister Reportedly Burst Into Tears

John William Bean’s father wanted him to be a metalsmith like he was, but Bean’s four-foot frame and hunchback physically prevented him from doing the work. Bean ended up working at a newsstand and, in 1842, read a story about Edward Oxford and his life after trying to kill the Queen. Oxford had been sent to an insane asylum and, according to him, was living the life of luxury.

The accounts weren’t true but eighteen-year-old Bean was desperate. His physical deformities tormented him and he thought that maybe he could find a happier life, or at least end his own, if he tried to kill the Queen. On July 3, 1842 – just five weeks after John Francis shot at the Queen – Bean did the same. He waited near Buckingham Palace and as Victoria and her uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, approached, he fired his gun. The weapon was full of paper, pieces of a pipe, and gravel and misfired.

The Queen’s prime minister Robert Peel allegedly burst into tears when he heard the news. Reports later confirmed Bean’s fate, but it wasn’t the gilded cage of luxury he so badly wanted.

Although he initially escaped, he was captured when police simply began rounding up the city’s hunchbacked dwarfs. He received only an 18-month prison sentence.

Disgruntled Irish Farm Worker  is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Queen Victoria Is Officially The Baddest Woman In History After Surviving 7 Assassination Attempts
Photo: Harry Payne/WikiMedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
Disgruntled Irish Farm Worker William Hamilton Tried To Kill Her In 1849

After the hunchback incident, it was seven years before another assassin tried to kill Queen Victoria and, again, it took place on Constitution Hill in London. On May 19, 1849, William Hamilton fired at Victoria as she approached Buckingham Palace. It was one of Victoria’s first public appearances since giving birth to her seventh child. Hamilton, an orphaned Irish farm laborer who was only 23 years old, had moved to London after the potato blight struck Ireland. He later moved to Paris and witnessed the revolution of 1848 before returning to England. By 1849, he was in and out of jail and unemployed.

Fueled by his revolutionary spirit, he made his way to Constitution Hill with a small pocket pistol. His gun was not properly loaded, which was a blessing because he shot at the Queen from point-blank range.

The Only Would-Be Assassin To  is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Queen Victoria Is Officially The Baddest Woman In History After Surviving 7 Assassination Attempts
Photo: Franz Xaver Winterhalter/WikiMedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
The Only Would-Be Assassin To Actually Harm The Queen Hit Her With His Walking Stick

1n 1850, Robert Pate got close enough to hit the Queen. As Victoria left the bedside of her sick uncle, the 50-year-old former soldier jumped out at her and hit her in the head. He used a walking cane with an iron tip and some reports say he waved a gun but never fired it. Victoria was not seriously injured but the blow “left the Queen with a black eye, a welt and a scar that lasted for years.” Pate was exiled to Tasmania for seven years of labor. Not one to let a little iron-tipped welt hold her back, Queen Victoria still managed to made a public appearance at the opera later that night although her attendants advised her to stay home:

“Certainly not: if I do not go, it will be thought I am seriously hurt and people will be distressed and alarmed.”[Victoria said].

“But you are hurt, ma’am,” her lady replied. “Then everyone shall see how little I mind it,” the Queen said.

At the time of the attack, Victoria reportedly commented that the braver assassins had at least attempted to shoot her and frowned upon the man any man that struck a woman. No real motive for the attack was ever revealed.

A Teenage Irish Nationalist Tr is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Queen Victoria Is Officially The Baddest Woman In History After Surviving 7 Assassination Attempts
Photo: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons
A Teenage Irish Nationalist Tried To Shoot Her In 1872

After her husband died in 1861, Queen Victoria began traveling with equerries, or household men who attended to the stables, as well as her attendant John Brown. On February 29, 1872, a seventeen-year-old boy named Arthur O’Connor waited outside of Buckingham Palace for the Queen and her companions to return from their outing. O’Connor was from London but claimed to be “passionately Irish.” At one point, he hoped to “restore the reputation of the O’Connors, and join the pantheon of great Irish heroes” by killing the Queen but then thought that scaring her into freeing Ireland would be a better option.

Outside of Buckingham Palace, O’Connor asked a policeman when the Queen would be back and pushed his way to the front of the crowd near the gate at which the Queen would arrive. When the carriage with the Queen and her companions arrived, O’Connor aimed his gun at her but never got off a shot.  John Brown knocked the gun out of O’Connor’s hand, grabbed him, and threw him to the ground. Once the scene calmed a bit, it was discovered that O’Connor’s gun wasn’t functional.

Brown was rewarded for his heroism with a gold medal and a financial gift. O’Connor was sentenced to a year in prison and “20 strokes with a birch rod.”

An Insane Tramp Bought A Gun A is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Queen Victoria Is Officially The Baddest Woman In History After Surviving 7 Assassination Attempts
Photo: Carl Rudolph Sohn (1845-1908)/WikiMedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
An Insane Tramp Bought A Gun And Tried To Shoot Her At A Train Station In 1882

The final attempt on Queen Victoria’s life took place on March 2, 1882. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Crown was under a great deal of pressure from Ireland and Irish nationalists who wanted independence.

As the Queen left Windsor Station by train, Roderick MacLean, an Irish radical who was “filthy, either unwilling or unable to wash off the dust of the many roads upon which he had tramped,” fired his gun at her. MacLean had previously been in an insane asylum and was diagnosed with homicidal mania in 1881. In addition to hating the Queen, he also detested the number four, and had written numerous letters to his sister talking about getting revenge on the English. MacLean’s attack did not harm the Queen and the two onlookers supposedly disarmed him were then thanked by Victoria at the time of the event.

Although MacLean was tried for high treason, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. In an abrupt turn from her attitude during assassination attempts prior, the Queen was dissatisfied with the lax sentences on would-be murderers and urged her cabinet to create more severe laws.

Later that decade, would-be assassination plot by multiple Irish radical nationalists in 1887 during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee was eventually foiled.

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Photo: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons
All Of Victoria’s Would-Be Assassins Were Men, Many Pled Insanity, And Most Were Exiled To Australia

One common defense used by Queen Victoria’s would-be assassins was insanity.  Edward Oxford was determined to be insane at trial and sent to an asylum, although he was released in 1867 and ordered to leave England. He lived in Australia until his death in 1900.

John Pate was also found to be insane at trial but it was also determined that he knew right from wrong. His was transported to Tasmania for seven years of exile. Robert MacLean was also found to be not of sound mind for his crime when he was tried for treason and was confined to Broadmoor Asylum for the rest of his life. After the MacLean trial, the legal definition of insanity in England was established at the Queen’s urging.

John Francis was supposed to die for his crimes but the Queen commuted the sentence to “transportation for life, and under such commuted sentence he will be forthwith transported, and subjected to hard labour the most penal settlement in the Australian colonies.”

William Hamilton was also transported out of England for seven years and John William Bean was “imprisoned in her Majesty’s gaol of Newgate for the term of 18 calendar months.” Because his gun wasn’t actually able to load, however, he was charged with a lesser crime. Arthur O’Connor spent one year in prison and received twenty strokes with a birch rod.

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Photo: Unknown/WikiMedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
Assassination Attempts Increased The Queen’s Public Appeal

Queen Victoria’s popularity in England made her one of the most beloved monarchs in modern history, though her long reign also oversaw some traumatic and difficult events. Her marriage to Albert, their shared responsibilities, and their growing family led to an increase in her public appeal. So did assassination attempts. At the time of the first attempt on her life, Queen Victoria was pregnant and the public immediately praise her for her courage. This trend continued. With each attempt on her life, the public praised her more and more.  She reportedly said “It is worth being shot at to see how much one is loved.”

27 thoughts on “The Assassination Attempts on Queen Victoria

    1. Yeah, some people really had it in for her. One did it because he hoped to get interned in a comfortable asylum!
      (P.S. Fun fact: the very first royal to visit Australia was shot when he arrived. It was Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Alfred. He survived.)

      Liked by 1 person

            1. My fascination with royal history was partly fueled by an old family legend that we descend from Charles II (which was also what partly got me into genealogy).
              Still haven’t found a connection to Charles (other than distant cousin), but I found out a lot of interesting stuff along the way.

              Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Yeah, I hadn’t heard about the assassination attempts on Victoria until shortly before doing this post.
      I WAS aware, though, that the first time a royal visited Australia (Prince Alfred, Victoria’s son), he was shot.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Racheal says hi.
          Yes, we have an interesting history, as does Britain. I have interesting family history in both countries.
          Me, Racheal, and our two brothers staying at Grandma’s with us are going back home on Monday.
          Mum and my brother Yoel are staying in hospital; Yoel collapsed on the toilet just recently.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh no! My heart hurts for him. I will keep praying. I’m glad you guys are going home. It’s so hard to be separated like that. It turns your world upside down. Well, even more than it already has been with this virus. Such crazy times we live in. Please give your family my love.

            Liked by 1 person

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