7 Assassination Attempts on Queen Victoria

Until 9 September 2015 when she was surpassed by her great-great-granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria held the record as the longest Britain’s longest reigning monarch at 63 years and 216 days.

However, Queen Victoria’s reign was almost cut short at least seven times when the following would-be assassins tried to take her life.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”10 June 1840″ title=”10 June 1840 – Edward Oxford”]
Edward Oxford shooting at Queen Victoria, June 10, 1840
Edward Oxford shooting at Queen Victoria, June 10, 1840
G. H.Miles (Life time: 1840) – Original publication: June-Dec, 1840 Immediate source: British Museum

On 10 June 1840, at approximately 6:00 pm, the Queen and Prince Albert left Buckingham Palace by the garden gate in their German drotschky 1carriage, bound for the home of the Duchess of Kent and accompanied by their two usual attendants, Colonel Buckley and Sir Edward Bowater. The carriage rounded the corner and had proceeded a short distance along Constitution-hill when a young man standing with his back to the railings fired once on her Majesty and Prince Albert. Immediately afterwards, another shot was heard. The carriage initially paused but Prince Albert urged it to drive on in haste. Spectators rushed towards the shooter and seized him and he was handed over to two of the Metropolitan Police who took him to the Queen-square Police Court.

It was later determined that eighteen-year-old Edward Oxford fired two pistols at the Royal Carriage. He was charged with High Treason and bound over for trial on 9 July.

Edward Oxford you are indicted, and the indictment states that you, being a subject of our Lady the Queen, heretofore, to wit, on the 10th day of June, in the year of our Lord 1840, within the jurisdiction of the said Court, as a false traitor to our said Lady the Queen, maliciously and traitorously, with force and arms, &c did compass, imagine and intend to bring a put our said Lady the Queen to death.<span class="su-quote-cite">London Evening Standard - Thursday 09 July 1840</span>
Contemporary Lithograph of Edward Oxford's Assassination Attempt
Contemporary Lithograph of Edward Oxford’s Assassination Attempt

Edward Oxford pleaded not guilty. Many witnesses were called and much evidence was given over the next three days. The chief defense was that no ball was found, either in the area of the shooting or in the Royal carriage and therefore, there was no certainty that the prisoner had done anything more than discharge two pistols loaded with powder and nothing more. If there were no balls in the pistols, then there could be no attempt to murder the Queen. Finally, the jury retired to consider the evidence. Within three-quarters of an hour, they were back.

We find the prisoner, Edward Oxford, guilty of discharging the contents of two pistols, but whether or not they were loaded with ball has not been satisfactorily proved to us, he being of unsound state of mind at the time.

London Evening Standard – Saturday 11 July 1840

The verdict resulted in a hurried debate. If Edward was acquitted on the ground of insanity, he could be imprisoned during her Majesty’s pleasure, but the jury had acquitted the prisoner of the offence by failing to be persuaded that the pistols were loaded with bullets. Again the jury went off to deliberate. After about an hour, they returned and found the prisoner Guilty, he being at the time insane. After more discussion, their verdict was restated to them as a question:

Do you acquit the prisoner on the ground of insanity?

London Evening Standard – Saturday 11 July 1840

On their agreement, the Attorney General announce that Edward Oxford was therefore to be confined in strict custody ‘during her Majesty’s pleasure’.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”30 May 1842″ title=”30 May 1842 – John Francis”]
Old Bailey
Old Bailey

The second attempt on Queen Victoria’s life was very similar to the first. On the evening of Monday, 30 May 1842, at about six o’clock in the evening, as the Queen and Prince Albert were returning from their evening drive in their open barouche, John Francis attempted to fire a pistol into the carriage. He was spotted by police constable Tanner who rushed towards him in an attempt to knock the pistol out of his hand. As he seized the pistol, it went off, although it did not injure her Majesty or the Prince.

CRIMINAL COURT, LONDON, Friday, June 17 JOHN FRANCIS was placed at the bar, charged on the indictment that he being a subject of our Lady the Queen, and not regarding the duty of his allegiance, as a false traitor against our said Lady the Queen, on the 30th May, 1842, at Westminster, did shoot off and discharge a certain pistol loaded with gunpowder and a bullet, which he in his right hand held at and against the person of our said Lady the Queen, with intent thereby and therewith maliciously and traitorously to shoot, assassinate, kill, and put to death our said Lady the Queen ; and thereby had traitorously and maliciously made a direct attempt against the life of our said Lady the Queen. The second overt act varied only from the first by stating that the pistol was loaded with gunpowder and certain other destructive materials and substances to the persons unknown. The third overt act charged was the same, only for shooting off and discharging a certain loaded pistol. The fourth was the same, only for shooting and discharging a certain pistol.

Sheffield Independent – Saturday 25 June 1842

John Francis was tried for High Treason and found guilty on Friday, June 17 at the Criminal Court in London.

The Jury having consulted for a few minutes in the box, The Foreman said— My Lord, I think that we had better retire. Lord Chief Justice Tindal— Certainly, Gentlemen. The Jury then retired at twenty minutes to four o’clock to consider the verdict, and returned into court at five minutes after five, and brought in a verdict of guilty on the second and third counts. We think (said the Foreman) there are some doubts on the first. Lord Chief Justice Tindal — Do you find him guilty of the first overt art, that the pistol was loaded with a bullet? We do not. Lord Chief Justice Tindal — Do you find him guilty on the second overt act, that the pistol was charged with some destructive substance? Foreman — We do. Lord Chief Justice Tindal — lt is your opinion, therefore, that the pistol was loaded with something else besides wadding and powder? Foreman— It is. Chief-Justice Tindal — I wished distinctly to ascertain your opinion on that point.

Sheffield Independent – Saturday 25 June 1842

With the verdict so determined, Chief Justice Tindall pronounced the sentence:

It now only remains for me to pass upon you the sentence of the law, which is that you, John Frances, be taken from hence to tbe place from whence you came, that you be drawn from thence on a hurdle to the place of execution and that you be hanged by the neck until you be dead; that your head be afterwards severed from your body, and that your body be divided into four quarters, to be disposed of in such manner as to her Majesty shall seem fit. And the Lord have mercy on your soul.

Sheffield Independent – Saturday 25 June 1842

It was said that Edward Oxford, on hearing the sentence, remarked that had he been hanged, the attempt by Francis would never have been made. In early July however, the newspapers reported that Queen Victoria had commuted Francis’ sentence from death to transportation:

THE CONVICT FRANCIS RESPITED. The Standard of Saturday night says We are enabled to state upon authority that her Majesty has been most graciously pleased to signify her commands, that the life of John Francis, the convict Newgate under sentence of death for high treason, shall be spared. The sentence of this prisoner will, therefore, be commuted 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.

Berkshire Chronicle – Saturday 09 July 1842
[aesop_timeline_stop num=”3 July 1842″ title=”3 July 1842 – John William Bean”]

On Sunday, 3 July 1842, as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were travelling along the Mall to the Chapel Royal in their carriage, a humpbacked boy dressed in a long brown coat pushed his way to the front of the standing crowd and pulled out a pistol. Standing near him, sixteen-year-old Charles Edward Dassett seized his wrist. Seeing two policemen walking on the opposite side of the mall, Dassett took the boy over, showed them the pistol and told them that he had been trying to shoot the Queen. They laughed and told Dassett that there was no charge to be made and he was forced to let the boy go.

Not long after, Dassett was apprehended in Green Park for having a pistol in his hand. He was taken to the station house where he told his story about the humpbacked boy who had tried to shoot the Queen. Witnesses were called and the story was collaborated upon which point the two police constables, Hearn and Calxton were called in and reprimanded for not taking the accusation seriously. They were suspended from further duty for the present time.

From Dassett’s description, it was determined that the accused boy was William Bean, the son of a jeweler in Clerkenwell. The police proceeded to the Bean house and took the lad into custody.

Newgate Prison
Newgate Prison
via Wikimedia Commons

Bean declared that he had not intended to hurt the Queen but that he had committed the act only to be taken up. He said he had put nothing in the pistol but powder and paper and had been in the park for three days waiting for his opportunity. He said that he was tired of his life and wanted to be transported and added that he had pointed the pistol at the ground and not at the Queen.

On Thursday, 25 August 1842, John William Bean was indicted for a misdemeanour in assaulting the Queen. After witnesses were called and testimony was heard as to the boy’s good character, the jury did not even leave the box, but quickly returned a verdict of guilty. Lord Abinger told the court that he would be passing sentence upon the prisoner.

Lord Abinger said, he should be doing a violence to his own feelings, and to the feelings all who heard him, if he did not pass upon him the heaviest sentence the common law of the land allows, and that sentence was, that you, John William Bean, imprisoned in her Majesty’s gaol of Newgate for the term of 18 calendar months. The prisoner was then removed from the bar, and the vast crowd which had been in court during the day, shortly afterwards left. The trial occupied six hours.

The Suffolk Chronicle; or Weekly General Advertiser & County Express. – Saturday 27 August 1842
[aesop_timeline_stop num=”19 May 1849″ title=”19 May 1849 – William Hamilton”]
Green Park, London, England
Green Park, London, England

On Thursday, 19 May 1849, the Royal carriage was fired upon yet again as it proceeded down Constitution-hill towards Buckingham-palace. The shot was fired from Green-park. On this occasion, the Queen was alone in her carriage at about ten minutes before six o’clock and once again, escaped unharmed.

The man who fired the pistol was quickly apprehended by Police-constable Topley and was taken to the Palace and received by Inspector Walker. He was subsequently taken to the King-street station-house and given into the custody of Inspector Darkin.

The prisoner was about twenty-two years of age and was only about five feet six or seven inches tall. He had a fair complexion and hair and was dressed in a flannel jacket, corduroy trousers, black waist coat and cap. His name, he finally admitted, was William Hamilton. He was a bricklayer by trade and an Irishman and an orphan. He was raised in the poor school of the Protestant Orphan Society at Cork in Ireland.

Upon the learned judges taking their seats upon the bench, the prisoner William Hamilton was placed at the bar, to plead to the indictment charging him with a misdemeanour, having unlawfully discharged a pistol at her Majesty. The indictment alleged that the prisoner, on the 19th day of May, at the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, having in his possession a certain pistol loaded with an explosive substance—to wit, gunpowder—unlawfully, wilfully, and maliciously discharged the said pistol at her Majesty, with intent thereby to injury to her person. In other counts of the indictment the intent the prisoner was laid to be to alarm her Majesty, and to cause a breach of the peace.

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Saturday 16 June 1849

Hamilton pleaded guilty.

The Chief Justice then reviewed the case. Although he felt that the deed had been mostly mischief, rather than an attempt to harm the queen, he sentenced the prisoner with the harshest penalty at his disposal as a warning to others: Transportation beyond the seas for the term of seven years.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”27 June 1850″ title=”27 June 1850 – Robert Pate”]
Walking Stick
Walking Stick

About twenty minutes past six o’clock on the evening of Thursday, 27 June 1850, Queen Victoria along with three of the royal children and Viscountess Jocelyn, lady-in-waiting, left Cambridge House in Piccadilly to return to Buckingham Palace. As the royal carriage passed through the gates, a respectably dressed man ran forward two or three paces and struck the Queen a sharp blow on the head with a small black cane. Several persons in the crowd rushed forward and seized the man and for a moment it seemed likely he might be lynched by the mob until the timely arrival of Sergeant Silver who took the prisoner to the Vine-street police station. The Royal Carriage proceeded onwards to Buckingham Palace.

At the police station, the prisoner gave his name as Robert Pate, a retired lieutenant of the 10th Hussars and gave his address as 27, Duke-street in St. James. The stick with which he had struck the blow was not thicker than an ordinary goose quill and just over 2 feet in length. It weighed less than three ounces.

After being examined several times by doctors to determine whether he was insane, Pate was committed to Newgate to await a hearing.

On 8 July 1850, 30-year-old Robert Pate stood trial at the Old Bailey. He was indicted for unlawfully assaulting the Queen, with intent to injure her, a second count of assault with intent to alarm her and a third count of  intent to break the public peace. Many witnesses were called an all testified that Robert Pate was not of sound mind.

EDWARD THOMAS MONRO, ESQ ., M.D. I have had five interviews with Mr. Pate since this occurrence—I saw him first on the 2nd of the month at Clerkenwell, and again on the 3rd; and I saw him afterwards in Newgate on the 5th, 8th, and 10th—from my own observation, and from what I have heard to-day, I believe him to be of unsound mind.

Old Bailey Trial of Robert Pate

MR. COCKBURN. Q. You gather that [he is well aware that he has done wrong in this matter], from what he has said to you on the subject? JOHN CONOLLY, ESQ ., M.D. A. I do—he seems quite unable to give any account why he did it, or any account of the act at all, any more than it was not done by another person—he does not deny having done it, but he expresses himself very sorry for it—I asked him a great many questions on the subject; he had no motive whatever in committing such an action, no premeditation, no powers of deliberation or reason at the time; but he acted under some strange morbid impulse, which he had no power apparently of resisting.

Old Bailey Trial of Robert Pate

At the conclusion of the trial, it was found that although of unsound mind, Robert Pate was capable of distinguishing between right and wrong and he was accordingly found guilty and sentenced to be transported for seven years.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”29 February 1872″ title=”29 February 1872 – Arthur O’Connor “]

On Thursday, 29 February 1872, Earl Granville interrupted a discussion at the Houses of Parliament and made the following announcement to the House of Lords:

Your lordships will excuse my interruption of this discussion. I have just been informed that a boy of eighteen or nineteen ran into the garden of Buckingham Palace as the Queen entered, followed the carriage to the door, which is at a short distance, and presented an old-fashioned pistol within a foot of her Majesty’s head. The Queen bowed her head, and the boy was seized. I am informed that the pistol was not loaded, and it is believed that the object of the boy was to compel her Majesty by fear to sign a Fenian document which he had in his hand. The Queen showed the greatest courage and composure, and immediately commanded Colonel Hardinge to come down to the Houses of Parliament in order to prevent exaggerated rumours and alarm being spread.

Pall Mall Gazette – Friday 01 March 1872
The Diamond Jubilee State Coach
The Diamond Jubilee State Coach

The boy was seized immediately and disarmed. He was taken to the King-street police-station in Westminster and readily gave his name of Arthur O’Connor. He said that he was 17-years-old and a clerk to Messrs. Livett and Franks, oil and colour manufacturers, and said that he lived with his father and mother at 4 Church-row in Houndsditch.

Arthur O’Connor was brought to trial for treason on 8 April 1872 and was indicted for unlawfully presenting a pistol to the person of Our Lady the Queen, with intent to alarm her. To this charge, the prisoner pleaded guilty.

On hearing the plea, Mr. Hume Williams who was instructed by the prisoner’s friends asked that the plea be withdrawn since he was prepared to show evidence that the prisoner was of unsound mind. After some discussion, his evidence was allowed. The prisoner’s parents, George and Catherine O’Connor along with three doctors from Kings College Hospital were called but it was to no avail. The jury found that the prisoner was perfectly sane when he pleaded guilty to the indictment.

Arthur O’Connor was found guilty and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment and twenty strokes with a birch rod.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”2 March 1882″ title=”2 March 1882 – Roderick McLean”]
Henry VIII's gatehouse at Windsor Castle
Henry VIII’s gatehouse at Windsor Castle
Thomas Duesing on Flickr via Wikimedia Commons

At 4 o’clock on the afternoon of Thursday, 2 March 1882, the Queen left Buckingham Palace, driving in her carriage through Hyde Park to Paddington station to board her special train bound for Windsor. Despite the hail that fell, crowds gathered along the route to cheer the Queen as the train left the station. After an uneventful journey, the train arrived at Windsor but as the Queen was entering her carriage, a man in the station yard fired on her Majesty. He was seized at once by three or four police and taken to Windsor police station.

The following telegram was sent from the Queen at Windsor Castle to the Prince of Wales at Marlborough House:

In case an exaggerated report should reach you, I telegraph to say that, as I drove from the station here a man shot at the carriage, but fortunately hit no one. He was instantly arrested. I am nothing the worse.

Belfast News-Letter – Friday 03 March 1882

The prisoner’s name was Roderick Maclean. About 30-years-old, he was 5 feet 7 inches tall and was shabbily dressed. He told the police that he was a clerk out of employment and had been born in Oxford street in London and had only been in Windsor a few days, but it was later determined that he was a native of Ireland.

The revolver was of German manufacture, with six chambers. Two chambers were loaded with empty cartridges, and two with loaded cartridges. One chamber had been discharged. No trace of a bullet has as yet been found.

Belfast News-Letter – Friday 03 March 1882

Maclean was tried on 19 April 1882 at Reading for high treason. Mr. Montague Williams presented overwhelming evidence that the prisoner was a lunatic and Maclean was acquitted on the ground of insanity. He was ordered to be detained during her Majesty’s pleasure. 2Prisoners held at Her Majesty’s pleasure are frequently reviewed to determine whether their sentence can be deemed complete.

Other Incidents During Queen Victoria’s Reign

Saturday 15 June 1895 ATTACKS ON THE QUEEN. The apprehension of a crazy youth with a loaded revolver on his way to Balmoral on Friday to obtain an interview with the Queen is the first incident of the kind that has occurred on Deeside. There her Majesty has been singularly free from annoyances of any description, and has usually moved about without any guard or protection whatever.

Nottinghamshire Guardian – Saturday 15 June 1895

SENDING THREATENING LETTERS TO PRINCE ALBERT. Edwin Bates, an artist of 10, Welbeck-street, Cavendish-square has been charged at Bow-street, with sending a threatening letter to his Royal Highness Prince Albert.

Derby Mercury – Wednesday 23 March 1853


1 carriage
2 Prisoners held at Her Majesty’s pleasure are frequently reviewed to determine whether their sentence can be deemed complete.