During Queen Victoria’s long reign, she was the victim of a total of eight assassination attempts.
- The first attempt on Queen Victoria’s life was on 10 June 1840 when the newly married Queen was four months pregnant with her first child. Edward Oxford had joined the crowd at Marble Arch – then in front of Buckingham Palace – to see the Queen pass by in her carriage. Around 4 o’clock he walked around to the north side of the Palace, up Constitution Hill and he began pacing back and forth, gripping the two pistols he was carrying. Around 6 o’clock the Queen and Prince Albert finally emerged in a low carriage so they would be visible to all. Edward Oxford pointed a pistol at the two, and Prince Albert was the first to notice him. He fired one shot which missed as Queen Victoria was looking the other way. Prince Albert later wrote, “I seized Victoria’s hands and asked if the fright had not shaken her, but she laughed at the thing. I then looked again at the man, who was still standing in the same place, his arms crossed, and a pistol in each hand.” The carriage stopped which gave Edward another chance, and Queen Victoria now crouched down with Prince Albert. Edward shouted, “I have another one!” He fired a second time. Then the crowd seized him with some crying, “Kill him!” Prince Albert then ordered the carriage to ride on. Edward Oxford was sent to the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum where he remained for 26 years.
- On 29 May 1842, Quen Victoria and Prince Albert attended the sermon of the Bishop of Norwich at the Chapel Royal, and a crowd awaited their return to Buckingham Palace. As they passed the Mall, John Francis “a little, swarthy, ill-looking rascal” was standing astride the Mall and pointed a small pistol in their direction. He didn’t fire, or the gun failed to fire, and then he crossed the Mall and walked into Green Park.
- Prince Albert had noticed the would-be assassin and informed their security, but Queen Victoria would not confine herself to Buckingham Palace and believed the best way to draw him out was to leave the palace again the following day on 30 May 1842. There would be precautions, however, and she left her ladies-in-waiting at home. Queen Victoria wrote to her uncle King Leopold I of the Belgians, “I must expose the lives of my gentlemen but I will not those of my ladies.” After 6 o’clock the carriage left Buckingham Palace, and they could not help but glance around nervously. John Francis was indeed waiting for their return. Queen Victoria had ordered the carriage to ride faster than usual, and that probably saved their lives. John Francis fired on them for real this time, and he was immediately seized. Once more, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert escaped with their lives. John Francis was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to banishment for life. Queen Victoria wrote in her journal, “the feeling that he is to be executed is very painful to me”, and she was glad that the sentence was commuted.
- John Francis was barely out of the country when yet another attempt was made on the Queen’s life. On 3 July 1842, John William Bean Junior – a 17-year-old homeless and hunchbacked boy – would fire at her. This time, she was joined by her uncle King Leopold who was visiting with his wife – who had remained behind at the palace – in the carriage. As their carriage approached Bean, he elbowed his way through the crowd and pulled the trigger. No bullet was released, and he was soon overpowered by someone in the crowd. However, when brought to the police, they all thought it rather hilarious – he was a cripple after all – and Bean managed to slip away in the confusion. When they later tried to find the assailant they were greatly assisted by Bean’s unusual appearance. However, it was now also open season on all boys with a hunched back. Luckily for them, Bean was caught quickly, and he was sentenced to 18 months hard labour at Millbank Penitentiary.
- Nine years later on 19 June 1849, a 24-year-old unemployed bricklayer named William Hamilton fired at the carriage carrying Queen Victoria and three of her children (Alfred, Alice and Helena) as it returned to Buckingham Palace. Victoria heard the shot and ordered the carriage the move on as she tried to calm her children. Albert had heard the shot and met Victoria on the steps of the palace saying, “Thank God, you are safe.” Hamilton was overpowered by the crowd until he could be arrested by the police. Many in the crowd believed that Victoria had been fatally injured and they attempted to lynch Hamilton. He later claimed he had only loaded the gun with powder “for the purpose of getting into prison, as he was tired of being out of work.” He was banished to the prison colony of Gibraltar for seven years. Victoria later wrote to her uncle King Leopold, “I hope that you will not have been alarmed by the account of the occurrence which took place on Saturday, and which I can assure you did not alarm me at all.”
- Just over a year later on 27 June 1850, a British Army officer named Robert Pate was already proving to be a bit of well-known lunatic. Even Queen Victoria knew about him and his manic behaviour. Queen Victoria was leaving Cambridge House, where her uncle Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge lay dying, with three of her children. A crowd had gathered around the gate, and usually, police officers would control the crowd, but this visit had been unplanned. The carriage started to leave but had to stop before turning onto Picadilly, which was busy, leaving the Queen unprotected from the crowd. She glanced beside her and recognised Robert Pate. He raised his cane and brought it down on the right side of her head. Victoria recoiled, completely disoriented. He was seized by an outrider, who would have been beside Victoria’s carriage had it not been for the narrow gate, as Victoria assured the crowd that she was not hurt. The crowd manhandled Pate anyway. Queen Victoria ordered the carriage to continue to Buckingham Palace. She was tended to at the palace and had quite a “considerable tumour.” She still went to the opera that night, if only to show the public that she okay. Robert Pate was sentenced to seven years in the penal colony of Tasmania.
- Two decades passed without any incident, but it was not to last. On 29 February 1872, the 17-year-old Arthur O’Connor scaled the fence at Buckingham Palace and sprinted across the courtyard as Queen Victoria returned to Buckingham Palace after a ride through the parks. O’Connor managed to run to the side of the carriage and brushed up against John Brown, who pushed him back. He ran around the back of the carriage with a raised gun and was suddenly face to face with Queen Victoria. Her son Prince Arthur noticed the gun and pushed O’Connor’s hand away, and the gun clattered on the ground. John Brown seized O’Connor and pushed him to the ground. Queen Victoria later wrote to her eldest daughter, “It is entirely owing to good Brown’s great presence of mind and quickness that he was seized.” Arthur O’Connor was sentenced to a year in prison and 20 strokes with a birch rod.
- The final attempt on Queen Victoria’s life happened on 2 March 1882. The 28-year-old Roderick Maclean waited for her on the platform of the Great Western Railway Station at Windsor. She was due to arrive by train at 5.25, and she would disembark and go to a closed carriage which would then take her to the castle. Queen Victoria and Princess Beatrice arrived and were led to the royal waiting room, and she emerged on the street side of the waiting room. They were helped into the carriage, and the carriage set off towards the castle. The crowd cheered, and as Beatrice looked out into the crowd, she saw Maclean raise a revolver and fire it. Victoria believed the noise had been a train engine until she noticed the commotion. Maclean was ready to fire again, but he was grabbed by Chief Superintendent Hayes and the gun clattered to the ground. The carriage sped up the hill, and it was only then that she was told that someone had fired at her. She wrote in her journal, “Was not shaken or frightened.” Roderick Maclean was found insane, and he spent the rest of his life in an asylum.1