Who Tried To Assassinate Queen Victoria? Eight Attempts To Kill A Queen - Part 1
Queen Victoria ruled the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for almost 64 years from 1837 to 1901 (and was Empress of India for around 25 of those years). She is considered to be one of the most successful monarchs in British history and even had an era named after her, the Victorian Era.
But when you rule over an empire that covers around a fifth of the planet’s surface with hundreds of millions of people in it, it’s safe to say you’re not going to please everyone. And Victoria soon learned that herself, when just three years into her reign as Queen, somebody tried to kill her. It was the first of eight assassination attempts made on Queen Victoria’s life.
Assassination Attempt No. 1 – Setting the trend:
Name: Edward Oxford
Date: 10th June 1840
Identity: Edward was an 18-year-old barman who was desperate to be famous for being the “bad guy”.
Events: Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert set off from Buckingham Palace for their regular ride through Hyde Park in their open-topped carriage. But just 100 yards from the palace gates, Edward pushed his way through the crowd, struck a dramatic pose and fired his pistol at the Queen. Victoria, who had turned away to look at the horse at the time, was unharmed and oblivious to the danger she was in. Now only six paces from the carriage, the attacker fired a second pistol at the Queen. Mind-blowingly, the Queen survived the ordeal without even a scratch. Edward was probably a bit embarrassed by his lack of aiming skills!
Aftermath: Though Edward managed to escape into the crowd, the police soon discovered his identity. At court, Edward faced the death penalty for high treason but was found not guilty on grounds of insanity. He served 24 years in an asylum hospital before being sent away to Australia where he gave himself a new name and built a respectable life.
Assassination Attempt No. 2 – If At First, You Don’t Succeed:
Name: John Francis
Date: 29th May 1842
Identity: At just 19 years old, John Francis was in a pretty dire state. His business had failed and he had been kicked out of his home when, desperate for money, his landlord had caught him stealing.
Events: As Queen Victoria and Prince Albert returned to Buckingham Palace in their carriage, Albert spotted a small, tattered man pointing a pistol at them. Francis lined up his shot and attempted to shoot. But the gun failed to fire. The attacker disappeared into the crowd.
Aftermath: Albert warned the security forces who were on high alert for the gunman. The Prime Minister urged the Queen to stay indoors until the criminal was caught.
Assassination Attempt No. 3 – Try, Try Again:
Name: John Francis (yes, John Francis came back for a second attempt!)
Date: 30th May 1842 (the very next day!)
Identity: Disappointed with himself after his failed attempt the day before, Francis decided to try again. Practice makes perfect, right?
Events: Ignoring the Prime Minister’s pleas, Queen Victoria headed out on an open-topped carriage ride the next day. Why an open-topped carriage I hear you ask? The Queen hoped to encourage the attacker to show himself again so he could be arrested. Meanwhile, officers in plain clothes searched the area for anyone suspicious. Suddenly, a shot rang out! Chaos erupted in the crowd. Francis had missed his mark and was tackled to the ground by security personnel. The Queen’s plan had worked a treat.
Aftermath: Francis was found guilty of high treason and was sentenced to death. After the Queen received a desperate letter from Francis’ father begging for mercy, she intervened and changed his sentence. Francis was banished for life and was transported to Tasmania where he served out his prison sentence.
Assassination Attempt No. 4 – Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures:
Name: John Bean
Date: 3rd July 1842 (just 5 weeks after Francis’ assassination attempts)
Identity: John Bean was just 17 years old and suffered from a serious deformity to his spine. After being harshly bullied by his brothers, Bean ran away from home and was living rough on the streets. Bean was depressed and desperate for a change.
Events: As the Queen’s carriage rode past him, hidden in the crowds on the Mall outside Buckingham Palace, Bean raised his pistol and pulled the trigger. But the Queen got lucky again, the pistol failed to fire. After spotting Bean’s assassination attempt, somebody in the crowd grabbed him and tried to haul him in front of the police. But Bean managed to escape.
Aftermath: The police were told about the attacker’s spinal deformity. From this description, it didn’t take them long to find Bean. Bean revealed that the Queen was never in any danger because his pistol was loaded with tobacco, not a bullet and he aimed his shot at the floor. He admitted that he threatened the queen in the hope that he might get a chance for a new life, even one in prison. Though he was found guilty, Bean was sentenced to just 18 months in prison.
The first five years of Victoria’s reign had been peppered with attempts on her life (three of them just a couple of months apart!). But each one was followed by a surge of support from her people, strengthening her position as ruler. How many more assassination attempts could Victoria survive? Would there come a time when her luck would run out?
Find out in Part 2 of the series as we investigate the next four assassination attempts, one of which even managed to draw blood!