Queen Victoria Somehow Survived 7 Assassination Attempts

By Debra Kelly on Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Melville_-_Queen_Victoria
“Damn the queen; why should she be such an expense to the nation?” —John Francis, one of the Queen’s attackers

In A Nutshell

Queen Victoria is one of the longest-reigning monarchs of the British Empire, and one that has always been a figurehead for British royalty. Surprisingly, her popularity got a boost each time someone tried to kill her—and that happened at least seven times during her reign. The first came within months of her taking the throne, and others include attempts by a hunchbacked dwarf and a man who hated the number four as much as he hated the Queen.

The Whole Bushel

Queen Victoria was born in 1819, and took the British throne in 1837, after the passing of her uncle, William IV. Between her ascension and her death in 1901, she had given her name to an era of British history, expanded the British empire and extolled the virtues of its imperialistic nature, and was—for better or worse—a devoted and loving wife to a man who was never truly accepted by his adopted English country.

Less well known than her political and personal successes are the numerous assassination attempts that were made on her life during her reign and her refusal to give her would-be assassins any satisfaction whatsoever. The assassination attempts led to not only changes in English law but huge boosts in the Queen’s popularity as she faced death with a bravery that the people saw as unrivaled.

The first few attempts on her life came only a few years after she took the throne. The first, in 1837, was perpetrated by a man who claimed to be the true heir to the British throne and the son of George IV. When trying to break into Kensington Palace to claim his “rightful” place didn’t work, he settled for charging her carriage, armed with a pistol. For his trouble, he was shipped off to an insane asylum.

In 1840, a waiter (who didn’t believe that England should be in the hands of a woman) fired several shots at both Prince Albert and a four-months-pregnant queen. He, too, ended up in an insane asylum, although he was released in 1867 and left the country.

In 1842, the young royal was fired at once as she was returning from church. The shooter escaped, but returned the next day to give it another try. Using the Queen herself as bait (at her insistence), the police lured out the would-be assassin and arrested him when he tried to kill her again. He was sentenced to death for his attempt, but was eventually deported to a penal colony off the coast of Australia.

Five weeks later, the Queen was attacked again while riding in an open carriage. This time, the would-be assassin was a hunchbacked teenage dwarf armed with a pistol that had been badly loaded with paper and broken pipes. It misfired, and 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.

Seven years later, an improperly loaded pistol wielded by an Irish farm laborer misfired made the next attempt on her life. And in 1850, a man named Robert Pate got close enough to the Queen to hit her. A retired army man, Pate hit the Queen with his walking stick when she was walking home after visiting an ill relative. No stranger to assault and assassination attempts by this point, the Queen’s remarks included a sadness that a man would think it acceptable to strike a woman, and that at least those who tried to shoot her showed more courage. That night, the bruised Queen went out to the opera.

By the 1870s, there were numerous reports that assassination attempts were being planned by Irish groups who were trying to make a point about the treatment they were receiving from the English. The next assassination attempt came in 1872 from an Irishman wielding a non-functional pistol and a document he wanted her to sign, freeing the Irish from English rule. He, too, was ultimately deported to Australia.

The final attack on her life came in 1882, when she was again shot at as she was traveling in a carriage. This man not only hated the Queen, but also the number four. Additionally, he believed that there were supernatural powers to be found in blue things. It was this final attempt that prompted a change to the law books, enabling a person to be found guilty but insane.

So common were assassination attempts on the Queen’s life that, at one point, it was thought the attempts were all about glory. In order to neutralize the imagined glory the attackers would gain from being labeled as traitors, the crime was briefly demoted to a simple misdemeanor, with the guilty party getting only a short jail sentence and a whipping.

Show Me The Proof

Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion, by Helen Rappaport
BBC History: Victoria (1819–1901)
Express: The men who tried to kill Queen Victoria
Painting: Alexander Melville