A total of seven assassination attempts were made on Queen Victoria from 1840, when she was newly pregnant to 1882, after her husband Prince Albert’s death. Of these, only two are actually prominently recorded in history, with both Edward Oxford, the first and Roderick Maclean, the last men to attempt killing Queen Victoria being declared “insane,” and escaping the hangman’s noose.
Assassnation attempt by Edward Oxford
The first recorded attack on Queen Victoria was on June 10, 1840. It took place when The Queen and Prince Albert were driving towards Constitution Hill when without warning a young man stepped forward and fired into the carriage. The Queen was pulled back by her husband and the man fired a second shot before being overpowered. No one was hurt. He took responsibility for the shooting, openly declaring, “It was I, it was me that did it.”
Edward Oxford was charged with treason. A search of the flat he lived in revealed a box in which he kept details of a fantasy military club” called Young England, the whose members were expected to own pistols. Various medical experts were called and agreed that he was suffering from “a lesion of the will (Schizophrenia)”.
The crime scene yielded no bullets and it seemed likely that the weapons were not intended to kill. It was suggested that his crime had been motivated by frustration, a desire to be famous or, if that failed, to be notorious.
Edward was found not guilty of murder but insane. He was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure and incarcerated in Bethlem Hospital where he remained for 24 years, his behaviour observed as being eccentric.
Attack on Queen Victoria’s life by Roderick Maclean
The last recorded attempt on the Queens life was on March 2 1882, when Queen Victoria took the train from London to Windsor; a man emerged from the crowd and fired a shot at her. He was quickly overpowered by two boys from Eton School who happened to be present and assailed him with their umbrellas.
He was taken away and held in custody until he appeared before magistrates at Windsor Town Hall along with Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Prince Leopold and her secretary Lord Ponsonby. It took two days to examine the witnesses amongst whom was the gunsmith from Portsmouth who had sold Maclean the cartridges and a pawnbroker who had sold him the weapon.
At his trial it soon became apparent that Maclean was of unsound mind. He already had a history of incarceration in lunatic asylums. His barrister astoundingly declared that Roderick was suffering “under the influence of a condition of mind brought upon him by the Almighty.”
Many an expert witnesses stated that, there was no doubt at all but that Maclean was absolutely insane. The motivation for attacking the Queen was never conclusively arrived at but Maclean, a self-styled poet, was apparently angry that a poem he had wrote for Her Majesty had not received a reply. It took the jury five minutes to declare him not guilty but insane. He was sent to Broadmoor Asylum where he remained until his death in 1921.
Queen Victoria took exception to the verdict, failing to see how Maclean could be called “not guilty.” The law was later changed to allow a verdict of “Guilty but Insane.”