10 Conspiracies Which Are Far From Crazy Theories

10 Conspiracies Which Are Far From Crazy Theories

Larry Holzwarth - March 9, 2018

There is a difference between conspiracy theories and conspiracies. A conspiracy theory for instance is the belief that the moon landings were faked, or that the government was involved in 9/11, both widely believed by some conspiracy theorists. They fail to consider how many people would have to have been involved in faking the moon landing – one expert placed the number well over 400,000 – and how difficult it would be to keep such a hoax hidden for almost 50 years. A conspiracy on the other hand is a proven event, usually kept to a small number of participants for security purposes.

History is replete with such proven conspiracies, such as the July 20 Plot to kill Adolf Hitler, which failed, or the Liberatore Plot, which succeeded on the Ides of March in 44 BC. Napoleon seized power in France through a conspiracy which he executed on 18-19 Brumaire (November 9-10) 1799, which led to the establishment of himself as First Consul and later Emperor of France. A thoroughly documented conspiracy led to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Historians and scholars still study it for information on others who may have been involved; it was a conspiracy which spawned many conspiracy theories, intriguing but unproven.

10 Conspiracies Which Are Far From Crazy Theories
The Death of Julius Caesar was the result of a large conspiracy of Senators. Wikimedia

Here are ten conspiracies throughout history.

10 Conspiracies Which Are Far From Crazy Theories
The Babington Plot led to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots by Elizabeth I. Wikimedia

The Babington Plot

In 1586 a group of Catholics led by a Jesuit priest conspired with Mary Stuart, remembered as Mary, Queen of Scots, to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I and place Mary on the throne of England, restoring the Catholic Church in the realm. At the time of the plot Mary was held in confinement at Chartley Hall, not allowed to correspond with anyone. She had been imprisoned in various locations for the preceding 19 years. Mary, a Catholic, hoped to obtain the help of the Catholic King of Spain, Phillip II, in overthrowing the Protestant nobility in England.

The Babington Plot was one of several separate but interconnected schemes to overthrow the Protestant Elizabeth and restore Catholicism to England. The Pope was involved in some, as was the Catholic League in France and the plans for a Spanish invasion of England were being aided by English Catholics in the North of the British Isles. Mary’s supporters in the Catholic League sent a Jesuit priest, John Ballard, to determine the level of support present among English Catholics, and most importantly whether Mary would support the overthrow of the Tudor dynasty and restoration of the Stuarts.

Ballard recruited Anthony Babington to prepare the English Catholics to move against Elizabeth. Meanwhile Elizabeth’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham created a new means of Mary being able to correspond with conspirators in order to entrap her. It was arranged for messages to be smuggled to and from Mary in a watertight container sealed into the stopper of a beer barrel. Walsingham made this arrangement known to the French ambassador. Using a double agent, he also made it known to the conspirators, and messages from Babington and English Catholics were soon reaching Mary via the French ambassador.

Babington had come late to the plot, which was mainly interested in assisting a Spanish invasion. It was his opinion that an invasion would not succeed as long as Elizabeth was on the throne. Once reassured that there were plans to remove that obstacle he agreed to correspond with Mary regarding the degree of support she could expect from English Catholics. Babington sent a letter to Mary which described her rescue and the removal of Elizabeth. Three days after receiving it she responded with a letter which described the need to assassinate Elizabeth. The letter was of course intercepted by Walsingham and provided Elizabeth with hard evidence of treason.

Most of the conspirators were quickly rounded up, tried, convicted, and executed by hanging followed by being drawn and quartered. Mary was moved to Fotheringhay Castle where she was convicted of treason against England. Of the 46 Lords who voted over her guilt or innocence, only one selected the latter. Mary was denied the right to call witnesses as well as the right to counsel and the outcome of her trial was pre-ordained. She was beheaded in February, 1587. Outraged Spain increased their efforts to invade England, which would result in the sailing of the Spanish Armada the following year.

10 Conspiracies Which Are Far From Crazy Theories
The five year old uncrowned King of France holds the hand of his Regent, Phillippe, Duke of Orleans. Wikimedia

The Pontcallec Conspiracy

Louis XV of France was but five years old when his father died in 1715, and during his childhood the throne was controlled by a Regent, Phillippe, Duke of Orleans. The French treasury was bereft of funds following the many wars during the reign of Louis XIV and heavy taxation was raising resentment. The Estates of Brittany, essentially a collection of the nobles and clergy of that region with a small number of delegates from the towns, resisted the higher taxes and refused them, leading to many of the Estates’ exile. During this time the French Duke of Maine, who believed the Regency should be his, communicated with the Spanish King his desire to overthrow the Regency.

In Brittany it became known the Duke of Maine wanted to raise an army of support, and several of the Breton nobles, led by the Marquis de Pontcallec, assembled recruits from their estates. Meanwhile the War of the Quadruple Alliance erupted between Spain and France. The Breton nobles led by Pontcallec sent emissaries to Spain. The Spanish responded by announcing their intention to overthrow the French Regency and place Phillip V on the French throne, terms which Pontcallec accepted, along with 2,000 Irish Catholic troops which were sent to Brittany on Spanish ships.

The Regency had by then already placed the Duke of Maine under arrest, along with his wife, and dispatched Royal soldiers to Brittany to enforce the collection of taxes from the rebellious nobles. When they were routed by Breton peasants led by some of the nobles, Phillippe sent an army of 15,000 men under Pierre de Montesquiou to enforce the law. The conspiring nobles were forced to take refuge in Pontcallec’s estate. When the Irish troops arrived they quickly realized they were no match for the French Army at hand, and withdrew back to the ships. Some of the Breton nobles managed to escape with them.

The rest were taken, along with Pontcallec, in late December 1719. The Duchess of Maine had already confessed to the existence of conspiracies to overthrow the Regency and Phillippe moved swiftly to exert his authority. Of the 23 conspirators whom Phillippe described as key to the plot, 16 had escaped, either with the Irish troops or by other means. Seven of the key conspirators were in his hands and they were tried in court, with the escapees being tried in absentia. Of the seven in his hands, four were found guilty and sentenced to death, including Pontcallec.

The four were executed by beheading on the day of their sentencing. The conspirators convicted in absentia were exiled from France for ten years. Pontcallec became a folk hero in Brittany in the manner of William Wallace of Scotland or Robin Hood in England. The conspiracy was a failure in all of its goals, which were poorly defined from the beginning. Phillippe continued as Regent until 1723, when Louis XV was crowned King of France. Phillippe died at Versailles in December of that year.

10 Conspiracies Which Are Far From Crazy Theories
Gustav III was wearing this masquerade costume when he was assassinated in 1792. Wikimedia

The Anjala Conspiracy

Gustav III of Sweden’s Russian War was an ill-advised conflict started by the Swedish King to address internal political concerns. Gustav was certain that his political opposition was receiving Russian support and Russia was already at war with the Ottoman Empire (John Paul Jones was serving in the Russian Navy). Gustav used his autocratic powers, which he had achieved in a coup in 1772 ending the rule of the Swedish Parliament but not its existence as a deliberative body, to negotiate an alliance with the Turks. The opening of the war furthered the decline in his popularity, both with the public and the Swedish military.

The war did not go well, and rising resentment against the King led to the formation of a plot against him. Swedish officers gathered in Anjala to secretly open peace negotiations with the Russian Tsarina, Catherine the Great. Finland was then an eastern region of Sweden, but in Russian hands, and was occupied mostly by ethnic Finns. The Swedish conspirators asked for a restoration of the Finnish borders and for peace negotiations with representatives from Russia, Sweden, and the Finns. They also declared that it was their collective belief that the war had been started by the Swedish King illegally.

Catherine was unimpressed and when the Swedish courier returned with the news that the Tsarina was disinclined to accept the terms, the officers of the conspiracy decided to spread a rumor to the contrary. When Gustav learned of the conspiracy he demanded that all of his officers sign a pledge of loyalty, and 113 of them responded by signing the Anjala Declaration. They stated that they would defend Sweden if attacked, but that the war was illegal and they would not take part in attacking Russia. At first the majority of the Swedish Army and Navy supported the declaration.

Having not learned the lesson that war does not necessarily increase a national leader’s popularity, and fearing assassination if he remained in the Finnish region, Gustav initiated another war, against Denmark to the south, and relocated to that area. As Russian military operations revealed their intention of dividing the Swedish nation in two, popular and military support for the Anjala Declaration waned, and by the winter of 1788-89 Gustav believed he had sufficient support to arrest some of the conspirators. Nine were eventually sentenced to death for the crime of treason, but only one was executed.

Toward the end of the war Gustav’s armies achieved some success against the Russians, but his treasury was out of funds and further prosecution of the war offered little chance for a major victory by the Swedes. A negotiated peace ended the war with little being gained by either side. Gustav III was assassinated in 1792, the result of another conspiracy, when he was shot while attending a masquerade ball in Stockholm on March 16. He died of an infection on March 29.

10 Conspiracies Which Are Far From Crazy Theories
Dr. Samuel Mudd was convicted of being part of the conspiracy to kill Abraham Lincoln, though he likely was innocent. State Library and Archives of Florida

Abraham Lincoln Assassination Conspiracy

John Wilkes Booth originally planned to kidnap Abraham Lincoln and hold him as a hostage against the resumption of prisoner exchanges, to ease the increasingly severe manpower shortage in the South. A highly successful actor and one of the most famous men in America (Lincoln had seen him perform), Booth recruited a group of six or more co-conspirators. The involvement of at least one remains unproved. They were ready for one attempt on St. Patrick’s Day 1863, lying in wait to abduct the President as he returned from a play, but at the last minute Lincoln changed his plans and attended an event at the National Hotel, ironically the hotel where Booth was registered at the time.

When Robert E. Lee surrendered and it was evident that the South was in its final collapse Booth changed the plan to murder the President, at the same time decapitating the US government by simultaneously killing Vice-President Johnson, Secretary of State Seward, and General Grant. Grant was expected to attend the theatre with Lincoln on the night of April 14, 1865, and it was Booth’s intention to shoot Lincoln in the head, stab Grant in the ensuing confusion, and escape through the back of Ford’s Theatre. In the event Mrs. Grant, who did not like Mrs. Lincoln, declined the invitation to the theatre that night.

One accomplice, a former carriage repairmen and then current drunkard, George Atzerodt, was assigned to kill Vice President Johnson. Atzerodt had been a supporter of the kidnaping plot but hesitated to commit murder, and rather than kill Johnson he spent the night drinking and wandering between bars. Lewis Paine, also called Lewis Powell, was to kill Seward as the Secretary of State was lying in his sickbed, recovering from an earlier carriage accident which had left him in an iron brace. It saved his life. When Paine attacked him, slashing and cutting with a large bowie knife, he inflicted several bloody wounds, but none fatal.

After shooting Lincoln and slashing one of the President’s guests, Major Henry Rathbone, Booth escaped, hobbled by a leg broken when he fell to the stage of Ford’s Theatre. He and an accomplice holding his horse while he struck fled through Maryland to Virginia, stopping to have Booth’s leg set at the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd. Mudd may or may not have been an active member of the conspiracy, but he went to prison for it, his only certain involvement being the setting of Booth’s leg. Booth and his accomplice, David Herold, were caught hiding in a tobacco barn in Virginia; Herold surrendered and Booth was killed.

Paine, Herold, and Atzerodt were tried for their part in the conspiracy and hanged on July 7, 1865. Hanged with them was Mary Surratt, the owner of a boarding house in Virginia where the conspirators occasionally met. She also owned a boarding house in Washington which was similarly used. Her son John was tried and released when the jury could not reach a verdict in 1867. He was most likely an active co-conspirator. Several other lesser members of the conspiracy were convicted and received prison sentences, including Dr. Mudd, who was pardoned in 1869.

10 Conspiracies Which Are Far From Crazy Theories
Protests during the 1953 CIA-MI6 orchestrated coup to overthrow the government in Iran. The Guardian

The 1953 Iranian Coup d’Etat

In 1953 the United States CIA and British Intelligence agency MI6 conspired with the Shah of Iran to overthrow the Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, and allow the Shah to assume greater authority over the Iranian government. The covert operation was known as Operation Ajax in American circles, Operation Boot by the British, and was initially opposed by the Shah. When the Prime Minister took steps to dissolve the Iranian Parliament and give his cabinet full power over the Iranian government the Shah agreed to support the coup. After receiving the Shah’s support the CIA created documents for the Shah’s signature known as Firmans.

One of the documents signed by the Shah dismissed Mosaddegh as Prime Minister. Under the Iranian constitution at the time the Shah appointed the Prime Minister after the latter demonstrated that he had the support of the Parliament to form a government. When the firman dismissing Mosaddegh was delivered he rejected it and was placed under arrest by the Imperial Guard. Under the constitution of the time the Shah’s action was legal. Mosaddegh’s supporters initiated rioting and violent protests in the streets, and the Shah and his wife fled to Iraq, and later to Italy.

Shah loyalist General Zahedi declared that he was the rightful Prime Minister but remained on the run as Mosaddegh, once again free, began rounding up Iranian coup supporters and allies of the Shah. He also ordered the CIA to leave Iran but the CIA officer in charge, Kermit Roosevelt Jr. (grandson of Theodore Roosevelt) either did not receive the message or ignored it, though some researchers believe MI6 delayed its delivery. Meanwhile, General Zahedi began using CIA supplied money to initiate protests in the streets which were disguised as “communist” and were directed to destroy the bazaars and other businesses. At the same time other paid supporters of the Shah were directed to deploy in the streets peacefully.

General Zahedi led army troops to remove the “communist” demonstrators from the streets and Mosaddegh surrendered to the army for his own protection on August 19, 1953. That day the Army under Zahedi was in control of the streets of Tehran and Zahedi proclaimed himself Prime Minister. When the Shah returned from Italy his monarchical authority was greatly enhanced. The staged peaceful demonstrations during the coup compared to the violence of the Mosaddegh supporters and the “communist’ demonstrations helped ensure his welcome was a warm won, but supporters paid by the CIA supplemented the cheering crowd.

The coup, which had been according to most researchers authorized by President Eisenhower, was successful from the point of view that Britain and the United States no longer had to fear Iranian nationalization of oil drilling and refining assets as Mosaddegh had been wont to do. US General Norman Schwarzkopf Sr. was sent by the CIA to “persuade” the Shah to return to Iran and remained there for a time to train the Shah’s security forces, the SAVAK. In his book describing the coup from his perspective, Kermit Roosevelt admitted that the CIA paid demonstrators to destroy symbols of the Shah while chanting pro-Mosaddegh slogans during the coup.

10 Conspiracies Which Are Far From Crazy Theories
The Watergate conspiracy and scandal covered a wide variety of crimes. These chapstick cases contained hidden microphones to record an unwary speaker. National Archives


The word Watergate covers much more than a conspiracy, or even a series of conspiracies. It is the standard against which political scandal is measured. It covers conspiracies to commit burglaries, cover them up, obstruct justice, and misuse campaign funds. What began as a simple burglary opened an investigation which led to the discovery that the President of the United States conspired with his staff and others to commit a multitude of felonies, some of them planned within the confines of the Oval Office. Before it was finished, 69 people were indicted, 48 of whom were convicted, including the former Attorney General of the United States, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

Most people believe that the Watergate scandal began when burglars were caught as they attempted to plant listening devices – bugs – in the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel and Office complex. This isn’t exactly true. They were caught when they went in to the office to adjust the bugs which they had illegally planted weeks earlier. During this second burglary, June 17, 1972, they were caught and their connections to a White House security expert, E. Howard Hunt, were gradually revealed. White House attorney John Dean and FBI Director L. Patrick Gray later destroyed the contents of Hunt’s White House safe, tampering with evidence.

President Richard Nixon, who was running for re-election at the time, attempted to distance himself from the affair, which as it was investigated led to more and more evidence of other illegal activities, and inched closer and closer to the White House. It was revealed that money donated to the President’s re-election campaign – hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash – was in fact used to finance the burglary as well as numerous other illegal activities. The Watergate burglars were paid by the President’s re-election committee, which was run by the former Attorney General, John Mitchell.

When it was revealed in testimony before a congressional committee that the President had installed surreptitious listening devices in the Oval Office to record conversations a legal battle over the tapes ensued. Nixon claimed that he did not have to turn the tapes over to Congress. The courts claimed he did. Nixon offered transcripts of the tapes, with large areas redacted for reasons of “National Security”, or to eliminate embarrassing language. The Supreme Court ordered the tapes released. When they were, there were gaps indicating parts of the tapes were erased, including one of over 18 minutes in a critical conversation.

Before it was over the President resigned, to be pardoned by his successor, and most Americans, weary of the long scandal, turned their attention elsewhere. Some continued to study the Watergate conspiracy, and the several other conspiracies which investigation into Watergate exposed, run from the Nixon White House by members of his administration. The activities surrounding Watergate are an apt lesson on how easily the President of the United States can break the law and abuse his authority if not closely watched by an independent media and the Congress of the United States.

10 Conspiracies Which Are Far From Crazy Theories
Hitler Youth members in 1933. The Hitler Youth Conspiracy was actually a plot against them. German Federal Archives

The Hitler Youth Conspiracy

The Hitler Youth Conspiracy was the conspiracy that wasn’t, created by Soviet Secret Police to justify the arrest, incarceration, and in at least 40 cases execution of young Germans living in Moscow and other areas of the Soviet Union during the Great Purge. In the early 1930s German teens were arrested under suspicion of being members of the Hitler Youth, but after “re-education” most were released unharmed after just a few months. By the end of the 1930s those suspected of being Hitler Youth members or of being involved in other anti-communist activities were not so lucky.

In January 1938 the NKVD – Stalin’s secret police – announced the secret formation of a Hitler Youth group in Moscow by German students at the Karl Leibknecht School, a German language school which had been established for the benefit of German refugees. By the late 1930s many Germans, especially those with communist leanings, had fled Germany and the Nazis. Many went to Moscow. Another institution targeted was Children’s Home 6, an orphanage for German speaking children. The NKVD alleged that the Hitler Youth was conspiring to perform espionage and sabotage in Moscow and its environs.

About 70 teenagers and young adults were arrested, along with some older adults including actors from a touring German theater troupe and some factory and clerical workers. They were taken individually to Soviet cells and tortured until they agreed to sign a confession indicating that the suspicions of Hitler Youth activity held by the NKVD were correct. NKVD officers were assigned quotas and target ratios of arrests to confessions. The arrests and confessions took place between January and March 1938. Of the more than 70 arrested, only six were released after the beatings to which they were subjected failed to elicit confessions. At least one died in custody.

Two of the suspected Hitler Youth conspirators were deported to Germany and the hands of the Gestapo, likely a worse fate than that faced by those remaining in Soviet custody. Those two were specifically requested to be returned by the Germans during the negotiations which led to the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in 1939. Twenty of the “conspirators” were sentenced to serve prison terms of five to ten years. At least 40 were executed by firing squad by the NKVD. The majority of those executed were children, some as young as fourteen, and several were the sons of prominent German communists.

As the Great Purge wound down Stalin had many of the officers responsible for carrying it out, under his orders, arrested and tried for committing the crimes which he had directed. Among these were the NKVD officers responsible for the Hitler Youth Conspiracy, who were tried and convicted for a variety of crimes, including the maltreatment of prisoners. By executing the executioners Stalin managed to keep some of his crimes hidden for a time. Most of the prisoners who had been released from Soviet custody were arrested again following Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

10 Conspiracies Which Are Far From Crazy Theories
When Benedict Arnold purchased this house in Philadelphia in 1779 he was already selling information to the British. Wikimedia

The Benedict Arnold Conspiracy

The name Benedict Arnold is synonymous with the word traitor in the United States, and for good reason. At the time he betrayed his country his reputation was that of America’s foremost soldier. He suffered several grievous wounds in battle and was renowned as the hero of Saratoga, which was America’s greatest victory to date. Lesser known to the American troops was his financial situation, his behavior as Military Governor while in Philadelphia (which bordered on malfeasance) and his contempt for the Congress which he believed had treated him shamefully.

When Arnold was serving in Philadelphia he married Peggy Shippen, the daughter of a wealthy loyalist who supported the British during their occupation. Peggy had been on more than friendly terms with British Major John Andre prior to her marriage to Arnold. As early as May, 1779, Arnold was in communication with Andre, using a Philadelphia merchant as a go-between. That summer Arnold was sending Andre, who was serving as the British Army’s Chief of Intelligence, summaries of the strength of Washington’s forces in return for cash.

Arnold was court-martialed in Philadelphia over his mishandling of funds and attempted profiteering, but the trial was at his request to clear his name. Other than conviction of relatively minor charges he was cleared, although he earned a written reprimand from Washington. Then Congress demanded a repayment of $1,000 for overcharges on Arnold’s expenses during the Quebec expedition. The documents which supported the expenses had been lost during the retreat from Quebec and the demand for repayment enraged Arnold.

By July 1780 it was evident that Arnold would receive command at West Point in the near future, and through the use of intermediaries he began moving his money to London. In August Arnold took command at West Point, which he had already offered to the British, and was engaged in negotiations over the price of his betrayal and his future rank in the British Army. Arnold began to disable some of the formidable defenses of the American post while he negotiated with British General Sir Henry Clinton through Andre. Several meetings were scheduled between Andre and Arnold but not until late September were they able to meet face-to-face.

Andre was caught returning from that meeting, in civilian clothes and carrying incriminating papers. Arnold fled to the British. Washington offered to trade Andre for Arnold but Clinton demurred, and Andre was hanged as a spy. Although Arnold served with the British Army, notably in Virginia, he was not held in high regard by the British officers. After the war he lived in England and Canada. Peggy Shippen’s true role in the conspiracy remains debatable among scholars, but all agree that she certainly knew more about the plot than she let on to Washington and his officers on the day her husband’s treachery was revealed.

10 Conspiracies Which Are Far From Crazy Theories
Many early locomotives, such as this Stourbridge Lion, were not equipped with cow catchers. Wikimedia

The Great Railroad Conspiracy of Michigan

The Great Railroad Conspiracy had nothing to do with wealthy railroad barons conspiring to fix shipping rates or create a monopoly. It had to do with angry farmers and an indifferent company response to a relatively simple problem. The railroads ran through fields in which farmer’s cows grazed. Sometimes the cows wandered onto the tracks and were hit by trains because the locomotive was unable to stop in time and the cows were too cow-like to get out of the way. Unable to work out a reasonable solution, several farmers conspired to commit arson of railroad property.

The railroad was the Detroit and St. Joseph, which at first used wooden rails covered with iron straps which limited the speed of the trains. Despite the slow speed many cows met their demise on the tracks. A group of investors took over the line, renamed it the Michigan Central, and replaced the rails with standard iron rails beginning in 1845. The faster speed of the trains and the new practice of running at night increased the number of cow casualties alarmingly. Fencing along the rail beds was determined to be an unworkable solution due to costs.

Jackson County farmers formed a committee to address the issue and asked the railroad to compensate the farmers for lost cattle. It refused. More dead cows and more letters to the railroad led to an offer of compensation of 50% of the animal’s value. The farmers refused. Farmers began harassing the trains by laying dead trees and other items across the tracks. By 1849 farmers were shooting at passing trains. One of their leaders, Abel Fitch, threatened to burn bridges and other railroad structures. Passenger traffic on the railroad declined due to the threat of violence. The railroad employed spies to keep an eye on the farmers.

In November 1850 the railroad’s Detroit depot was destroyed by a fire which was determined to be arson. The railroad’s spies soon unearthed the information that the fire had been set by a conspiracy including Fitch and more than three dozen farmers who had created the device to set the fire, obtained the materials, and bribed a Detroit brothel owner to place the device in the depot. The Wayne County Sheriff set out to arrest 44 named participants in the conspiracy to commit arson. They were transported to Detroit, ironically, by railroad to stand trial. A total of 37 were tried. Bail was set at $2 million dollars for the bunch.

Fitch was one of the defendants, but he died during the trial. Twelve of the defendants were found guilty of conspiring to destroy railroad property and sentenced to up to ten years imprisonment, to be spent at hard labor. The attention to the trial by the newspapers led to changes enacted by the legislature. In 1855 all railroad locomotives were required to be equipped with an alarm bell. The legislature also required the railroads to fence the rails where they ran through grazing areas, a solution which would have prevented the whole problem in the first place.

10 Conspiracies Which Are Far From Crazy Theories
The bomb which did this damage to the Grand Brighton Hotel was considered to be small by IRA standards. Wikimedia

Margaret Thatcher Assassination Attempt

In October 1984 the Provisional Irish Republican Army attempted to kill British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, her cabinet, and other Conservative Party members using a bomb planted at the Grand Brighton Hotel. Thirty-six people were injured in the bombing, including five killed. Sir Anthony Berry, a Conservative Member of Parliament, was one of the dead. Several of the injured suffered permanent disabilities as a result of the bombing. The bomb had been planted in the bathroom of the room directly above the suite where Thatcher would stay while a Conservative Party conference was being held.

The investigation into the bombing revealed that the device had been planted over the weekend of September 14-17 by Roy Walsh, which was determined to be an alias for an IRA bomber named Patrick Magee. The bomb was equipped with a long delay fuse set to detonate during the scheduled conference. Magee and four other members of the Provisional Irish Republican built the bomb, which was smaller than most bombs used by the IRA, and were in the process of building more when they were arrested.

Magee later told the Sunday Business Post that the attack was more than just an attempt to kill Margaret Thatcher, but part of an overall shift in IRA strategy to demonstrate to the British that they were unable to contain IRA activities to Ireland itself. “…the Brighton bombing destroyed the notion of containment,” he said. “After Brighton anything was possible and the British for the first time began to look very differently at us; even the IRA itself, I believe, began to fully accept the priority of the campaign in England.”

When Magee was arrested he was in the midst of planning another bombing with IRA members and he was charged with one count related to that plot and seven in relation to the Brighton bombing. The seven were for planting the bomb, its detonation, and the murder of five people. He was convicted of all eight charges against him and sentenced to life imprisonment eight times, with a recommendation that he serve at least 35 years for his crimes.

Instead Magee, along with several IRA bombers and co-conspirators, was released in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement. After his release Magee admitted that he was part of the IRA unit which constructed the bomb. In prison he earned a Doctorate of Philosophy. Since his release he has granted frequent interviews but has expressed no regret for the bombing, which he viewed as an act of war rather than terrorism. He has expressed regret that “innocent people” were killed and injured in the blast. The IRA formally declared its bombing and other campaigns over in 2005.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Babington Plot”, entry, The National Archives of the United Kingdom online

“The Pontcallec Conspiracy”, by Louise Boisen Schmidt, This is Versailles, December 29, 2013

“Anjala League”, entry, Encyclopedia Brittanica, online

“The Night Abraham Lincoln was Assassinated”, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Smithsonian Magazine, April 8, 2015

“64 Years Later, CIA Finally Releases Details of Iranian Coup”, by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Foreign Policy Magazine, June 20 2017

“40 Years after Watergate, Nixon was far worse than we thought”, by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, The Washington Post, June 8, 2012

“Stalin’s Terror: High Politics and Mass Repression in the Soviet Union”, by Barry McLoughlin and Kevin McDermott, 2003

“Why Benedict Arnold Turned Traitor Against the American Revolution”, by Nathaniel Philbrick, Smithsonian Magazine, May 2016

“The Great Railroad Conspiracy”, by Bill Loomis, Michigan History, September/October 2013

“Patrick Magee convicted of IRA terrorist attack”, by Garreth Parry, The Guardian, June 10 1986