20 Important Historical Figures Who Survived Assassination Attempts
20 Important Historical Figures Who Survived Assassination Attempts

20 Important Historical Figures Who Survived Assassination Attempts

Steve - April 8, 2019

20 Important Historical Figures Who Survived Assassination Attempts
King James I of England, by John de Critz (c. 1605). Wikimedia Commons.

11. The notorious and historical attempt on King James I in 1605, the Gunpowder Plot was supposed to be a mass casualty attack on Parliament and designed to incite a Catholic uprising in England

The son of Mary, Queen of Scots, James Stuart reigned as King of Scotland, as James VI, from 1567 and King of England from 1603 until his death in 1625. Born in 1566 and baptized a Catholic, James was raised as a Protestant under the Church of Scotland. Angering English Catholics hoping for an ally but instead facing persecution, the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was supposed to ignite a popular revolt which would see James’ nine-year-old Catholic daughter, Elizabeth, placed on the throne. Organized by Robert Catesby, the design was to detonate gunpowder beneath the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament on November 5.

Despite meticulous planning, the plot was revealed to the authorities in an anonymous letter dated October 26. Searching the basement of the House of Lords on the evening of November 4, Guy Fawkes was discovered guarding thirty-six barrels of gunpowder. Arrested, the remaining conspirators attempted to flee London and launch the rebellion. Pursued relentlessly by the king’s men, few survived, with Catesby and his followers shot after a standoff at Holbeche House three days later. Tried for treason, Fawkes, along with eight other conspirators, were sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered.

20 Important Historical Figures Who Survived Assassination Attempts
“Portrait of Louis XV of France”, by Maurice Quentin de La Tour (c. 1748). Wikimedia Commons.

10. Louis XV of France was spared from an assassin’s blade in 1757 due to the thick layers of winter clothing he was wearing to protect against the cold January weather

Louis XV, also known as Louis the Beloved, was a member of the House of Bourbon who reigned as King of France from the age of five in 1715 until his death in 1774. The second longest-ruling monarch in the history of France, lasting fifty-nine years, Louis’ reign was not without turbulence or event, forfeiting the territories of New France to Spain and Great Britain after an appalling performance during the Seven Years’ War. For unrelated reasons stemming from religious grievances, Louis was the victim of an assassination attempt at the hands of Robert-François Damiens on January 5, 1757.

As Louis was entering his carriage to return to Paris from the Grand Trianon Versailles, Damiens shoved passed the royal guards. Stabbing the monarch, Louis was saved by the additional layers of winter clothing he was wearing but suffered a wound nonetheless. Arrested and charged with regicide, despite actually failing in the effort, Damien was brutally tortured in an unsuccessful effort to identify co-conspirators. Suffering drawing and quartering – the traditional punishment for regicide in France – his wife and daughter were banished, their family house burned down, and his brothers forced to change their last names.

20 Important Historical Figures Who Survived Assassination Attempts
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (c. the late 1990s). Wikimedia Commons.

9. “The most audacious attack on a British government since the Gunpowder Plot”, the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton narrowly missed killing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984

Margaret Thatcher (b. 1925) served as the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, holding said position between 1979 and 1990, and was the longest-serving British head of government in the 20th century. Nicknamed the “Iron Lady” by the Soviet press for her leadership style and rigid devotion to her political beliefs, Thatcher implemented widespread economic and social reforms that remain intensely divisive to this day. Governing during “The Troubles” – a guerilla conflict in Northern Ireland between nationalists and unionists – Thatcher was the target of an assassination attempt in Brighton in the early hours of October 12, 1984.

At 0254, the Provisional Irish Republic Army detonated a bomb at the Grand Brighton Hotel, where leading members of the Conservative Party were staying in preparation for the party’s autumn conference. Killing five people, including a sitting Conservative Member of Parliament, the attack also injured at least thirty-one. However, the explosion failed to collapse the building, only damaging Thatcher’s bathroom and not her bedroom or sitting room. Despite the bombing, Thatcher insisted the party conference open the following day as planned, delivering her speech to widespread praise for her steadfastness and strength under pressure.

20 Important Historical Figures Who Survived Assassination Attempts
“The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries”, by Jacques-Louis David (c. 1812). Wikimedia Commons.

8. Napoleon Bonaparte was the target of dozens of assassination attempts, with the closest coming within mere seconds of blowing him up on Christmas Eve in 1800

Napoléon Bonaparte, born Napoleone di Buonaparte in 1769, was a French military officer who rose to prominence during the French Revolutionary Wars, becoming First Consul in 1799 and Emperor of the French in 1804. Launching a series of wars known collectively as the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon plunged Europe into conflict for more than a decade until he was defeated in 1814. Briefly deposed, Napoleon returned from exile during the Hundred Days before suffering his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Throughout his reign, Napoleon was the victim of between twenty to thirty assassination attempts, the most famous of which occurred on December 24, 1800.

Known as the “Plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise”, royalists suspected to having been secretly financed by the British sought to eliminate Napoleon en route to the opera in Paris. Placing a barrel full of shrapnel and gunpowder at an intersection Napoleon was to cross, the dictator’s carriage was traveling too quickly and the conspirators mistook the timing. Detonating after the carriage had passed, the explosion killed a dozen bystanders and wounded many more, in addition to almost killing Napoleon’s wife and pregnant sister who were traveling in a separate carriage behind the First Consul’s.

20 Important Historical Figures Who Survived Assassination Attempts
“Portrait of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States”, by Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl (c. 1833). Wikimedia Commons.

7. The victim of the first known attempt to assassinate a sitting President of the United States, Andrew Jackson was saved from the would-be-assassin’s bullets by the humid climate of America’s capital in 1835

Andrew Jackson (b. 1767) was an American soldier and politician who served as the seventh President of the United States from 1829 to 1837. Celebrated for his performance during the War of 1812, becoming a national hero after the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, Jackson was denied the presidency in 1824 due to the “corrupt bargain” before winning in a landslide four years later. The first sitting president to suffer physical assault, struck on May 6, 1833, by Robert B. Randolph after his dismissal from the Navy for embezzlement, Jackson also became the first to face an assassination attempt on January 30, 1835.

As Jackson departed the Capitol after attending the funeral of Warren R. Davis, Richard Lawrence, an unemployed painter, aimed at the president with a pistol. Misfiring, Lawrence drew a second pistol which equally did not shoot properly, prompting the elderly Jackson to attack Lawrence with his cane. It is believed the humid weather of Washington D.C. on that day interfered with the firing mechanisms. Claiming initially to be motivated by Jackson’s economic policies, blaming them for his financial condition, Lawrence later proclaimed himself Richard III of England and was institutionalized due to his poor mental health.

20 Important Historical Figures Who Survived Assassination Attempts
Photograph of Queen Victoria, by Alexander Bassano (c. 1887). Wikimedia Commons.

6. Queen Victoria suffered numerous attempts on her life during her lengthy reign, including the first whilst she was four-months pregnant with her eldest child

Victoria, born Alexandrina Victoria in 1819, reigned as Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 until her death in 1901. Inheriting the throne at the age of only eighteen, Victoria’s sixty-three-year tenure lasted longer than any of her predecessors and was only surpassed by Elizabeth II in 2015. Overseeing a period of immense political, economic, and social upheaval, Victoria’s prolonged reign, akin to many of her European contemporaries and relations, was marked by several attempts on her life, with an estimated total of at least eight serious efforts made.

Suffering the first attempt in 1840, eighteen-year-old Edward Oxford attempted to assassinate the four-month pregnant monarch whilst she rode in a carriage with her newly-wed husband, Prince Albert, to visit her mother. Lying in wait for the royal couple, Oxford rode to intercept the carriage. Firing two pistols in succession as he drew level, Oxford missed with both shots and was instantly detained by passers-by. Charged with treason, Oxford’s defense at the Old Bailey was one of insanity – a tactic which worked and Oxford was found not guilty. Committed to an insane asylum, however, Oxford was later deported to Australia.

20 Important Historical Figures Who Survived Assassination Attempts
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran (c. 1979). Wikimedia Commons.

5. A figure of significant opposition, the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, faced multiple attempts on his life before ultimately fleeing the country in 1979 into permanent exile

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, also known as Mohammad Reza Shah, reigned as the last Shah of Iran from 1941 until his deposition during the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Succeeding his father after the Anglo-Soviet invasion compelled the former’s abdication, Mohammad Reza sought to rapidly modernize his nation into a global power, instituting an array of political, economic, and social reforms that lost him the support of the religious clergy and traditionalists. A figure of controversy from his earliest days as Shah, Mohammad Reza was the target of at least two assassination attempts during his reign.

On February 4, 1949, the Shah suffered his first assassination effort, attacked whilst attending an annual ceremony to commemorate the founding of Tehran University in 1851. Believed to have been a member of the Tudeh Party – the Iranian communist organization that was subsequently banned after the 1953 coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh – Fakhr-Arai opened fire upon the monarch. Discharging five rounds from a range of three meters, only one hit the Shah, grazing his cheek, whilst Fakhr-Arai was shot dead by security officers. Recent years have questioned his communist affiliations, instead placing blame on the religious organization Fada’iyan-e Islam.

20 Important Historical Figures Who Survived Assassination Attempts
“Portrait of Czar Alexander II”; author unknown (c. 1878-1881). Wikimedia Commons.

4. Although eventually succumbing to assassination in 1881, Alexander II of Russia survived several prior attempts made against his life during his twenty-year long reign

Alexander II (b. 1818) reigned as Emperor of Russia, King of Poland, and Grand Duke of Finland from 1855 until his death at the hands of an assassin in 1881. Responsible for the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, garnering him the title “Alexander the Liberator”, the Russian monarch was the subject of sustained attempts upon his life. Starting with an attempt on April 4, 1866, an event which triggered a noticeable hardening of the Russian leader’s political positions, Alexander, along with his two sons and Napoleon III, were also attacked the following year at the World’s Fair. Spared by the misfiring of Polish immigrant Antoni Berezowski’s modified double-barrelled pistol, the bullet instead struck an accompanying horse.

Almost killed again on the morning of April 20, 1879, Alexander Soloviev, a thirty-three-year-old revolutionary, opened fire upon the Emperor as he walked across the Square of the Guards Staff in St. Petersburg. Firing five shots and giving chase, the Russian monarch fled his assailant, dodging the oncoming bullets. In December of the same year, the revolutionary organization “People’s Will” bombed the railway to Moscow, narrowly missing Alexander’s train. People’s Will was also responsible for the bombing of the dining room of the Winter Palace on February 5, 1880, killing eleven and wounding thirty, but missing the Emperor who was delayed attending the meal.

20 Important Historical Figures Who Survived Assassination Attempts
Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. Wikimedia Commons.

3. Theodore Roosevelt, the youngest person to ever serve as President of the United States, was shot in the chest before a campaign rally but proceeded to give his hour-and-a-half long speech with the bullet lodged in his torso anyway

Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (b. 1858) served as the 33rd Governor of New York, the 25th Vice President of the United States, and the 26th President of the United States. Succeeding to the Oval Office following the assassination of President William McKinley just six months into his second term in March 1901, Roosevelt was, and remains, the youngest person to become President of the United States, doing so at the age of just forty-two. Despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for his efforts in brokering a conclusion in the Russo-Japanese War, Roosevelt, like his predecessor, was the victim of an assassination attempt.


On October 14, 1912, whilst campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as the presidential candidate for the Progressive Party, Roosevelt was shot by John Flammang Schrank. Slowed by a steel eyeglass case and a fifty-page copy of his speech, the bullet lodged in Roosevelt’s chest. Delivering his speech as planned, the former President spoke for the next ninety minutes before calmly accepting medical attention. Schrank, certified insane and institutionalized until his death in 1943, claimed during his trial that William McKinley had visited him in a dream and begged him to avenge his own assassination by murdering Roosevelt.

20 Important Historical Figures Who Survived Assassination Attempts
The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964. Wikimedia Commons.

2. Martin Luther King Jr., eventually the victim of an assassin, was almost killed in 1958 when he was stabbed in the chest whilst signing books in Harlem

Martin Luther King Jr. (b. 1929) was an American minister who became the de facto leader of the civil rights movement until his assassination in 1968. Advancing the non-violent tactics of civil disobedience inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and is most remembered today for his legendary speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial entitled: “I Have a Dream”. Provoking a sustained backlash from white Americans in favor of racial segregation, King and his followers were subjected to intense violence and repeated attempts on their lives throughout the civil rights movement.

Facing assassination for the first time on September 20, 1958, whilst signing copies of his book Stride Toward Freedom in a department store in Harlem, New York City, King was attacked by Izola Curry. Believing that King was conspiring against her with communists, the mentally ill Curry stabbed King in the chest with a letter opener. Hospitalized for several weeks, King recovered after emergency surgery and reflected upon the experience in later works. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, by James Earl Ray, a white supremacist opposed to the racial equality preached and advocated for by King.

20 Important Historical Figures Who Survived Assassination Attempts
Portrait of Adolf Hitler; author unknown (c. 1938). Wikimedia Commons.

1. The subject of dozens of assassination plots, German dictator Adolf Hitler survived them all before eventually killing himself at the end of the Second World War

Adolf Hitler (b. 1889) was the leader of the German Nazi Party, Chancellor of Germany, and subsequently Führer of Germany from 1934 until his death in 1945. Initiating a one-party dictatorship in 1933, Hitler presided over a policy of extreme nationalism, aggressive expansionism, and racial purity, contributing to the outbreak of World War II and the mass murder of civilians during the Holocaust. Due to the radical nature of his politics, Hitler was the subject of countless assassination plots, with current estimates placing the confirmed number at forty-two, with many more believed to remain undocumented.

Surviving them all, the earliest known attempt was made in 1932, with Hitler and several close members of staff falling dangerously ill after consuming meals at the Kaiserhof Hotel believed to have been laced with poison. The most famous and closest to success, the July 20 Plot came within centimeters of assassinating the Führer, along with the preponderance of the German High Command, during a meeting at the Wolf’s Lair. Spared by a table-leg which muted the blast from a bomb planted by Claus von Stauffenberg, Hitler survived with only minor injuries, whilst three officers died and more than twenty suffered serious wounds.


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

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