How Queen Victoria Survived 8 Assassination Attempts
How Queen Victoria Survived 8 Assassination Attempts

How Queen Victoria Survived 8 Assassination Attempts

Mike Wood - August 12, 2017

How Queen Victoria Survived 8 Assassination Attempts
Arthur O’Connor’s assassination attempt. Getty Images

7 – Arthur O’Connor, February 29, 1872

February 29, 1872 was an unusual day, and not just because it was a leap day. Again in the central London vicinity of Buckingham Palace, Victoria was attacked by Arthur O’Connor, a teenage revolutionary.

O’Connor was a man who was almost an amalgam of Victoria’s previous attackers. Like Edward Oxford, he was a teenager, just 17 years old. Like Francis, he was armed with a flintlock pistol, which failed to discharge correctly. Like William Hamilton, he was an Irishman who resented the role that the Queen had played in the devastating famine in his homeland. Like Bean, he claimed not to actually want to kill the Queen, but instead to scare her into releasing political prisoners. Like Pate, he would be tackled and stopped, in this case by the Queen’s batman John Brown, who received a medal for his efforts. And like the most of them, he found himself on a one way trip to Australia, not before he’d had a few lashes for his troubles.

Arthur O’Connor’s case, however, was almost stranger than any of the other would-be assassins. He was mentally ill, as many were, but his illness manifested itself in a markedly different form. He was from a long line of famous Irish radicals: his great-grandfather, also Arthur O’Connor, was a leader of the United Irishmen rebellion of 1798 and an ally of Napoleon, while his great uncle, Francis Burnett O’Connor, had fought with Simon Bolivar in his campaigns to liberate South America from the Spanish. Another great uncle, Feargus O’Connor, was a leading Chartist reformer known as the “Lion of Freedom”. It was in these shadows that the young Arthur walked.

O’Connor was afflicted by serious delusions of grandeur. He seemed convinced that, when he made contact with the Queen, that she would be taken by him and accede to his demands. Even after his whipping and transportation, he continued to try to contact Queen Victoria, writing long letters to her explaining his actions and goals – including that she would make him Poet Laureate ahead of the incumbent of the time, Alfred Tennyson.

Unsurprisingly, O’Connor’s travails did not end once he was released in Australia. He was continually institutionalised in Sydney and would spent most of his remaining days in insane asylums, usually under the symptom of what the Victorians called “self-abuse” – that is to say, masturbation.

How Queen Victoria Survived 8 Assassination Attempts
YOONIQ Images

8 – Roderick Maclean, March 2, 1882

Victoria’s last would be assassin would be the only one to attack outside of London. The Queen was en route to Windsor Castle, the traditional home of the monarch outside of London for almost a thousand years and the longest continuously occupied palace in Europe.

Bordering Windsor Castle is the town of Windsor, home to Eton College, arguably the most prestigious school in the world. Certainly, it was in 1882. As the royal train arrived at Windsor railway station and Queen Victoria moved from the locomotive to her carriage, she was greeted by a crowd of boys from the school.

She later wrote of the incident: “At the same time, there was the sound of what I thought was an explosion from the engine, but in another moment, I saw people rushing about and a man being violently hustled, rushing down the street.”

That man was Roderick Maclean, a mentally ill man who had fired at the Queen. In the commotion, a group of Eton boys had beaten him with their umbrellas and subdued him, whereupon he was arrested. The Guardian newspaper’s report of the time named the “brave, stalwart boys” as two Etonians called Wilson and Robinson, and said that they were “by hustling the would-be regicide, of saving the life of the Queen, met with a tremendous ovation of applause from their college chums when they returned to Eton last night.”

Maclean is thought to have decided to attack the Queen based on her lack of respect for poetry that he had sent her. His verses had been met with no reply from Victoria herself and instead a short, rude note from one of her courtesans, prompting the rejected wordsmith to plan his attack. Needless to say, Maclean was insane: he also was obsessed by the colour blue, assuming that those who wore the colour were doing so purposefully to rile him.

It did not take long for a jury to decide what to do with him once he had been brought to trial. In just a handful of minutes they declared Maclean insane and sent to an asylum. He would die in Broadmoor, Britain’s most famous insane asylum, in 1921. An interesting footnote to Victoria’s final would-be assassin is that his attack provoked a change in law that has remained in effect until the 1960s. The Trial of Lunatics Act of 1883 was passed in response to the repeated attacks on the life of the Queen and changed the legal status from “not guilty, on grounds of insanity” to “guilty, but insane”, a subtle alteration designed to enhance the stigma on the attacker.

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