May 24th, dear readers, is Victoria Day in Canada, meant to celebrate the birthday of famed monarch Queen Victoria, who ruled England from June 20th, 1837 until January 22nd, 1901. Until last year, when she was finally beat out by the ever-tenacious Liz, Victoria was the longest-reigning monarch in British history. Her name has been associated with virginity, independence, a powerful empire, fashion, stoicism, feminism, and everything in between. She is a divisive and a celebrated figure, and there’s far too much about her life and her reign to cover in a brief article here.
We can, however, briefly look at those notorious assassination attempts.
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Putting yourself into a position of nation power, of course, immediately makes you a target. It won’t matter how good a ruler you are, how popular your decisions, and how beatific a figure you purport to be, some kook will take notice and try to take you out. As was once observed by author and history enthusiast Sarah Vowell, assassins and rules have one vital thing in common: They have the nerve to think they can change the world through their personal political actions.
At least six times – that we know of – very public attempts were made on the life of Queen Victoria. The first occurred in 1840, when a young man took two potshots at Queen Victoria’s carriage as she was riding through the streets of London. This was, of course, long before the notion of armored cars and Popemobiles. The would-be assassin was named Edward Oxford, 18, and he was apprehended, arrested, and tried for high treason. He was let off by reason of insanity, although Victoria herself didn’t buy it, and the insanity plea is controversial to this day. Oxford lived out his days in Australia.
Two more assailants tried to take the Queen’s life in 1842. The first was a fellow named John Francis, who also took a few flintlock shots at Victoria after she was done with a carriage ride at Constitution Hill. Evidently the Queen’s people saw him coming, and advised Victoria not to take the carriage ride, but Victoria, brave, took the ride anyway to flush him out. Yeah, security wasn’t so hot back then. The other assailant was an 18-year-old hunchback dwarf named John William Bean who, only a month after the Francis assassination attempt, pointed a gun at the Queen in what might be the first recorded incident of suicide-by-cop. Bean was only trying to get shot himself, evidently.
Up next was William Hamilton, an unemployed Irishman who tried to shoot the Queen in 1849, on her birthday no less. He was apprehended, served seven years in prison, and was also banished to Australia. No one knows what happened to him after that. The same year, Robert Pate came the closest to killing her off as he came so close to the Queen that he was able to hit her with his cane. He was a mad ex-army officer who was well known for public ranting. Evidently, he was tackled to the ground. One can see that this wasn’t necessarily politically motivated.
In March of 1882, a wild-eye poet, of all people, made a public attempt on the Queen’s life, but was foiled like the others, and also found to be insane. His name was Robert MacLean, and, evidently, had tried to assassinate Victoria at least eight times, but never got close. At least not until that last time.
Of course, with every assassination attempt she survived, Victoria only got more popular. she was survivor and a woman who could look the crazies in the eye with a great amount of cool British calm. To this day, she is beloved enough to warrant a holiday in Canada. So happy birthday, Vicky. Glad you outran all those bullets. You’re one tough mother.
Top Photo: W. & D. Downey
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.