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We Are Not Amused II

Here is the second in a series of twelve posts by guest blogger Dr Nick Hervey sharing his research on a police file on ‘…Insane Persons and others who have come under the cognizance of the Police Force for offences against H.M. Queen Victoria…’

The crime of regicide had always been accorded a special importance, commensurate with the central role of the monarchy. This was illustrated most dramatically by the unsavoury treatment of Charles I's regicides during the Restoration in 1660. Of those who had survived the intervening eleven years, twenty one were executed, several such as Harrison, Cook and Peters with revolting cruelty, being castrated and disembowelled whilst still alive. Charles II had others pursued abroad and extradited, and in the case of Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw who were already dead, their bodies were exhumed, drawn on a hurdle to Tyburn, hanged and then beheaded. Fingers and toes were also hacked off the corpses, before the heads were impaled on railings at Westminster Hall, where they remained for twenty years.

Clearly these men were fully aware of the seriousness of their behaviour in 'murdering' the monarch, but in the majority of cases potential and actual regicides were thought to be mentally disturbed, which complicated the problem of their disposal. As attitudes towards the insane changed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a more generous approach seems to have been adopted towards those who were felt to have acted whilst mentally deranged. Napoleon after an attempt on his life by Staaps observed, ‘you see that he is an unhappy being labouring under insanity or imbecility’.1 Similarly George III was magnanimous towards Margaret Nicholson, remarking after her attempted stabbing of him, ‘No, I am not hurt - take care of the woman - do not hurt her, for she is mad’.2 Nevertheless this was a crime that ranked as treason, and those who were felt to constitute a genuine threat to the monarch were likely to remain in institutional care for the rest of their lives, if not hanged or transported.

Dr E. Regis, writing in 1890, divided regicides into two groups, true and false: the former attacking in consequence of their delusional beliefs, and the latter acting basically on impulse, sometimes in response to ideas in their mind. Those who approached Victoria encompassed a range of mental states and motives. Several had a grievance, which they pursued beyond reasonable lengths, because of their mental illness. For example Edward Hayward who stopped the Queen's horse in Hyde Park claimed that he had been wrongfully denied some estates owing to him in St Helena. Countess Amelia Resterlitz called to reclaim Hampton Court, which she believed belonged to her.3 Others who approached the Queen had delusional ideas about their relationship with her, or about their own status. Patrick Lynden, who travelled up from Kent, told guards at Buckingham Palace that the Palace was his house and that God had willed it so. He added, ‘you may give me the title of King if you think proper, but it is already mine.....I have come to claim her (Victoria) in marriage. She is the child of God: therefore I am to marry her and I had consent from her heavenly father.’ Thomas Quested came to London to claim his title, ‘Lord Godolphin D'Arcy’, and used the foulest language in relation to the Queen who granted him nothing, aside from forty three years in Bethlem Hospital.4 Another motivation for approaching the monarch was to seek patronage. C.M., a former butler of Lord Hood's, called at Buckingham Palace to see Victoria about obtaining employment, but was removed after stripping naked. Of others it was said that they were seeking a berth for life in the sanctuary of an asylum, and a few were undoubtedly attracted by the possibility of gaining notoriety.5 In 1854, when the first medical notes were made on Edward Oxford at Bethlem, 14 years after his admission, the medical superintendent noted that Oxford regretted his deed, ‘which probably originated in a feeling of excessive vanity and a desire to become notorious if he could not be celebrated’.6

To be continued…