We Are Not Amused VIII
Dr Nick Hervey discusses the conspiracy theories that swirled around Queen Victoria’s would-be assailants, in the eighth in a series of twelve guest posts.
Out of 63 would-be assailants on the royal person in the police file, only three were noted to be sane. There was thus little contemporaneous suggestion that attacks on Victoria were politically motivated.1 What suggestions there were emanated from the popular press. Nevertheless in a couple of cases the police did investigate allegations that those apprehended had been hired to assassinate the Queen. Edward Oxford's pistols were mounted with the monogram E.R., rumoured to stand for ‘Ernestus Rex’, the unpopular King of Hanover, formerly the Duke of Cumberland. There was allegedly a letter in Oxford's lodgings, which became known as the ‘Hanover’ letter, whose contents were never revealed. This idea was dismissed by those around the Queen, and the police were more concerned by informants who suggested that Oxford belonged to a secret society which had put him up to the assassination attempt. A list of members was found in his lodgings, but it only contained fictitious names. Another document was supposedly the regulations of this society, called Young England, but the police could find no evidence that such a society actually existed. One informant reported that a man of violent Orange principles was also resident at Oxford’s lodgings, and a man called Stephens stated that he had been approached on four separate occasions to shoot the Queen. No proof was ever adduced to support these allegations and Oxford was subsequently pronounced insane by Dr J Conolly.2
The case of John Francis was different as he was not accounted mad. Having shot at the Queen, he had committed treason and was liable to be hanged. Once more there were anonymous letters, this time indicating a connection with the Chartist movement, but a plain clothes constable sent to a meeting in London reported there to be no political feeling in the matter. In fact those attending the meeting had merely been placing bets on whether Francis would suffer the extreme penalty of the law. Police also went to the shop where Francis obtained his firearm and visited his lodgings to check on his contacts, but nothing further emerged.3 In 1842 The Times carried a report about Thomas Quested mentioning rumours (only to disclaim them) that he was a Chartist and had been found armed to the teeth in Windsor Castle. The most convincing evidence came in connection with William Hamilton's assassination attempt. A reserve policeman from ‘A’ Division Thomas Pronger said he’d seen Hamilton with a group known as the People's Charter Union, and had attended one of their meetings where the subject for discussion was, ‘what form of government is most compatible with liberty’. But no other information was forthcoming, and certainly none which suggested that Hamilton had been prompted to act by a third party.4
Roderick Maclean who attempted to shoot Victoria in 1882 was stated to have been linked to the Fenian Movement, but once again no link could be found, and suggestions such as these owe more to the appeal of conspiracy theories, than to any foundation in fact. Initial newspaper reaction often linked those apprehended with some political cause, almost certainly in an attempt to sell copy, only for these statements to be withdrawn once reporters had established the harmless nature of the incidents.5 In almost every case those apprehended were felt to be mentally disturbed, and the police were then faced with the problem of their disposal.
To be continued…