Four months after their royal wedding, newlyweds Queen Victoria and Prince Albert departed Buckingham Palace in an open carriage for their regular ride through Hyde Park. Just 100 yards outside the palace gates, Albert noticed “a little mean-looking man holding something toward us.” The prince had no time to process what he saw before 18-year-old barkeep Edward Oxford fired his dueling pistol at the queen, who was four months pregnant with the couple’s first child. Although only six paces away, Oxford missed the queen, who had turned to her left to look at a horse and thought the shot came from someone hunting birds in the nearby park. Just before the baby-faced Oxford fired a second pistol, the queen ducked for safety. The crowd took the shooter to the ground, and the royals continued their voyage as if nothing happened. “We took a short drive through the park, partly to give Victoria a little air, partly also to show the public that we had not, on account of what had happened, lost all confidence in them,” Albert wrote. Seeking notoriety, Oxford was found guilty but insane, and spent 24 years in an asylum before being deported to Australia.
John Francis — May 29, 1842
As Prince Albert rode with Queen Victoria in their open carriage after attending a Sunday morning service at the royal chapel at St. James’s Palace, he saw “a little, swarthy, ill-looking rascal” standing astride the Mall and pointing a small flintlock pistol in his direction. He watched as John Francis pulled the trigger, but the weapon failed to fire. The gunman then tucked his pistol underneath his coat and disappeared into Green Park.
John Francis — May 30, 1842
While Prince Albert informed the royal security forces that a gunman was on the loose in London, Queen Victoria insisted she would not confine herself to Buckingham Palace until he was caught. Believing that the best way to flush out the would-be assassin was for the royal couple to leave the palace again the following day, Victoria and Albert were nervous as they circled London for an evening drive in an open barouche. “You may imagine that our minds were not very easy,” Albert wrote to his father. “We looked behind every tree, and I cast my eyes round in search of the rascal’s face.” While plain-clothed officers with a description of the suspect scoured the crowd, a shot suddenly rang out just five paces from the carriage. Police tackled the suspect who missed his mark. Once again, it was Francis, who was sentenced to be hanged and quartered before the queen commuted his sentence to banishment for life.
John William Bean — July 3, 1842
History nearly repeated itself five weeks after Francis fired his gun when 17-year-old John William Bean waited for the queen’s procession as it left Buckingham Palace for the short, quarter-mile journey to the royal chapel for Sunday service. Bean, who suffered from a severe spinal deformity that left him barely four feet tall, pushed his way to the front of the crowd lining the Mall and pulled out a pistol from underneath his long brown coat. Unhappy with his existence, the depressed Bean wanted a change—any kind of change—and hoped that threatening the queen would be a chance for a new life, even one in prison. When he pulled the trigger, however, the gun failed to fire. A bystander grabbed Bean’s wrist, but he managed to escape into the crowd. That night, London police rounded up the city’s hunchbacks before discovering Bean at his family home. Bean said the queen’s life was never endangered as his pistol was loaded with more tobacco than gunpowder and pointed to the ground. He was sentenced to 18 months of hard labor.
William Hamilton — June 19, 1849
On the evening of the official commemoration of her birthday, Queen Victoria rode through Hyde and Regent’s Park with three of her children, including the future King Edward VII. Standing in nearly the identical position as Edward Oxford nine years earlier, 24-year-old unemployed bricklayer William Hamilton fired a pistol at the royal carriage as it descended Constitution Hill on its return to Buckingham Palace. The queen was unharmed as the head keeper of Green Park subdued the shooter. Hamilton, who had been forced to immigrate from Ireland to London in the 1840s at the onset of the Great Hunger, told the police he had fired the gun loaded only with powder “for the purpose of getting into prison, as he was tired of being out of work.” The shooter pled guilty and was banished to the prison colony of Gibraltar for seven years.
Robert Pate — June 27, 1850
After serving as a British Army officer, Robert Pate descended into lunacy. He was well-known by Londoners, including the queen, for his manic behavior, such as goose-stepping around Hyde Park. On one of his walks around London, Pate came across a crowd that had gathered outside Cambridge House, where Queen Victoria and her three children were visiting her dying uncle. As the queen’s carriage departed, it came to a stop just outside the home’s gate. Pate approached the monarch and smacked her on the forehead with his lightweight cane. As the crowd manhandled the attacker, the queen stood up and proclaimed, “I am not hurt,” although the immense bruise on the right side of her head and the black eye that she would soon sport testified otherwise. Pate, who was the only potential assassin to harm the queen, was sentenced to seven years in the penal colony of Tasmania.
Arthur O’Connor — February 29, 1872
As Queen Victoria circuited Hyde and Regent’s Park for a Leap Day drive, 17-year-old would-be assassin Arthur O’Connor managed to scale the fence at Buckingham Palace and sprint across the courtyard without detection. When the queen’s carriage returned to the palace entrance, O’Connor rushed up to its side and raised a flintlock pistol just a foot away from the queen. John Brown, the queen’s personal servant, seized the teenager by the neck and tackled him to the ground as the queen was rushed to safety. Although the monarch didn’t know it, O’Connor’s pistol was broken and unusable. A descendant of Irish revolutionaries, O’Connor said he never intended to kill Queen Victoria, but to frighten her into signing a document that would release Irish political prisoners being held in British jails. Brown received a medal for his heroism. Sentenced to a year in prison and 20 strokes with a birch rod, O’Connor was eventually exiled to Australia.
Roderick Maclean — March 2, 1882
The final shot taken at Queen Victoria came as her carriage departed from Windsor Station after she arrived by train from London. Boys from nearby Eton College cheered the queen as she set out for Windsor Castle. “At the same time,” the queen wrote later, “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.” Moments after 28-year-old Roderick Maclean fired an errant shot at the queen, the Eton boys pummeled the mentally disturbed man with their umbrellas before he was taken into custody. MacLean was found not guilty, but insane, and spent the rest of his life in an asylum.