Who tried to shoot Queen Victoria? The real story of the 1840 assassination attempt

What became of Edward Oxford, the first man who tried to kill Queen Victoria?

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The Victoria series finale features many exciting plots but the attempted assassination of Jenna Colman’s diminutive monarch is among the most dramatic.

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The real life tale of the attempt on Queen Victoria’s life is a rather interesting one, that’s just as intriguing as the TV adaptation suggests…

What actually happened when Victoria and Albert took their carriage out on that fateful day?

On the 10th of June 1840 , the then pregnant Queen Victoria was on her daily carriage drive with Prince Albert when two shots were fired at her on Constitution Hill.

Here’s how the Queen described the whole affair in her diary.

At 6, we drove out in our “Drotschky”, as usual, & as we had just left the Palace about ½ way up the road, before Constitution Hill, I was deafened by the loud report of a pistol, & our carriage involuntarily stopped. Albert was sitting on my right. We looked round & saw a little man on the footpath, with his arms folded over his breast, a pistol in each hand, & before ½ a minute elapsed, I saw him aim at me with another pistol. I ducked my head, & another shot, equally loud instantly followed; we looked round & saw that the man had been quickly surrounded & seized. Albert directly ordered the Postillion to drive on as if nothing had happened, to Mama’s house. Just before the 2nd shot was fired & as the man took aim, or rather more while he fired, dear Albert turned towards me, squeezing my hand, exclaiming “my God! Don’t be alarmed. I assured him I was not the least frightened, which was the case. It never entered my head, nor did it his, after the 1rst shot, that it was meant for me. 

Even Lord Melbourne paid her a visit after it.

Immediately after this we saw Lord Melbourne, with whom we both shook hands & who was visibly affected by the account I gave him. He said he thought it much the best thing on our part, to have driven on, as we did. Albert went out of the room for a moment, to speak to Sir Henry Wheatley, who had been to see the man & returned with the report. The latter was not to be examined till next day, & had asked whether I was hurt. When they answered that, thank God! I was not, he stretched out both his arms, as if to say he was very sorry. Talked a little while longer with Lord Melbourne, who, on leaving, said to me, with tears in his eyes, “God bless you”, & shook Albert’s hand.

The assailant was an 18-year-old unemployed Londoner named Edward Oxford, who would go down in history as the first of a number of men who attempted to assassinate the queen.

Why did Edward Oxford try to kill Queen Victoria?

There are a lot of rumours about why Oxford may have attempted to assassinate the queen, one prominent one being that he was under instruction from a political faction called Young England – which he alleged included the King of Hanover and Lord Palmerston among its members. 

The Queen never believed her uncle to have been behind the attempt on her life, describing Oxford’s claims as “wonderful improbabilities” in her diary on the 15 of June, 1840. 

Oxford’s family pleaded insanity on his part and, as they could find no evidence that the guns were loaded with anything other than gunpowder, the jury found him not guilty.

They did, however, decide his fate should be the same as all those deemed to be “lunatics”, and sentenced him to confinement for life at the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum in Bethlam

What became of Edward Oxford?

He was eventually transferred to Broadmoor Prison on April 30th 1864, where his records state that he was a “well conducted industrious man”. The then 40-year-old Oxford made solid progress during his time there and it was eventually decreed that he should be freed. 

Home Secretary Sir George Grey refused to release him, but his successor Gathorne Hardy allowed Oxford to go free in 1867, provided he left the United Kingdom.

The free man travelled to Australia, where he built a new life for himself under a new name – John Freeman.

He died in 1900, the year before the Queen passed away.

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Victoria returns for a second series and Christmas special on ITV in 2017