What really happened to Edward Drummond? The tragic case of Robert Peel’s Private Secretary

Leo Suter, who plays Edward Drummond in ITV's Victoria, guides us through the dramatic series finale

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The Victoria series two finale ends with (EPIC SPOILER ALERT) the tragic death of Edward Drummond, Prime Minister Robert Peel’s sidekick. Having watched him exchange coy smiles and pointed innuendos with Lord Alfred Paget for the entire series, viewers were thrilled to see the pair finally give in to temptation and share a passionate kiss in last week’s episode. But their moment of happiness was short-lived.

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“I think it’s going to be quite heartbreaking, especially because people seem to have been so excited and so moved by Drummond and Alfred’s kiss last week,” Leo Suter, who plays Drummond, tells RadioTimes.com. “I think to have it snatched away from them will break some hearts.”

Who was Edward Drummond?

Edward Drummond was a British civil servant who served as Private Secretary to four Prime Ministers, including Robert Peel. He took on this important job in 1827 and remained in the post until his death 16 years later at the age of 51.

Did Drummond really get shot?

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Yes – but in real life things went quite differently.

In ITV’s Victoria we see Drummond heroically stopping a bullet that was destined for the Prime Minister Robert Peel, dying instantly. The killer is furious about the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and wants to get his revenge.

But while the bare bones of the story are the same, Drummond actually died three years earlier – well before the repeal of the Corn Laws.

On 20th January 1843, Drummond stepped out of Peel’s house in Whitehall Gardens around 4pm and set off towards his own home in Downing Street. A man called Daniel M’Naghten, possibly mistaking him for the Prime Minister, shot him in the back.

Drummond did NOT die instantly: in fact, he hung around for five more days. The bullet passed through his chest and diaphragm and lodged in his abdomen and he was able to walk away from the incident. It is thought that the doctors who removed the bullet later that day may have botched his medical treatment.

Drummond's assassin Daniel M'Naghten
Edward Drummond’s assassin Daniel M’Naghten

But when it comes to ITV’s Victoria, the moment of death is much more dramatic.

“There’s a suddenness to it which makes it quite shocking and all the more heartbreaking,” Suter says. “That bit afterwards when you see Alfred alone at dinner touching the petal – it’s really moving. So I think it’s important that he goes so quickly. It’s more heartbreaking. It’s more heart wrenching.”

The assassination itself was filmed in one take, with explosives and a kevlar suit and packs of fake blood packed into Drummond’s waistcoat.

“It was exciting and there was a tension just through the fact that we had to get it done that day,” Suter tells us. “It is quite fun, it is quite am dram. Lots of blood spurting everywhere and people wailing and guns going off. It’s dramatic.”

He adds: “We had one crack of the whip. But I think we pulled it off.”

M’Naghten was tried for murder, but found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to the asylum at Bethlem Hospital (“Bedlam”). He seems to have been suffering from paranoid delusions about the Tory party, and it was never clear whether the bullet was intended for Peel or not. Aside from the statement that “the Tories in my native city have compelled me to do this. They follow, persecute me wherever I go,” M’Naghten never again discussed his crime.

Was Drummond really gay? And did he have a relationship with Lord Alfred Paget?

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Given how secretive Victorians had to be about homosexuality, there’s no way to be 100% sure about Edward Drummond’s sexual orientation – but there’s no evidence that he was attracted to men or had any same-sex relationships.

And what about his on-screen relationship with Lord Alfred Paget, played by Jordan Waller in Victoria?

This is even more unlikely. The real Lord Alfred was a British soldier, courtier and Liberal politician who was a couple of decades younger than Drummond. In fact, he only became Chief Equerry to the Queen in 1846 – three years after Drummond’s assassination. The following year he married a wealthy heiress and had 14 children.

But even if the real-life Drummond was actually straight, there is a certain truth to the storyline, Suter tells us.

“The point that’s important to make is that – if they were gay – we would never know,” he explains. “And of course there were gay people in that era, we just have much less record of that being the case and any evidence for it is highly coded and withheld.

“So there is a truth in it even if, for these particular characters, it’s an extrapolation.”

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Victoria returns later this year with the 2017 Christmas special