Attempt On The Queen's Life

From The Greville Memoirs

June 12th. (1840) — On Wednesday afternoon, as the Queen and Prince Albert were driving in a low carriage up Constitution Hill, about four or five in the afternoon, they were shot at by a lad of eighteen years old, who fired two pistols at them successively, neither shots taking effect. He was in the Green Park without the rails, and as he was only a few yards from the carriage, and, moreover, very cool and collected, it is marvellous he should have missed his aim. In a few moments the young man was seized, without any attempt on his part to escape or to deny the deed, and was carried off to prison. The Queen, who appeared perfectly cool, and not the least alarmed, instantly drove to the Duchess of Kent's, to anticipate any report that might reach her mother, and, having done so, she continued her drive and went to the Park. By this time the attempt upon her life had become generally known, and she was received with the utmost enthusiasm by the immense crowd that was congregated in carriages, on horseback, and on foot. All the equestrians formed themselves into an escort, and attended her back to the Palace, cheering vehemently, while she acknowledged, with great appearance of feeling, these loyal manifestations. She behaved on this occasion with perfect courage and self-possession, and exceeding propriety; and the assembled multitude, being a high-class mob, evinced a lively and spontaneous feeling for her—a depth of interest which, however natural under such circumstances, must be very gratifying to her, and was satisfactory to witness.

Yesterday morning the culprit was brought to the Home Office, when Normanby examined him, and a Council was summoned for a more personal examination at two o'clock. A question then arose as to the nature of the proceeding, and the conduct of the examination, whether it should be before the Privy Council or the Secretary of State. We searched for precedents, and the result was this: The three last cases of high treason were those of Margaret Nicholson, in 1786; of Hatfield, in 1800 (both for attempts on the life of the Sovereign); and of Watson (the Cato Street affair), for an attempt on the Ministers in 1820. Margaret Nicholson was brought before the Privy Council, and the whole proceeding was set forth at great length in the Council Register. There appeared no entry of any sort or kind in the case of Hatfield; and in that of Watson there was a minute in the Home Office, setting forth that the examination had taken place there by Lord Sidmouth, assisted by certain Lords and others of the Privy Council. There was, therefore, no uniform course of precedents, and Ministers had to determine whether the culprit should be brought before the Privy Council, or whether he should be examined by the Cabinet only—that is, by Normanby as Secretary of State, assisted by his colleagues, as had been done in Watson's case. After some discussion, they determined that the examination should be before the Cabinet only, and consequently I was not present at it, much to my disappointment, as I wished to hear what passed, and see the manner and bearing of the perpetrator of so strange and unaccountable an act.

Up to the present time there is no appearance of insanity in the youth's behaviour, and he is said to have conducted himself during the examination with acuteness, and cross-examined the witnesses (a good many of whom were produced) with some talent. All this, however, is not incompatible with a lurking insanity. His answers to the questions put to him were mysterious, and calculated to produce the impression that he was instigated or employed by a society, with which the crime had originated, but I expect that it will turn out that he had no accomplices, and is only a crackbrained enthusiast, whose madness has taken the turn of vanity and desire for notoriety. No other conjecture presents any tolerable probability. However it may torn out—here is the strange fact—that a half-crazy potboy was on the point of influencing the destiny of the Empire, and of producing effects the magnitude and importance of which no human mind can guess at. It is remarkable how seldom attempts like these are successful, and yet the life of any individual is at the mercy of any other, provided this other is prepared to sacrifice his own life, which, in the present instance, the culprit evidently was.

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