“O, they are firing squibs”: Responses to Assassination Attempts on British Royalty, 1800 – 1900

Presented by ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences

Assassinations or attempted assassinations are archetypal moments of crisis, but they have only rarely been given sustained and systematic attention by historians.

This paper focuses on a series of attempts to assassinate members of the British royal family: James Hadfield's attempt on George III in 1800; Edward Oxford and Roderick Maclean's attempts on Queen Victoria in 1840 and 1882 respectively; Henry O'Farrell's attempt on the Duke of Edinburgh in 1868; and Jean-Baptiste Sipido's attempt on the Prince of Wales in 1900.

It uses these case studies to explore the responses of political elites and wider publics to this particular form of crisis and to suggest that British historians ought to take their assassins (or would-be assassins) more seriously.

Gordon Pentland is Professor of Political History at the University of Edinburgh.