Arts & Culture

The True Story of How Queen Victoria Survived William Hamilton's Failed Assassination Attempt

Here's what you didn't see in tonight's episode of Victoria.
IMAGE COURTESY OF MASTERPIECE PBS
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The opening scenes of tonight's episode of Victoria on Masterpiece PBS show a failed assassination attempt on Queen Victoria and several of her children. While the writers of the series have taken some liberties with history this season—notably regarding the timeline of the cholera epidemic in Soho in 1854—an incident like the one depicted onscreen in "A Show of Unity" did indeed take place in 1849.

Queen Victoria was enjoying a ride through Hyde and Regent's Parks with several of her children. As they made their way back to Buckingham Palace, William Hamilton, an unemployed Irishman, fired a pistol in the direction of the royal carriage. Or, more truthfully, he appeared to fire a pistol. While he did use powder, Hamilton's gun almost certainly contained no bullets or projectiles, and he had no real intention of hurting the monarch.

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Rather, according to Paul Thomas Murphy's book Shooting Victoria, "He said he did it for the purpose of getting into prison, as he was tired of being out of work."

He got what he wanted. Hamilton was sentenced to seven years' of transportation, meaning he was sent to the colonies to serve out his punishment. He first went to Gibraltar, and was eventually sent to Australia, where he would serve the end of his sentence, but per Murphy, "where and when he died remains a mystery."

For her part, Victoria was relatively unfazed by the whole incident.

"I hope that you will not have been alarmed by the account of the occurrence which took place on Saturday, and which I can assure you did not alarm me at all," she wrote to her Uncle Leopold.

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"This time it was quite clear that it was a wanton and wicked wish merely to frighten, which is very wrong, and will be tried and punished as a misdemeanour."

She might have even found a silver lining in the aftermath, as she also wrote her uncle that "the indignation, loyalty, and affection this act has called forth is very gratifying and touching."

William Hamilton wasn't the first person to "attempt" to kill Queen Victoria (if you can even call his actions and attempt), and he wouldn't be the last. In total, there were eight would-be assassination attempts on the Queen's life by seven men, all unsuccessful.

"Victoria’s seven would-be assassins were all shooting stars," writes Murphy. "They came from nowhere, burst into the light of public attention for a short time following their attempts and disappeared back into obscurity."

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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Caroline Hallemann
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