Opening scene

Kill the Queen! The Eight Assassination Attempts on Queen Victoria

Chapter 1 The Pot-Boy 1840

© Barrie Charles and Amberley Publishing

The two guns bulging from his trouser pockets, Edward Oxford left the house with a feeling of purpose and determination.  They might think of him as a thin youth of no consequence, but he would show them.  It was six weeks since he had been sacked from his job at the Hog-in-the-Pound public house because, they said, of his laughter.  “Maniacal”, the customers called it.  They described him as a mere ‘pot-boy’ and accused him of being haughty, but why should he deign to talk to those ignorant drunks?

He crossed the street and made his way towards Westminster Bridge.  This was not the first time that he had been shown the door, and he was tired of being treated as a nobody.  He was a senior member of a secret society called ‘Young England’, and soon people throughout the land would know of him.  His plans were laid; he knew what to do.

He had taken action only three days after losing his job, using £2 from his previous quarter’s wages to buy two pistols from a shop on the Blackfriars Road.  He also bought bags for the pistols and a powder flask for 2s.  For the following month, he assiduously practised using the guns, at shooting galleries in Leicester Square, Westminster Road, and the Strand.  Then, last Wednesday, he visited a shop at 10 Bridge Road, Lambeth, where an old school friend, John Gray, sold him half a hundred copper firing caps.  He was running short of money and could only afford a quarter-pound of gunpowder, but the shop only dealt in half-pound amounts.  They did not stock bullets either, so Gray recommended him to a gunsmith in Borough.

Edward crossed Westminster Bridge, where the tide was out and the foul-smelling Thames was a mere trickle through the slimy brown mud.  Picking his way between the heaps of horse dung, he crossed the roadway by the remains of the Palace of Westminster, destroyed in the disastrous fire of 1834.  The din of the workmen starting on the rebuilding added to the clatter of the iron-shod wheels of the carriages on the cobblestones, the noise of the crowds and livestock, and the clamour of the costermongers.  But Edward ignored them all as he escaped into the relative calm of Birdcage Walk.

His mother was away in Birmingham and, over the last week, he had continued practising, firing from the back window of his lodgings.  But that morning, Wednesday 10 June, he decided the fateful day had come.  He dressed smartly in his gambroon trousers1, light silk waistcoat, and brown frock coat, which he had saved for best from a funeral two years earlier.  He waited until three o’clock before setting off on his two-mile walk.

The previous Easter, when he was out by Hyde Park Corner with two fellows from the Hog-in-the-Pound, his plan had begun to form.  He had seen the crowds of people waiting to catch a glimpse of the Queen on her daily outings and learnt of her routine.  He knew how to set about his task from reading the adventures in books such as The Black Prince, Jack Shepherd, and The Pilot.

In St James’s Park, the birdcages no longer lined the thoroughfare, but he could still see the Ornithological Society on Duck Island.  Afternoon strollers were about beside the placid waters of the lake.  The licensed milk-sellers were at work with their cows and pails.  For them and the others around, it was just an ordinary day.

Outside Buckingham Palace, the people hoping to catch a glimpse of Her Majesty paid no heed to Edward.  He passed the Marble Arch entrance at the end of The Mall, acting like any other visitor, and continued for another hundred yards along Constitution Hill.  The avenue led from the garden gate of the Palace towards the triumphal arch at Hyde Park Corner, and was lined with trees, which afforded protection.

Edward selected a good spot about a third of the way along the road, his back to the iron railings of Green Park.  Although several people were about, it was less crowded than near to the Palace, and none would suspect his intentions.  He prepared for a long wait, his arms crossed, the two pistols concealed beneath his brown coat.  It was just after 4 p.m.

Two hours later there was the sound of cheering from the palace.  A few more moments elapsed before the Queen and Prince Albert emerged from the garden gate in an open carriage pulled by four horses, with postillions2 and two outriders.  The royal couple, with Victoria on the left and Albert on the right, raised their hands to wave to their subjects.

It was a low carriage and the sovereign was clearly in view as the party proceeded down Constitution Hill heading for Hyde Park.  In a short while they had nearly covered the ground to where Edward stood.  He walked forward, nodding his head as if to affirm the rightness of what he was about to do.  As the carriage came alongside, he quickly pulled a pistol from his coat.  At a distance of only six paces, he fired.

Several of the onlookers heard the loud report, and some women screamed.  But the Queen was not hit and she appeared unaware that her life was in danger.  Edward pulled out his other pistol with his left hand and balanced it on his right arm.  Then the Queen at last saw him pointing the gun at her.  She ducked instinctively, while Albert pulled her down.  Edward fired again ...

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