Wednesday, April 27, 2011

May 30, 1842 --- A Daring Plan

In a plan both brave and foolhardy, Victoria and Albert go for a carriage ride, hoping to draw out a man, seen the day previous, taking aim at the royal landau with a pistol. The suspicious character was heard to mutter, "I was a fool that I did not shoot."

The lure works. On Constitution Hill, the man reappears, described by Albert as "a little swarthy, ill-looking rascal." As the carriage races past, this time, the gunman pulls the trigger. The gun is unloaded. Royal equerries quickly seize the man, identified as John Francis, the son of a Covent Garden cabinetmaker. A woman heard him say: "Damn the Queen; why should she be such an expense to the nation."

As she returns to Buckingham Palace, the Queen's "anxious cast of countenance" stirs much sympathy. She had gone out without her usual ladies-in-waiting, "I must expose the lives of my gentlemen but I will not expose the lives of ladies." To her uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, she concedes: "The feeling of looking out for such a man was not des plus agreables." Albert recalls, "Our minds were not very easy. We looked behind every tree."

Francis is quickly dragged before a meeting of the full Privy Council, including the Duke of Wellington, as rumors of a "conspiracy of the blackest dye" sweep London. The Illustrated London News gives thanks in the typical fashion: "The passions of the millions are indignant in the conviction of her peril, but the heart of the empire is electric with the joy of her escape." The simple Francis obviously acted alone. Sentenced to hang for treason, he was instead transported for life.

In July, there was another attempt on the Queen's life.  "A hunchback little miscreant" named Bean aimed a pistol loaded with tobacco at the Queen. Albert thought the rash of incidents could be traced to "the increase of democratical & republican Notions & the licentiousness of the Press."

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