Order for £22.50 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Review: Shooting Victoria, By Paul Thomas Murphy. Head of Zeus, £25
Wednesday 03 April 2013
"It is worth being shot at," the 62-year-old Queen Victoria wrote to her eldest daughter after Roderick MacLean discharged a revolver in her direction, "to see how much one is loved."
In 1882, the Queen probably needed a little public adoration: she had survived the death of Albert and the years shut away from the people, when republicanism gained headway, to recapture their veneration.
Murphy's pleasingly meandering history is a partly psychological one, examining both the characters of the men who "shot" at the Queen, and that of Victoria herself. The majority of the "shooters" were considered insane, yet went on to live remarkably sane lives after they had served their sentences, telling us a great deal about the incipient science of psychiatry. Victoria simply wanted the men responsible for frightening her – most of whom discharged guns that had no ammunition – exiled or imprisoned for ever.
What led seven men to attack her during her reign may never be properly known. Many surmised it was the publicity. Her first would-be assassin was unstable Edward Oxford, leader of the fictitious "Young England" revolutionary brigade. Victoria was 21 and pregnant when Oxford fired at and missed her. He was found guilty, but "being at the time insane". This should have seen him acquitted but he was confined until 1867, when he departed for Australia and became a respectable married man in Melbourne. The staff at Bedlam "always considered him sane". The second shooter, John Francis, was another troubled soul. Hunchback John William Bean was charged with a new lesser crime of "High Misdemeanour" to try and take the celebrity factor out of attacking the Queen. He, too, would marry after serving his sentence but would end his days in an asylum.
These individuals were never part of a political conspiracy nor motivated by personal hatred but what can their mental instability tell us? Murphy fails to comment on whether the gender of the assailants has anything to do with it. For Victoria was a particular symbol of womanhood, as well as a Queen. It seems reasonable to suppose there might be something in that.
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Crystal meth addict 'gouged out his eyes and ate them' while high on drug, Australian MP claims
- 2 Saudi Arabia 'seeking to head United Nations Human Rights Council'
- 3 Group of students refused entry to Leicester nightclub 'because they are black'
- 4 Irish people are travelling home from all over the world so they can vote to legalise gay marriage
- 5 Arsenal fan asks the Queen for tickets to the FA Cup final - gets a reply from Buckingham Palace
Cannes Film Festival rejects women from red-carpet screening of pro-LGBT romance 'Carol' for not wearing high heels
'We didn't really think we'd get away with it': The astonishing story of how two young Irish men completed an audacious £7m art heist
Game of Thrones rape scene criticised as 'disgusting' by US senator Claire McCaskill who says she's 'done' with show
Beyonce angers fans by pouring expensive champagne into hot tub in Nicki Minaj 'Feeling Myself' video
Armenia at Eurovision 2015: Genealogy forced to change song title in wake of 'too political' Armenian Genocide claims
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
Report finds that Britain's wages are the most unequal in Europe
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland