On this day in history : 2nd March 1882 – Scotsman Roderick Maclean attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria as she waits to board her train at Windsor railway station….

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Photograph by Alexander Bassano 1882. Public domain

Queen Victoria had just walked across the platform to the waiting carriage with her daughter, Princess Beatrice and other members of her court, when a shot rang out…. Roderick Maclean had stepped from a crowd of cheering onlookers, raised a gun and fired…. Before he could do so again the crowd, including a group of Eton schoolboys who hit him with umbrellas, managed to overcome him…. Maclean was then arrested by a Superintendent Hayes….

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Queen Victoria with Princess Beatrice. Public domain via Wikimedia

Maclean had not been quite right in the head since a childhood accident. His father was the proprietor of  ‘Fun’ magazine – a rival to ‘Punch’ – and so the family would have been comfortable and Roderick Maclean depended upon them financially…. When his parents died he had no means of an income and had to rely on handouts from his three brothers and sister….

As time passed by this help became less frequent, which frustrated Maclean – as a republican he directed his anger at the Monarchy…. He took to wandering from town to town and was becoming more and more like a tramp….

Maclean was also a ‘would-be’ poet and he sent some of his verse to Queen Victoria – but was angered by the response he received from the Palace….his work was returned to him accompanied by a curt note from a lady-in-waiting…. This appears to have finally tipped him over the edge…. Maclean sold his meagre possessions, bought himself a cheap and cheerful revolver….and then walked to Windsor….

In fact Maclean had already been certified as insane two years previously in June 1880….and had spent some time in a lunatic asylum. He had complained of headaches and thought that everybody in England was plotting against him…. He even had a problem with the colour blue and thought people who wore it did so to deliberately provoke him…. He had also sent some disturbing letters to his sister Caroline, in which he discussed murder….

Maclean went on trial in Reading on April the 20th 1882 on the charge of high treason….a crime then punishable by death…. However he was found ‘not guilty but insane’ – the jury took just five minutes to deliver their verdict…. Roderick Maclean spent the rest of his days in Broadmoor Asylum….he died of apoplexy in 1921….

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Asylum for Criminal Lunatics, Broadmoor. Image credit : Wellcome Collection CC BY

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