Shooting Victoria

Paul Thomas Murphy


I knew that there had been assassination attempts on Queen Victoria, but I didn’t know that there had been eight of them during her long reign. This book takes a look at each attempt, including the political and social conditions of the time, both at home and abroad. The result of the attempts was an uproar of support and love for the monarch, resulting in an increase of popularity. Victoria wanted each of them flogged and hanged, but her judicial system realized that they were insane and simply imprisoned them.

In fact it was the insanity of one assassin, who did not make an attempt on the queen, that changed judicial proceedings on both sides of the pond. In 1843 Daniel M’Naghton (sometimes spelled McNaughton) attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Peel. He mistakenly shot Peel’s secretary Edward Drummond, and was taken into custody. His defense resulted in what is called the M’Naghton rule for an insanity defense. It states

“that every man is to be presumed to be sane, and… that to establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.”

This rule is applied today in the United States, with some exceptions, where a defendant pleads not guilty for reason of insanity.

The other assassination attempts were by equally disturbed individuals, who were taken into custody. The police didn’t seem to learn much from each attempt about protecting the monarch, who moved free through the crowds, exposing her person to danger in a way that is not tolerated today.


Victoria the Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire

Julia Baird


This biography explores the two sides of an extraordinary woman—the public side, involved in politics and negotiating the tensions of monarch as real power, and the private side of wife, mother, and widow.

When Victoria came to the throne in 1837, the monarchy was a very different thing than when she died in 1901, and Julia Baird successfully negotiates the pressures Victoria dealt with over her long life, particularly the succession of prime ministers, not all of whom were comfortable dealing with this powerful woman.

It is the tension of being a women in power in a time that did not see women as having a role outside the home, and the demands of her personal life as mother to nine children that make this book so interesting. Julia Baird moves effortlessly between the private woman and the public monarch.

The book balances the demands of a monarch with the demands of a wife, mother, and widow, with a deftness that makes this book so readable.



Daisy Goodwin


This very readable account of Victoria’s early years is timed to coincide with PBS’ Masterpiece presentation. It hits all the high spots to those familiar with Victoria’s life, adding some imaginary conversations and physical reactions to Albert that hint at Victoria’s sensual appreciation of him as a man. It never hints at how utterly boring her court and her private life were, but instead puts its focus on the joy of being a young queen in love.