Famous Assassination Attempts on the British Royal Family

Famous Assassination Attempts on the British Royal Family

After Queen Elizabeth II died in September, the crown was peacefully passed to her son, King Charles II (though technically he won’t be crowned until May 6). Because of the smooth transition, it’s easy to forget the British monarchy hasn’t always been so popular. Throughout British history, kings, queens, and princes have been the target of assassins. Thankfully, in all cases except one, the family member survived.

24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of the most famous assassination attempts against the British Royal Family, using such sites as Historic UK, History, Biography, as well as various media sources in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the U.S. There have been numerous plots to assassinate members of the Royal Family, but our list focuses on the assassination attempts that were actually carried out. (Worldwide, these are the most famous failed assassinations.) 

Politics, as expected, played a role in many would-be assassinations. A man protesting the British treatment of the Irish was behind the 1872 plot against Queen Victoria. In all, eight attempts were made on her life, although only two are highlighted here. The late Queen Elizabeth II reportedly narrowly escaped five potential assassinations, and lived on to become one of  the 20 longest-reigning monarchs in history. 

In only one instance, did the assassination attempt turn deadly. In 1979, a bomb planted by IRA terrorists killed Lord Louis Mountbatten, a second cousin to Queen Elizabeth II and great-uncle and mentor to the future King Charles III, while he sailed off the coast of Ireland. 

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

> Target: Queen Victoria

A growing movement toward republicanism, aimed at overturning the monarchy, festered in 1872 when a clerk named Arthur O’Connor managed to evade palace guards to confront Queen Victoria as she returned from a ride around London. He pointed a pistol at the monarch, but was quickly caught. O’Connor later claimed the pistol was broken and that he intended no harm, only wanting to bring to light the plight of Irish prisoners in Britain.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

> Target: Queen Victoria

In all, eight attempts were made on the life of Queen Victoria during her reign. The final one came in 1882 when Roderick Maclean (sometimes referred to as Frederick Maclean) shot wildly at the Queen at Windsor train station. He missed, but was immediately set upon by two Eton schoolboys who fought the assailant off with umbrellas. Afterward, the monarch dryly observed, “It is worth being shot at to see how much one is loved.”

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

> Target: Edward, Prince of Wales

King Edward VII had a short reign, ruling only for 10 years after his mother, Queen Victoria, died in 1901. But it could have been much shorter if anarchist Jean-Baptiste Sipido had assassinated the then-Prince of Wales in 1900 at a Belgian railway station. The prince survived being shot in the face and suffered no permanent injury. Sipido said he was protesting the Boer War and Britain’s atrocities against the Boers. He was acquitted based on his young age: 15. Later, he moved to France and was involved in socialist activities, but stayed clear of the law.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

> Target: King Edward VIII

Now best remembered for giving up the crown to marry divorcée Wallis Simpson, the woman he loved, King Edward VIII was the subject of a failed assassination attempt by Andrew McMahon (a.k.a. Jerome Bannigan) of Ireland. As the king rode through Hyde Park, McMahon pointed a firearm at him, but was quickly overtaken by the crowd. Investigators later concluded McMahon did not intend to kill the monarch. Instead, he was said to be motivated by Nazi idealolgy. Ironically, King Edward VIII was known to be a Nazi sympathizer.

Source: Fox Photos / Getty Images

> Target: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip

A log deliberately rolled onto the tracks could have derailed Queen Elizabeth’s reign in 1970. As she and Prince Philip were traveling via train through the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia, the train struck a log. Luckily, the train was moving at a slow speed, and the conductor managed to stop it in time, avoiding a dangerous derailment. The Austrailian government was mum on the event for many years, hoping to avoid the embarrassment of an assassination attempt on its soil.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

> Target: Lord Louis Mountbatten

Perhaps the most devastating royal assassination was the killing of Lord Louis Mountbatten, a second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II and great-uncle and mentor to the future King Charles III. Amid tensions between the English and rebel groups in Northern Ireland, the IRA detonated a bomb hidden on Mountbatten’s fishing boat as he sailed off the Irish coast. “The Troubles” between the British and the IRA lasted until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Source: Simon Dack / Getty Images

> Target: Queen Elizabeth II

1981 saw two assassination attempts on Queen Elizabeth II. The first occurred during the Trooping of the Colour, an annual parade of soldiers and horses to honor the monarch and the country. During the event, 17-year-old Marcus Sarjeant fired six shots, which turned out to be blanks, at the Queen – who was unharmed and remained remarkably calm. Sarjeant was jailed for five years and released in 1984. His only apparent motive was his interest in the John F. Kennedy and John Lennon assassinations.

Source: Princess Diana Archive / Hulton Royals Collection via Getty Images

> Target: Queen Elizabeth II

Months later, on Oct. 14, 1981, Queen Elizabeth II was the target of a more serious assassination attempt, this time during a visit to New Zealand. Christopher J. Lewis, then 17, shot at the Queen with a rifle from a building, but missed. Fearful the Royals wouldn’t return to their country if they thought they were being shot at, New Zealand authorities told the monarch a firecracker had gone off. He was sentenced to three years in prison for possession of a firearm after confessing he belonged to a terrorist organization. He later committed suicide in prison.

Source: Mark Jones / Wikimedia Commons

> Target: Prince Charles

Upset over the treatment of Cambodian asylum seekers in Australia, David Kang, a former university student, jumped on stage where Prince Charles stood during Australia Day festivities. After firing two shots from a starter pistol, Kang was quickly hustled away and the Prince was apparently unfazed. Kang turned his life around and later served as a barrister in Sydney.

Source: WPA Pool / Getty Images

> Target: Queen Elizabeth II

British authorities foiled an attempt on Queen Elizabeth II’s life by Islamic terrorists in 2014. The four men, aged 19 to 27, planned to stab the monarch during a commemoration of World War I. Despite the threat, the Queen attended the event.

Source: Chris Jackson / Chris Jackson Collection via Getty Images

> Target: The Royal Family

In what could have been the most devastating attack ever on the Royal Family, ISIS militants reportedly devised a plot to kill the Queen and other members during VJ Day 2015 with pressure cooker bombs. In response, British authorities killed ISIS member and plot mastermind Reyaad Khan, a British citizen, along with two other ISIS members, with a drone strike in Syria.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

> Target: Prince George

Even young Prince George became the target of an assassination. In 2016, reports surfaced that Islamic State extremists planned to kill the Prince at his London school. The threats were uncovered on the Telegram, an encrypted messaging service used by extremist groups, with one line saying, “Even the Royal family will not be left alone.” Husnain Rashid, an ISIS sympathizer, was arrested.

Source: WPA Pool / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

> Target: Queen Elizabeth II

A year before her passing, Queen Elizabeth II survived a very close call. During the Christmas season while the family was staying at Windsor Castle, Jaswant Singh Chail, 20, somehow entered the palace grounds armed with a loaded crossbow. He said he was protesting the Crown’s treatment of Indians, specifically the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Before the attempt, he made videos discussing his plans. He was apprehended just a third of a mile from the Queen’s private residences.

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