The last of the attempts on Queen Victoria’s life came on March 2, 1882. Unlike the previous attempts, this one was dangerous because by that date, weapons were well beyond the single shot volley stage. Roderick Maclean’s gun held six bullets, and he did fire at Victoria’s passing coach. If Maclean had had time for a second shot before he was beset upon by two Eton school boys, he might have actually hit the queen.
The incident occurred at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The Queen had departed Buckingham Palace, her carriage passing through Hyde Park on its way to Paddington station to board her special train bound for Windsor. The train arrived at Windsor, but as she left the station to enter her carriage, Maclean, who stood in the station yard, fired upon her. The Social Historian website says several police caught him up and took Maclean to the Windsor police station. Raymond Lamont Brown, in How Fat Was Henry VIII and 101 Questions on Royal History [The History Press, ©2008, 149-150), tells us two Eton school boys accosted Maclean with an umbrella until Superintendent George Hayes of the Windsor Police could take control of the situation. Mr. Brown goes on to tell us that Queen Victoria visited Eton several days later to thank the boys personally before 900 Eton boys in the Quadrangle of the school.
“At the same time,” the queen wrote later, “there was the sound of what I thought was an explosion from the engine, but in another moment, I saw people rushing about and a man being violently hustled, rushing down the street.” (History.com)
“The following telegram was sent from the Queen at Windsor Castle to the Prince of Wales at Marlborough House:
“In case an exaggerated report should reach you, I telegraph to say that, as I drove from the station here a man shot at the carriage, but fortunately hit no one. He was instantly arrested. I am nothing the worse.Belfast News-Letter – Friday 03 March 1882
“The prisoner’s name was Roderick Maclean. About 30-years-old, he was 5 feet 7 inches tall and was shabbily dressed. He told the police that he was a clerk out of employment and had been born in Oxford street in London and had only been in Windsor a few days, but it was later determined that he was a native of Ireland.
“The revolver was of German manufacture, with six chambers. Two chambers were loaded with empty cartridges, and two with loaded cartridges. One chamber had been discharged. No trace of a bullet has as yet been found. – from Belfast News-Letter – Friday 03 March 1882
“Maclean was tried on 19 April 1882 at Reading for high treason. Mr. Montague Williams presented overwhelming evidence that the prisoner was a lunatic and Maclean was acquitted on the ground of insanity. He was ordered to be detained during her Majesty’s pleasure.” The Social Historian [Note: At Her Majesty’s pleasure (sometimes abbreviated to Queen’s pleasure or, when appropriate, at His Majesty’s pleasure or King’s pleasure) is a legal term of art referring to the indeterminate or undetermined length of service of certain appointed officials or the indeterminate sentences of some prisoners. It is based on the concept that all legitimate authority for government comes from the Crown.]
The jury’s deliberation lasted but five minutes. Maclean lived out the remainder of his days at Broadmoor Asylum. He died 9 June 1921. This last attempt on her life prompted the Queen to ask for a change in English law. All of those who attempted to kill Victoria showed signs of mental illness. Maclean, Robert Pate, and Edward Oxford were considered mentally deranged. The others were more of the “lone wolf” nature we see in modern times at mass shootings. Queen Victoria pushed for those accused to be named “guilty, but insane,” rather than “not guilty, but insane,” as had Maclean been found. This led to the Trial of Lunatics Act of 1883. This Act of Parliament permitted the jury to return aa verdict that the defendant was guilty, but insane at the time of the crime. The accused would be kept in custody as a “criminal lunatic.” It was to act as a deterrent to other lunatics, but one must wonder if someone was mentally ill whether a “deterrent” would make much difference. The phrasing was changed to “guilty of the act or omission charged, but insane so as not to be responsible, according to law, for his actions.” This act was eventually replaced by the Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act of 1964.