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The attempted assassination of Queen Victoria at Windsor station

During her 63-year reign there were eight attempts to kill or assault Queen Victoria. The eighth attempt took place at Windsor and Eton Central in 1882 and led to a change in the law. Deputy editor Grace Witherden spoke to curator Becky Tabrar about the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum’s latest exhibition.

Exhibition opens on attempted assassination of Queen Victoria in Windsor

On March 2 1882 a man named Roderick Maclean walked 57 miles from Portsmouth to Windsor to kill Queen Victoria with a pistol.

The Queen had arrived back from London and was departing in her carriage at Windsor and Eton Central Railway station when she heard the gunshot.

The bullet missed and it is reported Maclean was thrown to the ground by Eton schoolboys.

The assassination attempt was the eighth over a period of four decades and is the subject of a new exhibition at the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum.

Becky Tabrar, museum, arts and local studies officer, curated the new exhibition and said the shocking event led to a change in law.

She said: “The exhibition is of local interest but we tried to convey the national importance it has as the events that unfolded on that day changed the law in Britain.”

Roderick Maclean was found not guilty of high treason by way of insanity and spent the rest of his life in an asylum.

“He had been suffering delusions and living in extreme poverty. He was wandering round the south of England and thought everyone was against him,” Becky added.

“His siblings refused to give him anymore money and he thought he was going to starve. He blamed Queen Victoria and called her the ‘leader of the bloated aristocrats’.”

After he was found not guilty Queen Victoria lobbied the Government to change the law so cases with similar outcomes would be considered as ‘guilty, but insane’.

Becky added: “Queen Victoria wasn’t happy he was found not guilty, in her eyes he had fired a gun at her and was guilty of that action. This law carried on for 80 years.”

The exhibition is on display outside Windsor Guildhall, which also holds significance as Maclean was originally tried there before the magistrates.

Becky said: “He was tried at Windsor Guildhall initially before the magistrates. There was an angry mob outside and police had to act as his bodyguard

“Lots of people in Windsor were quite angry, how dare someone try to hurt their Queen in their town.”

At Windsor Guildhall it was decided that Maclean should be sent to the assizes in Reading to be tried for treason.

Research for the exhibition was used from a video Becky made with Royal Holloway University of Lodon about the assassination attempt and there were also visits to Berkshire Record Office and the National Archives.

As the exhibition is outside it is easy to view while maintaining social distancing, although Becky said this was always the plan.

She said: “It was always going to be an outside exhibition and tour around different locations but then lockdown happened and this is the first opportunity we’ve had to share it again.”

“Hopefully people passing by will pop over to see it.”

The exhibition will be available to view until the end of September.

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