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On June 10, 1840, the young Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert, were riding in state in their official carriage which was slowly winding through Westminster and returning to Buckingham Palace. Due to the late spring evening weather, the carriage was open while Victoria and Albert greeted the adoring crowds lining the streets. The only security they had were two guards on horseback who kept th crowds away. As the carriage drew level with Constitution Hill, two shots rang out and the Queen, frantic for her safety, took cover (she was four months pregnant with her first child at the time).
The gunman, an eighteen year-old former potboy named Edward Oxford, made no attempt to conceal himself or to get away after firing his pistols. He had stationed himself on a footpath right on Constitution Hill and the spectators nearby quickly wrestled him to the ground and disarmed him. Oxford was certainly open about firing at Her Majesty stating, “It was I. It was me that did it!” He was immediately arrested and later charged with treason given the seriousness of his offense.
Except for the question of how serious the offense really was. No sign of any bullets were ever found and Oxford himself would later deny that there had been anything in his gun except gunpowder. Whatever his intention had been, daring to fire a gun at the young Queen was enough for the British government to order a full investigation. That in turn, meant coming to understand exactly who Edward Oxford was and why he had decided to shoot at the young Queen.
Born in Birmingham, England on April 9, 1822 as the third of seven children, Edward Oxford’s early childhood would later be described as extremely abusive due to his father who died when Edward was seven years of age. That the shooting would take place on the anniversary of his father’s death hardly escaped notice. After his father's death, Edward was raised by his mother with whom he remained close despite their strained financial circumstances.
During Edward’s trial, his mother would provide numerous details about her son’s eccentricity as he grew old, especially his “giggling fits” and his fondness for playing with gunpowder. Since Hannah Oxford came from a family of pub owners, it seemed natural for Edward to begin working in pubs after he finished school. Described as a pale youth of average appearance and height, Edward did little socializing and preferred to spend his free time at home reading and living in his own fantasy world.
Based on his own writings (which came under intense scrutiny during his trial), Edward had developed an elaborate fantasy about a military society he called “Young England.” In this society (of which he was the only member), Edward was a captain able to command a hundred men. On paper, at least, his society had four hundred members who all signed a manifesto supporting various military objectives. He even wrote himself letters in the third person praising his heroism and the activities of his society. That nobody else had any idea this society existed hardly seemed to matter but the fantasy was all that he really had.
By 1840, Edward was working as a "pot-boy" (another name for barman) at The Hog In The Pound on Oxford Street while living with his mother and sisters. He seemed incapable of keeping any job for long and was frequently fired due to his inability to keep his mind on his job. His increasingly bizarre behaviour ended up costing him his latest job as well. Not only was he prone to bizarre giggling fits, but he was foolish enough to laugh out loud when the landlord's wife fell down some stairs. After being fired from his job at the beginning of May, no other pub in the area would hire him afterward.
It was around this time that Edward's mother went to Birmingham to visit relatives and he was left completely on his own. According to later investigation, he managed to buy pistols around this time with no questions being asked about why he wanted them (it was a different era than today). He also bought a gunpowder flask and practiced shooting with his pistols at various shooting galleries around London, again with no questions being asked. Though various witnesses saw him with the loaded gun and asked him what he was planning to do with them, Edward refused to comment. After scouting out the best location, he decided on a particular spot on Constitution Hill and waited for the opportunity which finally came on June 10.
After the shooting and Edward's arrest, Metropolitan Police tried interviewing everyone who knew him. That included his mother who had been retrieved from Birmingham by the investigators. Not satisfied with the investigation, the British Cabinet arranged for Edward to be brought before them and he was relentlessly questioned about his motives and the possibility of a conspiracy. The police also investigated to see if "Young England" was a real organization or nothing more than Edward Oxford's imagination. In the meantime, Edward Oxford attracted all the notoriety had had ever wanted and newspapers reported on every detail of the case as it became avalable. A representative from Madame Tussaud's museum even made a wax impression of his head to be featured in the museum along with all the other criminals in their Rogue's Gallery.
Considering Edward Oxford's behaviour while he was held in Newgate Prison, including his numerous sobbing fits, his lawyers decided to go for an insanity plea. Really, they had no other options at that point considering he was on trial for his life.
T0 be continued
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