God Save The Queen (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from Part 1

In the hearing at the Old Bailey which took place on July 6, the courtroom was packed as Edward Oxford went on trial for his life.   For a would-be royal assassin, he seemed strangely oblivious to his surroundings and largely appeared to be daydreaming as family members and his few acquaintances all testified to his unsound mind. That both his father and grandfather were alcoholics with a history of mental illness was entered as evidence of his insanity as well (insanity was considered hereditary at the time).  440px-Edward_Oxford%27s_assassination_attempt_on_Queen_Victoria%2C_G.H.Miles%2C_watercolor%2C_1840[1]

The various medical doctors who had examined Edward while he was awaiting trial gave their own testimony as well.   Dr. Thomas Hodgkin, eminent pathologist for whom Hodgkins' disease is named, testified that the defendant suffered from a "lesion of the will" while Dr. John Conolly of the Middlesex County Asylum argued that Edward had a disease of the brain based on the shape of his head.   Conolly also reported that, when asked why he had shot at the Queen, Edward replied, "Oh, I may as well shoot at her as anybody else."    Various other medical experts called in by Edward's defense attorneys also testified to his mental infirmities.

With the overwhelming evidence, the jury quickly acquitted Edward Oxford on the grounds of insanity. Under British law of the time, that meant he would be "detained at Her Majesty's pleasure" which, given his target, likely meant a life sentence.   First placed in the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Bethlem (a.k.a. "Bedlam"),  Edward was a model patient who spent all his time drawing, reading, and studying different languages.  He also became a painter and decorator in the asylum wards.    That he showed no sign of the presumed insanity which got him sent to the asylum seemed not to make any difference to the doctors.    When asked, Edward openly regretted hs crime and admitted that he had only done it to become famous.  

In the meantime, Queen Victoria's popularity soared due to her courage in facing the assassination attempt.   Up to that time, her subjects had been ambivalent towards her, both for her unpopular marriage to Prince Albert and various court scandals which damaged her reputation.   After the assassination attempt, and the others that followed,  Queen Victoria's courage under fire became legendary.   When a second gunman, John Francis, tried to shoot her just two years later,  Albert was quick to defend her after noticing him in time.   Though Francis managed to get away, Victoria took the controversial step of deliberately traveling by coach along the same route two days later to lure him into a trap.   It worked.   Francis also managed to avoid a death sentence and was transported to Australia, 

On April 30, 1864, Edward Oxford was transferred to Broadmoor Hospital.   Located in Crowthorne, Broadmoor continues to be the chief high-security psychiatric hospital in the United Kingdom and has held some of the most notorious cases in the U.K.'s forensic history.   The exact reason for Edward's transfer is still unclear considering his being a model prisoner at his old hospital although it was likely for administrative reasons (he was just too high-functioning for Bedlam).   Now forty-two years old,  Edward impressed his doctors as being completely sane with no sign of the presumed mental illness that led him to fire a pistol at the Queen.   At Broadmoor, he became a model inmate as he had been at Bedlam and his doctors were obliged to report this to the Home Secretary.

According to a joint submission issued by Broadmoor's adminstrators and Edward's former Bedlam doctors, Edward Oxford was declared to be perfectly sane and ready to reenter the world.   Because of the political aspects,  the application was delayed to 1867 when then-Home Secretary, Gathorne Hardy was prepared to offer him a deal:   he could be released providing he left Great Britain and never returned.   Edward agreed and his doctors arranged for him to emigrate to Australia.    There were still formalities to be dealt witht though, including numerous photographs being taken by the Metropolitan Police and a stern warning that he would be locked up for life if he ever returned to Great Britain. 

The British government hardly felt obliged to fund Edward's emigration but his doctors provided him with a new suit as well as paying for his passage.  That, and a balance of 22 pounds was all that he had in the world when he boarded the U.S.S. Suffolk on November 26, 1867.   A Broadmoor steward, George Phelps, personally escorted Edward aboard the ship and even signed an affidavit afterward verifying that Edward had been on board when the ship sailed.     

If anyone wondered what a 45-year-old man who had spent the past 25 years in an asylum would do in a new country with few funds and no real prospects, they showed no sign of it.   There are actually two conflicting accounts of what happened to Edward Oxford after his emigration.   According to Broadmoor's files,  a man named "John Oxford" who was identified in the local newspaper as being the one who had tried to shoot the Queen was arrested for stealing a shirt in 1880 and spent a week in jail (but they may have been confusing him with John Francis).   A more reliable source described Edward Oxford, under his new name of "John Freeman" as having a successful life as a painter and as a writer for Melbourne's newspaper, The Age.    Marrying a widow with two children in 1881, John Freeman wrote a series of articles about Melbourne's slums that became the basis for a book, Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life.   At the time of his death in 1900,  his wife and stepchildren had no idea that John Freeman was not his real name.  

Whatever Edward Oxford's final fate,  his shooting at the Queen set an uncomfortable precedent for what to do with assassins and would-be assassins.   Queen Victoria would be especially outraged over the use of the insanity defense in later cases, including the 1843 acquittal of Daniel M'Naghten for the mistaken assassination of Edward Drummond.   Considering that the Queen would face a series of would-be assassins during her reign (along with assorted stalkers and one man who struck her in the face with a cane), her attitude concerning Edward Oxford and the others who followed him is probably understandable. 

In the Queen's own opinion, hanging Edward Oxford might have prevented future assassination attempts by acting as a deterrent.   As she would write to Prime Minister Gladstone in 1882, "Punishment deters not only sane men but also eccentric men, whose supposed involuntary acts are really produced by a diseased brain capable of being acted upon by external influence. A knowledge that they would be protected by an acquittal on the grounds of insanity will encourage these men to commit desperate acts, while on the other hand certainty that they will not escape punishment will terrify them into a peaceful attitude towards others."

If nothing else, the Queen managed to outlive her attacker since Edward Oxford died a year before her.   Whether she took any joy from that (or was even aware of it) is very much an open question.

 

 

           

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