“Gripping… Shooting Victoria is a teeming discursive pleasure. Murphy’s book is a feat of historical sympathy, shining light on the larger picture of the 19th century and its indestructible queen.” Observer
“Mr. Murphy has used an extraordinarily original and illuminating perspective on the period. I found the narrative truly compelling, both poignant and persuasive. This is a gripping book—Mr. Murphy’s broad and confident knowledge of the nineteenth century is balanced by his gift for intimate and emotional storytelling.”
—Lisa Hilton, author of Queen’s Consort and The Horror of Love.
“This book achieves admirably the difficult task of providing a fresh account of the reign of Queen Victoria. A rattling good story, which I found difficult to put down.”
—Chris Payne, author of The Chieftain.
Enlightening study of Queen Victoria (1819–1901) and her reign.
Though the book is focused on the attempted assassinations of Victoria, Murphy also shows how those misguided men strengthened both the queen and the empire. It’s great fun to see the trail of the author’s research as he includes the politics, crises and sensational crimes that went along with each incident. The use of expert medical witnesses and the establishment of the “McNaughtan Rules” for insanity pleas set precedents that are still used today in England and the United States. The men who attempted to kill the queen can hardly be called assassins, however. All were in some way mentally challenged, and most used guns that weren’t loaded, were nonfunctional or were plainly not pointed at Her Majesty. It was said at the time that the queen’s popularity was so great that any attempt to harm her could only come from a madman. She was praised for her calm under attack, but she was actually quite afraid and forcefully demanded her government establish stronger punishments for the miscreants, with little success. Murphy depicts Victoria’s close relationships with most of her prime ministers, the only exception being William Gladstone, whom she kept at “arm’s length.” During her 64-year reign, and especially after her marriage to Albert, Victoria jealously guarded her power as sovereign, while at the same time learning to appear apolitical. After each of the attacks, the outpouring of affection increased the strength of the throne and weakened any attempts at political change.
The pages slip by in this well-written new take on Victoria and her times. Murphy’s detailed rendering sheds entirely new light on the queen’s strengths and her many weaknesses.
—Kirkus Review (starred)
Queen Victoria’s stature not only attracted throngs of admirers but also seven unstable and incompetent failed assassins, whose attempts led to the creation of England’s detective branch and engendered bursts of popularity for the queen.Murphy recounts in a fresh, lively narrativehow these deluded subjects managed to channel their mental instability or optimistic naïveté into assassination attempts with barely functioning pistols or stout canes, all remaining far removed from the more sophisticated and politically motivated revolutionaries threatening other contemporary European thrones. Instead, they included a depressed hunchback and two poets suffering from head injuries who, rather than gaining notoriety, sank back into obscurity. Murphy deftly weaves their life stories in with the reactions of Victoria and Albert and other notables as the government struggled to define a policy for punishing assassins. Murphy manages to keep the plentiful threads concise yet entertainingly informative, showing readers connections between the failed regicides, their real or imagined motivations, and the monarch who “with unerring instinct and sheer gutsiness, transformed each episode of near-tragedy into one of triumphant renewal for her monarchy.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred)
Queen from 1837 until her death in 1901, Victoria was the longest reigning British monarch. Unsurprisingly, she’s been the subject of numerous studies from many perspectives. Now Murphy presents the stories of Victoria’s seven would-be assassins. They ranged from Edward Oxford (who, in 1840, shot at a young pregnant Victoria while imagining himself the captain of “Young England,” an organization that existed only in his mind) to a 17-year-old “hunchbacked little miscreant,” as the papers called him, John William Bean. Murphy provides the details of each attempted assassination and the histories of the men (and boys) before their notoriety and, interestingly, traces what can be known of their later lives of incarceration in Bethlem Royal Hospital, Newgate, Millbank, Broadmoor, aboard convict ships to Australia, and in the convict settlement of Port Arthur, Tasmania. For Murphy these would-be assassins also “gave Victoria seven golden opportunities [to] strengthen the British monarchy,” which she did. VERDICT Some professional historians may find too much authorial license in Murphy’s storytelling, but behind the narrative is significant archival research as evidenced by the endnotes and list of works cited. Reading pleasure for all.