Enlightening study of Queen Victoria (1819–1901) and her reign.
Though the book is focused on the attempted assassinations of Victoria, Murphy (Victorian Interdisciplinary Studies/Univ. of Colorado) 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.