Being royalty is a pretty cush job. You don’t have to clock in. You don’t have a boss. You’ve got a bunch of houses and your salary is paid for by your country. Compared to all that, the occasional assassination attempt is merely a trifle.
Well, maybe a bit more than a trifle. Royalty has a penchant for bringing out the passions of their subjects. Sure, some might want nothing more than to have a peaceful, intimate moment with their monarch, while others want to tear down the entire regal regime.
Among royalty, none is more well known than Elizabeth Windsor, Queen Elizabeth II. Not only was she the queen of the United Kingdom, but she was also the queen of 14 other countries. That means she spent a lot of time traveling a lot to remind everyone that her job is worth keeping around. Unfortunately, all of those public appearances are a tempting target for would-be assassins.
The Lithgow Plot
The first assassination attempt on the queen (that we know of) took place in 1970 during one of her visits to Australia. She was there as part of the celebrations around the bicentenary of James Cook claiming Australia for the U.K.
The queen and her husband, Prince Philip, were traveling across the country via train, and passed near the town of Lithgow when a large log was found covering the tracks near a bend in the rails. The authorities are certain it wasn’t an accident because a sweeper train had gone through the area an hour beforehand and found nothing.
It’s theorized that whoever put the log on the tracks (possibly IRA sympathizers) wanted the train to derail. Fortunately for the queen, the train was traveling slowly enough that the train stayed on the tracks.
The incident was covered up until 2009 when a former detective who worked on the case came forward. He said that it was covered up at the time so as not to embarrass Australia (via ABC News).
Trooping the Colour incident
The second attempt on the queen’s life came in June 1981 in London. The annual parade marking the official birthday of British monarchs — Trooping the Colour — had just begun, and the queen was mounted on her horse, Burmese.
In the crowd was a disaffected 17-year-old named Marcus Sarjeant who had a starter pistol loaded with six rounds. As the queen passed by he fired all six shots. Thankfully, they were all blanks and no one was hurt. Although the queen’s horse was startled, she quickly regained control.
For his part, Sarjeant was quickly overpowered by police and bystanders. He was arrested, tried, and sentenced to five years in prison. Queen Elizabeth II, having calmed her horse, continued with the parade as if nothing had happened.
Why would a random teenager do something so extreme? Well, it appears he was inspired by the recent assassination attempts on Ronald Regan and Pope John Paul II, and wanted to be famous (via Harper’s Bazaar).
Trip to New Zealand
A few months after the Trooping the Colour incident, the queen was in Dunedin, New Zealand on the South Island. She was on her way to visit a museum and had just stepped out of her car when a single shot rang out.
The person responsible was Christopher Lewis, another disaffected 17 year old, who had hidden himself in the fifth-floor bathroom of a nearby building. Fortunately, he not only missed, but had no chance of hitting the queen with his .22 rifle.
The press who were covering the event heard the shot, but were told that it was just a street sign falling over. Much like the 1970 event in Australia, the New Zealand authorities didn’t want the attempt on the queen’s life to be made public. Its occurrence was only revealed in 2018.
Lewis was a troubled teenager. He had a history of arson and animal torture and developed a strange obsession with the royals. When Prince Charles visited New Zealand in 1983, he attempted to break out of prison to kill him. When the queen returned in 1995, the government sent him over 600 miles away so he wouldn’t have the opportunity to be anywhere near her (via Royal Central).
One morning in July 1982, Queen Elizabeth II awoke to an unknown intruder in her bedroom. In his hand, he carried a jagged shard of glass with his own blood on it. Despite calling the police and sounding an alarm, no help arrived for nearly 10 minutes.
The intruder was Michael Fagan, an unemployed divorcé from London, and it wasn’t his first time sneaking into Buckingham Palace. Just one month earlier he startled a maid, tripped multiple alarms, drank a bottle of wine, and had some snacks in the royal residence. Fagan said he was just looking for the restroom.
His second foray into the palace came just a day after he was released from jail for stealing a car. This time he found his way to the private royal apartments and slipped into the queen’s room while she was still sleeping. Although Fagan had ample opportunity to do. harm, he was there as more of a lark, and wasn’t there to hurt the queen. The blood and the glass mentioned earlier were from a broken ashtray outside the queen’s apartments (via Biography).
Revenge and a crossbow
The most recent attempt on Her Majesty’s life came recently, in 2021. A 19-year-old named Jaswant Singh Chail was found outside Windsor Castle with a crossbow on Christmas morning. He was promptly taken into custody before he could enter any buildings (royal security has improved a lot in 40 years).
Days after he was arrested, a video — which he had sent to his friends via Snapchat — emerged in the press. In it, he professed that he was going to kill the queen on Christmas day in revenge for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre in which up to 1,000 people were killed in India by British troops.
In the video, Chail self-identifies as a Sith (yes, from "Star Wars") and says his name is Darth Jones. In the background of the video is a framed picture of an obscure Star Wars villain named Darth Malgus (via The U.S. Sun).
After all of the attempts on her life over the last decades, Queen Elizabeth II died peacefully at Balmoral Castle on September 8, 2022, at the age of 96.