On This Day - 15th May

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King George  III

The 15th of May 1800


George III was not the luckiest of our monarchs, though as he fathered 15 legitimate children, and reigned for 59 years, he did evidently at least have staying power.

It was not his loss of America or his refusal to countenance Catholic emancipation that led to the two attempts on his life, as might perhaps have been expected. Instead he had the misfortune to be attacked twice by lunatics, something of an irony as George III himself suffered several bouts of mental instability, for the last decade of his reign the country being ruled by his son as Regent due to his total breakdown.

In 1786 Mrs Margaret Nicholson, who was insane, stabbed the King, but he survived. On May 15 1800 the King was attending a performance at the Drury Lane Theatre in London, when another crazed would-be assassin made an attempt on his life.

Just as the King was entering the royal box, with the national anthem striking up, James Hadfield rose and fired his pistol at George, missing him as subsequent investigations showed by a mere 14 inches.

Hadfield, it turned out, was deranged as the result of severe head wounds received while he was fighting with the 15th Light Dragoons at the 1794 Battle of Tourcoing. He became involved in a religious sect, and grew to be convinced that were he, Hadfield, to be judicially killed, the second coming would be hastened.

At Hadfield's trial for high treason the barrister Thomas Erskine managed to have him acquitted for reasons of insanity, in spite of the accused not showing open signs of madness at the time of the crime, and in spite of Hadfield obviously having planned the attempt. This proved a ruling that has had significance in jurisprudence since.

George III rose in the public esteem after the attempt, showing such coolness that not only did he insist on the event continuing, but also in time-honoured fashion fell asleep during the play itself.

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