Margaret Nicholson – The Would-Be Assassin

Margaret Nicholson – The Would-Be Assassin

On August 2, 1786 Stockton born Margaret Nicholson attempted to assassinate King George III with an ivory-handled dessert knife.

As King George III climbed down from his carriage at St. James’ Palace he was approached by a woman carrying a scrolled paper, assuming it was a petition the King accepted her offering. As he did so, she lunged towards him, stabbing at him twice with an ivory-handled dessert knife. The would-be assassin’s blade was too blunt and the jabs proved ineffectual.

From the age of 12, Margaret Nicholson (c.1750 – 1828) worked first as a maid then a servant in various genteel households including those of Sir John Seabright and Lord Coventry. About the time of leaving her last place of work Margaret was left by her lover, a valet with whom she is said to have ‘misconducted herself’. She took lodgings in a house on the corner of Wigmore Street, London where she supported herself by taking in plain needlework.  After the attack, a search of her lodgings yielded a series of delusional letters in which she claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne. Newspaper reports declared that her insanity was brought on by melancholia over her lover’s desertion but her landlord stated that ‘she was very odd at times’ but neither he nor her fellow acquaintances suspected her of anything untoward. While in custody Margaret protested that she had only wanted to scare the King, not assassinate him.

The King must have believed her as he was reported as saying ‘The poor creature is mad; do not hurt her, for she has not hurt me.’  These words undoubtedly saved Margaret’s life as even an unsuccessful regicide was treason and carried a death sentence. The noted physician Dr John Munroe certified her too insane to stand trial and was instead committed to live out her life at Bethlehem Royal Hospital – more notoriously known as Bedlam. She died there 42 years later on 14 May 1828.

Margaret’s case had set the precedent for the Criminal Lunatics Act of 1800, which introduced the concept of ‘not guilty by reason of insanity.’

Did you know… that in 1810 the attempted assassination inspired Percy Bysshe Shelly and Norton born Thomas Jefferson Hogg to write and publish a collection of burlesque poetry named ‘Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson.’