James Hadfield

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James Hadfield
Born 1771-1772
Died 23 January 1841 (aged 69-70 years)
Bethlehem Hospital
Cause of death Tuberculosis
Nationality English
Known forAttempted 1800 regicide of George III

James Hadfield or Hatfield (1771/1772 – 23 January 1841) attempted to assassinate George III of the United Kingdom in 1800 but was acquitted of attempted murder by reason of insanity.

Assassination murder of a prominent person, often a political leader or ruler

Assassination is the act of killing a prominent person for either political, religious or monetary reasons.

George III of the United Kingdom King of Great Britain and Ireland

George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of the two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death in 1820. He was concurrently Duke and prince-elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg ("Hanover") in the Holy Roman Empire before becoming King of Hanover on 12 October 1814. He was the third British monarch of the House of Hanover, but unlike his two predecessors, he was born in Great Britain, spoke English as his first language, and never visited Hanover.

Attempted murder is a crime of attempt in various jurisdictions.



Hadfield's early years are unknown but he was severely injured at the Battle of Tourcoing in 1794. Before being captured by the French, he was struck eight times on the head with a sabre, the wounds being prominent for the rest of his life. After return to England, he became involved in a millennialist movement and came to believe that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ would be advanced if he himself were killed by the British government. He therefore resolved, in conspiracy with Bannister Truelock, to attempt the assassination of the King and bring about his own judicial execution. [1]

France Republic with mainland in Europe and numerous oversea territories

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

Sabre sword

A sabre or saber is a type of backsword with a curved blade associated with the light cavalry of the early modern and Napoleonic periods. Originally associated with Central-Eastern European cavalry such as the hussars, the sabre became widespread in Western Europe in the Thirty Years' War. Lighter sabres also became popular with infantry of the late 17th century.

Second Coming event in which Jesus Christ would return to Earth according to Christian religions

The Second Coming is a Christian and Islamic belief regarding the future return of Jesus after his ascension to heaven about two thousand years ago. The idea is based on messianic prophecies and is part of most Christian eschatologies.

On the evening of 15 May 1800, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, during the playing of the national anthem, Hadfield fired a pistol at the King standing in the royal box but missed. Hadfield was tried for high treason and was defended by Thomas Erskine, the leading barrister of that era. Hadfield pleaded insanity but the standard of the day for a successful plea was that the defendant must be "lost to all sense … incapable of forming a judgement upon the consequences of the act which he is about to do". Hadfield's planning of the shooting appeared to contradict such a claim. Due to the 1795 Treason Act, there was little distinction between plotting treason and actually committing treason, thus Erskine chose to challenge the insanity test, instead contending that delusion "unaccompanied by frenzy or raving madness [was] the true character of insanity". Two surgeons and a physician testified that the delusions were the consequence of his earlier head injuries. The judge, Lloyd Kenyon, 1st Baron Kenyon, at this point halted the trial declaring that the verdict "was clearly an acquittal" but "the prisoner, for his own sake, and for the sake of society at large, must not be discharged". [1] [2]

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane West End theatre building in Covent Garden, London, England

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, commonly known as Drury Lane, is a West End theatre and Grade I listed building in Covent Garden, London, England. The building faces Catherine Street and backs onto Drury Lane. The building is the most recent in a line of four theatres which were built at the same location, the earliest of which dated back to 1663, making it the oldest theatre site in London still in use. According to the author Peter Thomson, for its first two centuries, Drury Lane could "reasonably have claimed to be London's leading theatre". For most of that time, it was one of a handful of patent theatres, granted monopoly rights to the production of "legitimate" drama in London.

National anthem song that represents a country or sovereign state

A national anthem is generally a patriotic musical composition that evokes and eulogizes the history, traditions, and struggles of its people, recognized either by a nation's government as the official national song, or by convention through use by the people. The majority of national anthems are marches or hymns in style. The countries of Latin America, Central Asia, and Europe tend towards more ornate and operatic pieces, while those in the Middle East, Oceania, Africa, and the Caribbean use a more simplistic fanfare. Some countries that are devolved into multiple constituent states have their own official musical compositions for them ; their constituencies' songs are sometimes referred to as national anthems even though they are not sovereign states.

Pistol type of handgun

A pistol is a type of handgun. The pistol originates in the 16th century, when early handguns were produced in Europe. The English word was introduced in ca. 1570 from the Middle French pistolet. The most common types of pistol today are the single shot and semi-automatic.

Up to that time, defendants acquitted by reason of insanity had faced no certain fate and had often been released back to the safe-keeping of their families. Parliament speedily passed the Criminal Lunatics Act 1800 to provide for the indefinite detention of insane defendants (and the Treason Act 1800 to make it easier to prosecute people for attempts on the life of the king). Hadfield later inspired further use of pleading insanity several years later during the case of Colonel Edward Despard. Hadfield was detained in Bethlem Royal Hospital for the rest of his life, save for a short period when he escaped. He was recaptured at Dover attempting to flee to France and was briefly held at Newgate Prison before being transferred to the new insane asylum Bethlehem Hospital (or Bedlam, as it was known). He died there of tuberculosis in 1841. [1]

Criminal Lunatics Act 1800

The Criminal Lunatics Act 1800 was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain that required and established a set procedure for the indefinite detention of mentally ill offenders. It was passed through the House of Commons in direct reaction to the trial of James Hadfield, who attempted to assassinate King George III.

Treason Act 1800

The Treason Act 1800 was an Act of the Parliament of the Kingdom of Great Britain. It assimilated the procedure on trials for treason and misprision of treason to the procedure on trials for murder in certain cases. It was passed as a result of an attempt on the life of George III by James Hadfield earlier that year. The Criminal Lunatics Act 1800 was passed at the same time.

Edward Despard British army officer, ringleader of the Despard Plot

Edward Marcus Despard was an Irish soldier who served in the British Army. During the American War of Independence Despard led a force to victory at the Battle of the Black River, securing the British presence on the Mosquito Coast. Following the war Despard was appointed Superintendent of what became British Honduras. He was recalled to London in 1790 after questions were raised about his conduct. Despard soon found himself in jail for debt. He later took up revolutionary politics, becoming involved with the United Britons movement, and was executed for high treason for his part in the failed Despard Plot.

Fictional accounts of Hadfield's life

Hadfield's story is depicted in the BBC TV period legal drama series in episode 1 of the third series of Garrow's Law , in which William Garrow is portrayed as his barrister - however several changes were made from the generally accepted historical facts.

<i>Garrows Law</i> television series

Garrow's Law is a British period legal drama about the 18th-century lawyer William Garrow. The series debuted on 1 November 2009 on BBC One and BBC HD. A second series was announced on 7 July 2010 and was broadcast from 14 November 2010. A third series consisting of four episodes was commissioned and was aired from 13 November 2011. Garrow's Law was cancelled after three series in February 2012.

William Garrow British Barrister, Politician & Judge

Sir William Garrow was an English barrister, politician and judge known for his indirect reform of the advocacy system, which helped usher in the adversarial court system used in most common law nations today. He introduced the phrase "presumed innocent until proven guilty", insisting that defendants' accusers and their evidence be thoroughly tested in court. Born to a priest and his wife in Monken Hadley, then in Middlesex, Garrow was educated at his father's school in the village before being apprenticed to Thomas Southouse, an attorney in Cheapside, which preceded a pupillage with Mr. Crompton, a special pleader. A dedicated student of the law, Garrow frequently observed cases at the Old Bailey; as a result Crompton recommended that he become a solicitor or barrister. Garrow joined Lincoln's Inn in November 1778, and was called to the Bar on 27 November 1783. He quickly established himself as a criminal defence counsel, and in February 1793 was made a King's Counsel by HM Government to prosecute cases involving treason and felonies.

Related Research Articles

The insanity defense, also known as the mental disorder defense, is an affirmative defense by excuse in a criminal case, arguing that the defendant is not responsible for his or her actions due to an episodic or persistent psychiatric disease at the time of the criminal act. This is contrasted with an excuse of provocation, in which defendant is responsible, but the responsibility is lessened due to a temporary mental state. It is also contrasted with a finding that a defendant cannot stand trial in a criminal case because a mental disease prevents them from effectively assisting counsel, from a civil finding in trusts and estates where a will is nullified because it was made when a mental disorder prevented a testator from recognizing the natural objects of their bounty, and from involuntary civil commitment to a mental institution, when anyone is found to be gravely disabled or to be a danger to themselves or to others.

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The M'Naghten rule is any variant of the 1840s jury instruction in a criminal case when there is a defense of insanity:

that every man is to be presumed to be sane, and ... that to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.

Insanity abnormal mental or behavioral patterns

Insanity, madness, and craziness are terms that describe a spectrum of individual and group behaviors that are characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity can be manifest as violations of societal norms, including a person or persons becoming a danger to themselves or to other people. Conceptually, mental insanity also is associated with the biological phenomenon of contagion as in the case of copycat suicides. In contemporary usage, the term insanity is an informal, un-scientific term denoting "mental instability"; thus, the term insanity defense is the legal definition of mental instability. In medicine, the general term psychosis is used to include the presence either of delusions or of hallucinations or both in a patient; and psychiatric illness is "psychopathology", not mental insanity.

John Hinckley Jr. American attempted assassin of Ronald Reagan

John Warnock Hinckley Jr. is an American man who, on March 30, 1981, attempted to assassinate U.S. President Ronald Reagan in Washington, D.C. He wounded Reagan with a bullet that ricocheted and hit him in the chest. He also wounded police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, and critically wounded Press Secretary James Brady, who died 33 years later as a result of the attack.

Thomas Erskine, 1st Baron Erskine British politician

Thomas Erskine, 1st Baron Erskine was a British lawyer and politician. He served as Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom between 1806 and 1807 in the Ministry of All the Talents.

Roderick Edward Maclean was a Scotsman who attempted to assassinate Queen Victoria on 2 March 1882, at Windsor, England, with a pistol. This was the last of eight attempts by separate people to kill or assault Victoria over a period of four decades. Maclean's motive was purportedly a curt reply to some poetry that he had mailed to the Queen.

The attempted murder followed the arrival of the Royal train, conveying the Queen, Princess Beatrice and the Court from Windsor. Queen Victoria had just walked across the platform of Windsor station to a carriage in waiting when Maclean, who was standing at the entrance of the station yard among a number of spectators, deliberately fired a revolver at her. The shot missed, and Maclean was seized by Chief Superintendent Hayes, of the Borough Police, and the weapon wrenched from his grasp by someone in the crowd. – Birmingham Daily Gazette, 1921

Daniel MNaghten British Wood-turner & criminal

Daniel M'Naghten was a Scottish woodturner who assassinated English civil servant Edward Drummond while suffering from paranoid delusions. Through his trial and its aftermath, he has given his name to the legal test of criminal insanity in England and other common law jurisdictions known as the M'Naghten rules.

Moral insanity referred to a type of mental disorder consisting of abnormal emotions and behaviours in the apparent absence of intellectual impairments, delusions, or hallucinations. It was an accepted diagnosis in Europe and America through the second half of the 19th century.

Clark v. Arizona, 548 U.S. 735 (2006), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court upheld the constitutionality of the insanity defense used by Arizona.

1794 Treason Trials

The 1794 Treason Trials, arranged by the administration of William Pitt, were intended to cripple the British radical movement of the 1790s. Over thirty radicals were initially arrested; three were tried for high treason: Thomas Hardy, John Horne Tooke and John Thelwall. In a repudiation of the government's policies, they were acquitted by three separate juries in November 1794 to great public rejoicing. The treason trials were an extension of the sedition trials of 1792 and 1793 against parliamentary reformers in both England and Scotland.

Margaret Nicholson Failed British assassin

Margaret Nicholson was an Englishwoman who assaulted King George III in 1786. Her futile and somewhat half-hearted attempt on the King's life became famous and was featured in one of Shelley's first works: Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson, published in 1810.

Insanity in English law

Insanity in English law is a defence to criminal charges based on the idea that the defendant was unable to understand what he was doing, or, that he was unable to understand that what he was doing was wrong.

Trial of Lord George Gordon

The Trial of Lord George Gordon for high treason occurred on 5 February 1781 before Lord Mansfield in the Court of King's Bench, as a result of Gordon's role in the eponymously named riots. Gordon, President of the Protestant Association, had led a protest against the Papists Act 1778, a Catholic relief bill. Intending only to hand in a petition to Parliament, Gordon riled the crowd by announcing the postponement of the petition, denouncing Members of Parliament and launching "anti-Catholic harangues". The crowd of protesters fragmented and began looting nearby buildings; by the time the riots had finished a week later, 300 had died, and more property had been damaged than during the entire French Revolution. Gordon was almost immediately arrested, and indicted for levying war against the King.

The Case of the Dean of St Asaph, formally R v Shipley, was the 1784 trial of William Davies Shipley, the Dean of St Asaph, for seditious libel. In the aftermath of the American War of Independence, electoral reform had become a substantial issue, and William Pitt the Younger attempted to bring a Bill before Parliament to reform the electoral system. In its support Shipley republished a pamphlet written by his brother-in-law, Sir William Jones, which noted the defects of the existing system and argued in support of Pitt's reforms. Thomas FitzMaurice, the brother of British Prime Minister Earl of Shelburne, reacted by indicting Shipley for seditious libel, a criminal offence which acted as "the government's chief weapon against criticism", since merely publishing something that an individual judge interpreted as libel was enough for a conviction; a jury was prohibited from deciding whether the material was actually libellous. The law was widely seen as unfair, and a Society for Constitutional Information was formed to pay Shipley's legal fees. With financial backing from the society Shipley was able to secure the services of Thomas Erskine KC as his barrister.

Trial of Lunatics Act 1883

The Trial of Lunatics Act 1883 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, allowing the jury to return a verdict that the defendant was guilty, but insane at the time, and should be kept in custody as a "criminal lunatic". This Act was passed at the request of Queen Victoria, who, the target of frequent attacks by mentally ill individuals, demanded that the verdict be changed from "not guilty" so as to act as a deterrent to other lunatics; the phrasing of "guilty of the act or omission charged, but insane so as not to be responsible, according to law, for his actions." remained in use until the Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1964.

The Treason Act 1541 was an Act of the Parliament of England passed in 1542. It provided for the trial and punishment of lunatics for high treason. The reason given for passing the Act was given by the Act itself, which stated "it is a thing almost impossible certainly to judge" whether a defendant's madness was real or feigned.

Bannister Truelock conspired to assassinate George III of the United Kingdom in 1800 along with James Hadfield.


  1. 1 2 3 Eigen (2005)
  2. R v. Hadfield (1800) 27 St. Tr. (new series) 1281


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