Margaret Nicholson

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Margaret Nicholson's attack on George III, as depicted in a contemporary print Margaret Nicholson attempting to assassinate his Majesty King George III' (Margaret Nicholson; King George III) by Carington Bowles.jpg
Margaret Nicholson's attack on George III, as depicted in a contemporary print

Margaret Nicholson (c. 1750 – 14 May 1828) 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.

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.

Percy Bysshe Shelley English Romantic poet

Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the major English Romantic poets, who is regarded by some as among the finest lyric and philosophical poets in the English language, and one of the most influential. A radical in his poetry as well as in his political and social views, Shelley did not see fame during his lifetime, but recognition of his achievements in poetry grew steadily following his death. Shelley was a key member of a close circle of visionary poets and writers that included Lord Byron, John Keats, Leigh Hunt, Thomas Love Peacock, and his own second wife, Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.

<i>Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson</i> book

Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson was a collection of poetry published in November, 1810 by Percy Bysshe Shelley and his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg while they were students at Oxford University. The pamphlet was subtitled: "Being Poems found amongst the Papers of that Noted Female who attempted the Life of the King in 1786. Edited by John Fitzvictor." The pamphlet was published by John Munday and Henry Slatter in Oxford and consisted of fictional fragments that were in the nature of a hoax and prank or burlesque.



Nicholson was born in Stockton-on-Tees in County Durham to a barber called George Nicholson. At the age of 12, [1] she was found a place as a maid, and from then worked as a servant in various notable households, including those of Sir John Sebright and Lord Coventry. She showed no sign of mental illness. Before 1783, she was dismissed from her employment after a love affair with a fellow servant, and she seemed to fall on hard times. Her lover left her, and she supported herself through needlework, lodging in a house in Wigmore Street. [2] She was described as "below the middle size, and of a very swarthy complexion". [3]

Stockton-on-Tees town in County Durham, England

Stockton-on-Tees is a market town in County Durham, England. The town has a population of 85,000, with a population of 195,000 in the wider borough, according to 2017 estimates.

County Durham County of England

County Durham is a county in North East England. The county town is Durham, a cathedral city. The largest settlement is Darlington, closely followed by Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees. It borders Tyne and Wear to the north east, Northumberland to the north, Cumbria to the west and North Yorkshire to the south. The county's historic boundaries stretch between the rivers Tyne and Tees, thus including places such as Gateshead, Jarrow, South Shields and Sunderland.

Sir John Sebright, 6th Baronet English Baronet

General Sir John Saunders Sebright, 6th Baronet was the sixth Sebright baronet, an officer in the British Army and a Member of Parliament.

On 2 August 1786, Nicholson approached the King as he alighted from a carriage at St. James's Palace on the pretext of presenting him with a petition, which was actually a blank piece of paper. As he received the supposed petition, she made two lunges at his chest with an ivory-handled dessert knife before she was brought under control. [4] George, apparently fearing that she would be unjustly handled for such a pitiful attack, was reported as saying "The poor creature is mad; do not hurt her, she has not hurt me." [4] [5]

A search of her lodgings yielded a series of bizarre and clearly delusional letters in which she claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne. The newspapers assumed that Nicholson's insanity was brought on by melancholia over her lover's desertion. [2] [6] She was examined in the chamber of the Board of Green Cloth by Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer William Pitt the Younger, Home Secretary Lord Sydney, Foreign Secretary Lord Carmarthen, Sir Francis Drake, and Mr. Justice Addington. It was discovered that in July she had sent petitions to the King regarding her claim to the throne. In her reply to questions from Addington, she claimed to be a virgin, but also claimed to be the mother of Lords Mansfield and Loughborough, both of whom were older than she was. Her landlord, a stationer called Jonathan Fiske, stated that she was industrious and sober, and earned her living at needlework, making mantuas. She denied wanting to assassinate the King, and said she only intended to scare him. [3] The noted physician Dr John Munro, who was already well known for his testimony in the murder trial of Laurence Shirley, 4th Earl Ferrers, certified her insane and she was committed to Bethlem Royal Hospital for life under the Vagrancy Act 1744 on the order of the Home Secretary, Lord Sydney. [7] She died there 42 years later.

The Board of Green Cloth was a board of officials belonging to the Royal Household of England and Great Britain. It took its name from the tablecloth of green baize that covered the table at which its members sat.

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Head of UK Government

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is the head of government of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister directs both the executive and the legislature, and together with their Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Monarch, to Parliament, to their political party and ultimately to the electorate. The office of Prime Minister is one of the Great Offices of State. The current holder of the office, Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party, was appointed by the Queen on 13 July 2016.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Senior official in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom responsible for economic and financial matters

The Chancellor and Under-Treasurer of Her Majesty's Exchequer, commonly known as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or simply the Chancellor, is a senior official within the Government of the United Kingdom and head of Her Majesty's Treasury. The office is a British Cabinet-level position.


George enjoyed a boost in popularity after the attack, and received congratulatory messages from all over the kingdom. His calm forbearance and progressive attitude to the insane were praised. [8] He wrote that after "the interposition of Providence in the late attempt on my life by a poor insane woman" he "had every reason to be satisfied with the impression it has awakened in this country". [9] Nevertheless, as a result of the attack, the security surrounding the King was increased from 4 guards to 11. [10]

Popular depictions of Nicholson ranged from mad old spinster to romanticised heroine. [11] In 1810, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Thomas Jefferson Hogg wrote and published a slim volume of burlesque poetry named after her, Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson . Rather than use their own names, the book pretended to be poems of Nicholson's own composition "edited by her nephew, John FitzVictor" and published after her death. In fact, she was still alive and living in Bethlem Hospital.

Thomas Jefferson Hogg British writer and barrister

Thomas Jefferson Hogg was a British barrister and writer best known for his friendship with the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Hogg was raised in County Durham, but spent most of his life in London. He and Shelley became friends while studying at University College, Oxford, and remained close until Shelley's death. During their time at Oxford they collaborated on several literary projects, culminating in their joint expulsion following the publication of an essay titled "The Necessity of Atheism". They remained good friends, but their relationship was sometimes strained because of Hogg's attraction to the women who were romantically involved with Shelley.

Nicholson's incarceration in Bethlem Hospital was extrajudicial, and George's political opponents depicted it as the act of a tyrant bypassing the rule of law. [12] It was also opposed by hard-line conservatives, who thought it overly generous. [12] However, on the whole it was seen as an act of humane kindness on George's part because a trial for treason was substituted with a hospital placement. [4] [13] In succeeding years, the introduction of "not guilty by reason of insanity", the Criminal Lunatics Act 1800, and the trial of another insane assailant, James Hadfield, formalised the treatment in Britain of insane persons accused of crimes. [4]

Her attack on George III is shown in the film The Madness of King George , where she was played by Janine Duvitski.

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  1. Poole, Steve (2000). The politics of regicide in England, 1760–1850: Troublesome Subjects, Manchester University Press, ISBN   978-0-7190-5035-0, p. 70
  2. 1 2 The Times , Friday, 11 August 1786, p. 3, col. A
  3. 1 2 The Times, Friday, 4 August 1786, p. 3, col. A
  4. 1 2 3 4 Eigen, Joel Peter (2004). "Nicholson, Margaret (1750?–1828)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , Oxford University Press, retrieved 5 November 2009 doi : 10.1093/ref:odnb/20145 (Subscription required)
  5. Also reported as: "Don't hurt the woman, she is insane"; "Don't hurt the woman; she is mad; pray take care of her"; "I am not hurt, take care of that woman"; and "Secure the woman, I am not hurt" (see Poole, p. 71).
  6. Poole, p. 77
  7. Andrews, Jonathan (2004). "Monro, John (1715–1791)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, retrieved 5 November 2009. doi : 10.1093/ref:odnb/18976 (Subscription required)
  8. Poole, p. 71
  9. George III to Richard Grenville, 29 August 1786, British Library Add. MS 70956, quoted in Black, Jeremy (2004). The Hanoverians: The History of a Dynasty, New York: Hambledon, p. 139
  10. Poole, p. 82
  11. Beveridge, Allan (21 August 2002). "Book review: Undertaker of the Mind: John Monro and Mad-Doctoring in Eighteenth-Century England" JAMA vol. 288, pp. 896–897, retrieved 5 November 2009 doi : 10.1001/jama.288.7.896 (Subscription required)
  12. 1 2 Poole, p. 78
  13. Poole, p. 70

"No. 12776". The London Gazette . 8 August 1786. p. 355.