Monday, June 13, 2011

June 13, 1981 – Queen Elizabeth II Killed in Accident

In what some describe as a “misguided teenage prank gone terribly wrong” and others “the greatest tragedy of our time”, Queen Elizabeth II of England died in a fall from her horse due to a starting pistol being fired by Marcus Sarjeant.

Elizabeth had been queen since the death of her father, George VI, in 1952. Her reign would see a time of major changes as Britain adapted to the new world order after World War II. The Empire had shifted into the Commonwealth of Nations over the course of the past decades, and Elizabeth acted as head of only a portion of the lands once under Britain and queen of seven countries (six in 1972 when Ceylon became republican Sri Lanka). In the Fifties, Britain worked to rebuild after the war, leading to the Swinging Sixties when England underwent a Renaissance exporting fashion and music and Britain overall returned to economic prowess.

The Seventies brought difficulty back to Britain. While foreign policies had been successful in peaceably breaking down the Empire into independent nations in the Commonwealth after the Churchill prime ministership, Britain had distanced itself from its allies in America by the Suez Canal crisis and opting out of the Vietnam War. Britain was becoming more isolationist, and its own problems were more than enough. Stagflation, energy crises, and union strikes began to cripple the British economy. Meanwhile, the Troubles continued to terrorize citizens as the IRA used bombing attacks not only in Northern Ireland, but on the mainland of England as well. The Labour government faltered under these pressures, bringing in a Conservative government with Margaret Thatcher as the first female prime minister.

During this time, Marcus Sarjeant grew up normally in Kent and attended Astor Secondary School in Dover, an accomplished Scout member and local patrol leader before joining the Air Training Corps at twelve. Marcus was an exceptional marksman, and he began training in the Royal Marines as well as the Army but seemed unable to fit into the discipline required of the armed services. Not even the police or fire department took him, and instead Marcus worked at a zoo, arts centre, and with children at a youth centre before ultimately being unemployed. In late 1980, he joined the Anti Royalist Movement and attempted to gain a gun license, but was unable to do more than take up a gun club and hold onto his father’s Webley revolver (which had no ammunition).

Looking for more in life, Marcus became inspired by the assassination of John Lennon (December 8, 1980) and the assassination attempts on Ronald Reagan (March 30, 1981) and Pope John Paul II (May 13, 1981). The fame seemed to explode around the attackers, and Marcus wanted it, noting to a friend, “I would like to be the first to take a pot shot at the Queen.” He wrote about becoming the most famous teenager in the world, but he did not seem to want to hurt Queen Elizabeth, only gain the fame, so he armed himself with a starting pistol and blanks. Marcus even sent a letter to Buckingham Palace (which arrived three days too late), warning, “Your Majesty. Don't go to the Trooping the Colour ceremony because there is an assassin set up to kill you, waiting just outside the palace.” He also sent letters and photos to magazines, which he hoped would expedite the growth of his fame once it began.

During the Trooping of Colour, Marcus became another face in the crowds until the Queen passed, when he fired six shots in her direction. The Queen’s horse, Burmese, became startled and reared, throwing the Queen, who would die in the fall. Marcus was seized out of the shocked crowd and apprehended by police while the Sovereign’s Escort closed up around the fallen Queen. Sarjeant would be found innocent of regicide as the actual death had been accidental, but he would be found guilty of “firing with intent to alarm the queen" under the Treason Act of 1842. Many called for his execution, but the seventeen-year-old would be given a life sentence, outraging many Royalists and beginning the feeling of harsh conservatism that would come to dominate the United Kingdom under the time of Thatcher. Marcus Sarjeant gained his fame only as hatred, and he would disappear into the prison system.

Any anti-British sentiment quickly invoked the same spirit of vengeance that haunted many in the mourning of the Queen. When IRA members in prison attempted a hunger strike to regain status as political prisoners, they were force-fed, and the IRA became the target of an immense military crackdown. In 1982, Britain came upon an international war when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, and the UK counter-invaded to remove dictator Leopoldo Galtieri. Many commentators believed that Galtieri’s government would have fallen apart on its own, but the government of Britain refused to take any assault.

As the occupation of Argentina dragged on and surviving Galtieri and, especially, anti-British cells carried out attacks, unemployment and taxes continued to climb in the recession of the 1980s. When the 1984 Miner’s Strike began, the military force turned on Britons themselves, arresting strikers en masse and encouraging scabs. Bombings not just by the desperate IRA increased amid the oppressive government, such as the nearly successful attempt on Thatcher’s life at the Grand Hotel in Brighton on October 12, 1984. Blaming the attacks on increasing leftist adversaries, the Conservative Government outlawed several smaller parties and instituted social control schemes not seen since the desperate days of the War. More controversial were the secret actions, such as the disappearance of Michael Heseltine in 1990.

The darker days lightened as the Nineties saw economic recovery and the social control lessened, though the Conservative Government continues in power with opponents disappearing seemingly before they can rise. Meanwhile, the Royal Family disintegrated amid scandal with separations and divorces as well as the death of Queen Diana while in Paris in 1997. Bright hope shines around William, Prince of Wales, who is never seen without his Conservative bodyguard.


In reality, Queen Elizabeth’s horse did not buck, and her able horsemanship brought Burmese under control. Marcus Sarjeant was sentenced to five years imprisonment but was released in 1984, when he changed his identity to live a new life.

1 comment:

  1. we revisit this idea in After Queen Elizabeth II was Killed Part 2 looking forward to eleven years later when Prince Regent Andrew watches Windsor Castle burns down


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