The Crown season 4: The Queen being shot at six times in "fantasy assassination" expected to feature

Naomi Gordon
·5-min read
Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

The Crown season 4 is expected to capture the Queen being shot at six times during her birthday parade in 1981, in what was later described as a "fantasy assassination".

The upcoming series of Peter Morgan's acclaimed royal drama will be transporting us back to the late 1970s and through to 1990 - with Olivia Colman at the reigns as Her Majesty the Queen, and Emma Corrin making her debut as Princess Diana.

The recent teaser trailer gave us a glimpse of Colman's Queen emerging from Buckingham Palace for the pomp and pageantry of the annual Trooping the Colour.

The military parade, which moves from Buckingham Palace and down The Mall to Horse Guard's Parade, has marked the official birthday of the British Sovereign for over 260 years.

A scaled-back and socially distanced version of the ceremony was held at Windsor Castle earlier this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images

Her Majesty, then aged 55, was riding her 19-year-old horse Burmese and wearing her military tunic and hat of colonial-in-chief of the Grenadier guards, which was created by the equestrian and livery tailors, Bernard Weatherill. The monarch wore this military outfit and hat with various different coloured plumes until 1986.

Some 15 minutes after the Queen left the palace, the convivial atmosphere was shattered when Her Majesty was shot at six times with blanks by a 17-year-old ex-cadet called Marcus Sarjeant.

What happened that day?

On June 13, 1981, the streets were lined with spectators waving flags as the parade prepared to move from Buckingham Palace and down The Mall to Horse Guard's Parade, alongside members of the royal family on horseback and in carriages.

Princess Diana - then known as Lady Diana Spencer - was 19 at the time, newly engaged to Prince Charles and making her parade debut. She rode in a carriage with Prince Andrew while Charles, like the Queen, rode on horseback.

Photo credit: Princess Diana Archive - Getty Images
Photo credit: Princess Diana Archive - Getty Images

There were over 1400 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians creating an impressive display of military precision, horsemanship and fanfare to mark the Queen's birthday.

In the depths of the crowds was 17-year-old Marcus Sarjeant, who immersed himself in a spot near the junction between The Mall and Horseguards Avenue.

The teenager was a former Air Training Cadet from Folkestone, Kent, who had joined the Royal Marines a year earlier after leaving school, before quitting within months.

As the Queen rode her horse Burmese down the Mall, Sarjeant pulled out his starting pistol and aimed directly at Her Majesty, firing six blank shots.

Remarkably, the Queen managed to get her startled horse under control and regain her composure. Despite being visibly shaken, and after giving Burmese a soothing pat, she continued on her route as ceremonial escorts closed ranks around her.

Sarjeant was overpowered by two Guardsmen, a police officer and a St John’s Ambulance volunteer, and later arrested. He was reported to have told them: "I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be a somebody."

After the Trooping the Colour ceremony, the Queen made her way back to Buckingham Palace by the same route, surrounded by security. The monarch was later joined by other members of the royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace as the display closed with an RAF fly-past.

What happened to Marcus Sarjeant?

Sarjeant - described as 'a shy loner haunted by failure' at the time - was said to have been inspired by attempts on the lives of US President Ronald Reagan and the Pope.

The teenager became the first person to be tried under the Treason Act 1842 since 1966, on a charge of wilfully discharging a gun "at or near Her Majesty the Queen…with the intent to alarm or distress Her Majesty".

He pleaded guilty and was jailed for five years.

During the trial, the court heard that the teenager from Capel le Ferne in Kent was also obsessed with the murders of President John F Kennedy and John Lennon.

Lord Chief Justice Lane said here was little doubt the incident could have been far worse, according to the BBC's report at the time.

"You tried to get a licence, you tried to get a gun - you were not able to obtain either," he told the court.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Sarjeant's original intention was to use a real gun, but when he could not get hold of one he carried out a "fantasy assassination".

He failed to find ammunition for his father's .455 Webley revolver, so through mail order, Sarjeant paid £66.90 for two blank-firing replica Colt Python revolvers.

The prosecution said documents taken from the would-be assassin's home also indicated he had planned to kill the Queen for some time.

He had written in a diary: "I am going to stun and mystify the whole world with nothing more than a gun - I will become the most famous teenager in the world."

Photo credit: Central Press - Getty Images
Photo credit: Central Press - Getty Images

In the lead-up to Trooping the Colour, Sarjeant had revealed his plot to kill the Queen in a letter addressed to Her Majesty sent to Buckingham Palace.

It read: "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."

The letter arrived three days after the ceremony.

After being sent to prison, Sarjeant wrote to the Queen from prison to apologise for firing the blanks, but he never received a reply.

He spent the majority of his sentence at Grendon Psychiatric Prison in Buckinghamshire, and was released in October 1984 at the age of 20. He changed his name and began a new life.

The Queen stopped riding horseback at Trooping the Colour in 1986, when her horse Burmese retired, and opted for a carriage instead.

Reflecting on the attack some years later for BBC documentary A Family Tribute, Prince Charles remarked: "The Queen is a marvellous rider, she has a marvellous way with horses. She's made of strong stuff."

The Crown season 4 launches on Netflix on November 15.

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