4 Historic Murder Plot Fails

wpengine | November 5, 2014

1. Guy Fawkes and The Gunpowder Plot

The Plotters – Wikimedia Commons

For all those who haven’t remembered, remembered, in 1604-1605 Guy Fawkes was part of an extremist Catholic conspiracy to blow up the House of Lords and kill (among others) King James I, a Protestant and scourge of Catholics across the nation.

The plot, led by Robert Catesby, saw Guy Fawkes pose as a servant over a period of months where he began quietly sourcing gunpowder across London. Meanwhile the conspirators rented a cellar beneath the House of Lords, where they began stocking Fawkes’ flammable finds in preparation for the opening of the Houses of Parliament on 5th November.

House of Lords – Lord Clement Jones

The ‘Monteagle’ Letter – Gutenberg

The plan was going swimmingly until an anonymous letter which warned of the plot (dubbed the ‘Monteagle’ Letter, after its intended recipient) fell into the hands of The Earl of Salisbury Robert Cecil, who- upon ordering a last minute search of Westminster on 4th November- found a red-faced Guy sitting upon a city-felling 2500kg of explosives. After two days of torture Fawkes finally gave up his co-conspirators, and the group were hanged, drawn and quartered.

Guy Effigy Today – Huffington Post

In response to this attempt on his life, and to remind the people who won in the end, King James sanctioned an annual burning of Guy Fawkes effigies, a tradition we still- perhaps a bit too morbidly- observe today. (Heartening fact: the only place in the UK which doesn’t allow the burning of Guy effigies is St Peter’s School in York, where Mr Fawkes was once a pupil. “We don’t burn effigies of old boys”, ruled an old headmaster. Hear hear, we say!)

2. Operation Valkyrie- The Plot to kill Hitler

Operation Valkyrie Dossier – The Prop Store

In an attempt to make peace with Western Allied Forces and wrest German control from what was seen as an increasingly disastrous and self-destructive Nazi campaign, a secret mission to kill Adolf Hitler was devised by a number of high-ranking Wehrmacht officers. While the plan was in the works for years under the leadership of Colonel Henning von Tresckow, the mission gained real traction in mid-1943 when the conspirators enlisted the help of the (now legendary) Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a man integral to the plan not only for his strategy but also for his unique position in Hitler’s inner circle.

Valkyrie Film

Once Stauffenberg took the reins, the conspirators made numerous attempts on Hitler’s life, but all were met with failure. It wasn’t until summer 1944, when a “now or never” attitude had infected the plotters’ strategies, that plans were put in place to leave a suitcase full of explosives in the conference room of Hitler’s East Prussian Headquarters (ominously dubbed the”Wolf’s Lair”).

The Wolf’s Lair – Military History Tours

Stauffenberg himself was to execute the plan, which he did with meticulous precision, covertly leaving the suitcase in the Fuhrer’s conference room and exiting to “make a phone call” just minutes before the explosion. He fled, the bomb detonated, and the rest should have been history…

Wolf's Lair Conference Room - Wikimedia Commons

Wolf’s Lair Conference Room – Wikimedia Commons

Except that it wasn’t. Though four of his entourage perished in the explosion, Hitler- seemingly magically- emerged unharmed (it was later revealed that a thick table leg shielded him from the explosion) and it wasn’t long before von Stauffenberg was apprehended. With the rest of Operation Valkyrie suddenly nowhere to be seen, poor von Stauffenberg and his three closest colleagues faced the Nazi firing squad together, his last words ìLong live our sacred Germanyî echoing out across the courtyard of the (now famous) Bendlerblock.

A Nazi Firing Squad – Historical Photos

3. The Brighton Hotel Bombing

Grand Hotel Post-Bombing - The Telegraph

Grand Hotel Post-Bombing – The Telegraph

Explosives Block - Gallery Hip

Explosives Block – Gallery Hip

The IRA planned a number of assassination attempts over the years, including a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street- which targeted the then Prime Minister John Major- and a near bombing of Sydney’s Central Station aimed at wiping out the Duke of Edinburgh. Arguably the most notable of these murder plots however, remains the bombing of Brighton’s Grand Hotel, and attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher, on 12 October 1984.

The Conservative Party were congregating at the Grand Hotel for a party conference on the 12th, but unbeknownst to the Tories IRA member Patrick Magee had also recently stayed at the hotel, where he had fitted 20lb of homemade explosives under under a bathtub in one of the rooms.

Detonating in the early hours on the morning of the conference, the explosion killed five hotel guests (two Conservative Party members and the wives of three others) and injured many more. Then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself was unharmed- though the decimation of her hotel bathroom showed the assassination attempt to be a near success- and she quickly demanded a party-wide show of defiance in the face of this horrific attack. Thus the conference proceeded as planned, the party members- at face value at least- affecting a collective air of nonchalance at their near-death experience.

Grand Hotel - Wikimedia Commons

Grand Hotel – Wikimedia Commons

The IRA claimed full responsibility on the following day, ominously warning “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no more war”. But the IRA’s dream assassination never came to be, and Patrick Magee was given eight life sentences the following year. (Magee was released in 1999 after serving 14 years in prison, and has since made peace with some of the Brighton Bombing victims’ families)

Magee with Daughter of Victim Anthony Berry - Telegraph

Magee with Daughter of Victim Anthony Berry – Telegraph

4. Margaret Nicholson- ‘Rightful Heir to the Throne’?

And finally, here’s a lesser-known assassination attempt for you:

On 2nd August 1786, a woman called Margaret Nicholson was arrested for the attempted murder of King George III. She had approached the king as he was exiting a carriage under the guise of wishing to present him with a petition. When he came within arm’s reach however, Nicholson produced an ivory-hilted dessert knife and lunged twice at the king. Though the knife cut only through his jacket, Nicholson was apprehended and would have been tried for attempted murder, had the king not acknowledged the woman’s insanity and ask that she be spared from death.



When questioned as to why she had made the attempt on King George’s life, Nicholson eventually explained she believed herself the rightful heir to the throne. Nicholson warned that if she was not crowned immediately, :England would be drowned in blood for a thousand generations”. As these aren’t the usual tactics of one seeking a royal inauguration, Nicholson was quickly committed to Bedlam, where she remained until her death in 1828.

Margaret Nicholson Burial Certificate - WordPress

Margaret Nicholson Burial Certificate – WordPress

(Fun fact: Margaret Nicholson is remembered best today as the fictitious author of Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson, a collection of poetry actually written by Percy Bysshe Shelley (husband of Mary) and Thomas Jefferson Hogg in 1810. In the writing the character of Nicholson- staying somewhat true to her real-life counterpart- attacks the British Monarchy, labelling them oppressive and burdensome to the people.)

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