When Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Sapphire Jubilee on February 6, 2017, she became the first British monarch to ever reach that momentous occasion, marking 65 years since her coronation. At 94 years old, she continues to serve her royal engagements, with ties to more than 600 organizations, including charities, public services and professional groups.
But as one of the world’s most visible and symbolic figures, the queen has come under some seriously close calls, as she’s literally faced potential life-or-death threats during her nearly seven decades of rule.
While some attempts played out in front of the public, others took decades to come to light, in order to protect the royal family. Here, we look at a few of the known assassination attempts on Queen Elizabeth II:
A log was placed on the tracks to derail the queen’s train in Australia in 1970
On April 29, 1970, the queen and husband Prince Philip were traveling via rail from Sydney through the Blue Mountains near Lithgow to New South Wales’ Orange when the train struck a log. Fortunately for the royal couple, Albert Rowley was at the wheel and spotted the object, pulling the brakes just in the nick of time. Since the tracks had been checked just an hour prior to the incident, it’s thought that the log was placed there purposefully and timed to the passing of the royal train.
Had the train been going full speed, it could have derailed and flown into the embankment, experts told The Telegraph.
The news didn’t become public until 2009 when a retired detective spoke out about the incident, breaking the decades of silence agreed upon by the cops and press. While the royals and the palace reportedly were unaware of the incident, The Telegraph said that Rowley was given an Imperial Service Medal back in 1974 for the “in recognition of the meritorious service which you have rendered,” as the certificate reads.
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A British teen shot blanks at Queen Elizabeth during 1981's Trooping the Color
The annual Trooping the Color is a one of the Brits’ most festive events, with thousands of parading soldiers, musicians and horses in the streets and a RAF fly-by, every June. But at the June 13, 1981, ceremony, 17-year-old Marcus Sarjeant fired six blank shots at Queen Elizabeth in the middle of the festivities.
Riding on a 19-year-old Burmese horse, the monarch remained remarkably calm as the police wrestled the shooter to the ground. Sarjeant, who had expressed interest in the shootings of John F. Kennedy and John Lennon, was jailed for five years under the 1842 Treason Act, which hadn’t been used since 1966. He was released in October 1984.
Just months later, another 17-year-old shot at the queen in New Zealand
Four months later on October 14, 1981, the queen was visiting New Zealand with Prince Philip, when another 17-year-old had the same idea. Hiding in an empty toilet stall on the fifth floor of a building in Dunedin, John Lewis took aim with a rifle, just as the royals got out of a Rolls-Royce.
Fortunately for the queen, Lewis missed. As it turns out, his weapon couldn’t have shot so far, and he wasn’t exactly in the best physical location to do so. Kiwi police, reportedly worried that the royals would never return, explained the sound as a sign falling over and later also said it was firecrackers.
Lewis then set his sights on Prince Charles, trying to escape from a psychiatric ward to do so. Before he killed himself at 33 in prison, where he was being held for another unrelated crime, he reportedly told his partner of his attempt on the queen, saying, “Damn… I missed.” The incident wasn’t revealed until 1981.
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A man broke into the queen’s bedroom twice in one month in 1982
An intruder in the Queen’s bedroom with a broken piece from a glass ashtray. While the details sound straight out of the murder game Clue, the exact intentions Michael Fagan had when he wandered into Buckingham Palace on July 9, 1982, are unclear — even to himself. He reportedly jumped over railings and scaled a drainpipe and found his way to the queen’s bedroom.
En route, he broke a glass ashtray in an anteroom. “Fagan entered Her Majesty's bedroom at about 7:15 a.m. carrying one piece of the broken ashtray, with which he has said that he intended to slash his wrists in the presence of Her Majesty,” the Times said. “He claimed that he had not entered the palace with this intention but that it formed in his mind for the first time when he saw the ashtray.”
Minutes later, he pulled back the curtains and found the queen sleeping there solo. She successfully stalled him and called for help. Decades later, Fagan seemed to look back on the incident lightheartedly, admitting it was his second time sneaking in there within a month. The following month, a woman broke into the royal residence in the Scottish Highlands while the queen was there.
Fate — and her own volition — have often come to the queen’s rescue
There’s no doubt that a degree of risk comes with being out in the public eye the way Her Majesty has been for the greater part of a century. Despite the team she has around her, often the incidents were simply stopped by her own calm and collective nature.
After all, she’s always had her priorities in check, as proven by what she said on her 21st birthday in 1947: “My whole life — whether it be long or short — shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”