Queen Victoria in the Royal Box of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (after the oil painting by E. T. Parris, 1837)
At Christmas 1837 the young Queen Victoria had been on the throne for just six months. She was not to marry until 1840 and so remained an object of desire, and for one person at least, a fantasy. James Ash was certainly smitten by her. He had visited Windsor and caught a glimpse of the eighteen year-old monarch and had fallen her over heels in love with her. It would do him no go at all.
Sadly for James he was a pretty unsuitable candidate. He was ‘about forty years of age, rather ill-favoured and something above the mechanic class’, as the reporter at Marlborough Street Police court described. He had been brought into court at the request of the parish authroories of St Giles who wanted to send Ash to a lunatic asylum.
Mr Dyer, presiding as magistrate on the 22 December 1837, was unclear why he was being asked to adjudicate in this case. It would normally, he said, be a decision for ‘a medical man’ whether someone was sent to an asylum or not.
A surgeon gave evidence to say that Ash was, by all accounts quite normal and rational with the notable exception that he had declared not only that he was love with the queen but insisted that his affections were returned in full.
Mr Dyer questioned Ash about his lifestyle. Did he drink? Not at all, Ash insisted. Was he married or otherwise involved with any other woman? Ash declared that he:
‘was deeply in love with her Majesty , and he had the happiness of knowing that the passion was mutual’.
I suspect at this point the magistrate was convinced of the man’s delusional state but he asked him to continue. Had he expressed his affection by letter perhaps? He hadn’t but as soon as the queen and her ministers had completed the ‘arduous task of setting the Pension and Civil Lists he should apply to them for suitable provision, in order that he might be enabled to throw himself at the feet of her Majesty’.
Mr Dyer had no intention of letting James Ash anywhere near the young queen and was entirely satisfied that he was ‘mad’. He signed a warrant to have Ash confined in the Hanwell lunatic asylum* where he might tell his story to all the other residents until the authorities there decided it was safe or expedient to let him go.
I suspect that might have been some time in the future. Meanwhile Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and the couple had nine children who married across the European continent earning the queen the epithet of ‘grandmother of Europe’. Victoria’s reign was peppered with attempts on her life, the earliest in 1840 when Edward Oxford shot at her carriage as it made its way on Constitution Hill. There were a further six assassination attempts, none of which succeeded. So perhaps Mr Dyer and the St Giles authorities were right to err on the side of caution and lock poor James away.
[from The Morning Post, Saturday, December 23, 1837]
*For more about the asylum at Hanwell see Mike Paterson’s post for the London Historians blog.