from Memoirs of Queen Charlotte
by WC Oulton (1819)
On 15 May 1800, George III went to Hyde Park to review the 1st Foot Guards. During the review, a shot was fired which narrowly missed the King. Mr Ongley, a clerk in the Navy Office, who was standing only a few paces away, was struck, and it was said that “had the wound been two inches higher it must have been mortal”(1).
Drama at Drury Lane
Unperturbed, the King visited the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in the evening with the Queen and other members of the royal family.
Michael Kelly, the musical director of the theatre at the time recorded:
"When the arrival of the King was announced, the band, as usual, played 'God save the King'. I was standing at the stage-door, opposite the royal box, to see His Majesty. The moment he entered the box, a man in the pit, next the orchestra, on the right hand, stood up on the bench, and discharged a pistol at our august Monarch, as he came to the front of the box.
Never shall I forget His Majesty’s coolness - the whole audience was in an uproar. The King, on hearing the report of the pistol, retired a pace or two, stopped, and stood firmly for an instant; then came forward to the very front of the box, put his opera-glass to his eye, and looked round the house, without the smallest appearance of alarm or discomposure."(1)
The culprit is secured
The orchestral performers seized the perpetrator - an ex-soldier named James Hadfield who was later judged insane - and dragged him into the music room under the stage, where he was examined by the Duke of York; Mr Sheridan, the theatre’s manager; and Sir William Addington, a Bow Street magistrate. The audience demanded that Hadfield should be brought on the stage, but Kelly succeeded in calming them with the assurance that he was in safe custody and that, if he were brought forward, he might have the chance to escape.
|Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, from The Microcosm of London (1808-10)|
Despite the Lord Chamberlain urging him to retire, George III determined to remain and see the performance. There was some suggestion that the bullet was “only a squib” (2) but after the narrow miss of the morning, it seems unlikely.
Kelly wrote: "'God save the King' was then called for, and received with shouts of applause, waving of hats, &c. During the whole of the play, the Queen and Princesses were absorbed in tears; - it was a sight never to be forgotten by those present."(1)
The play was a comedy by Colley Cibber, She would, and she would not. Kelly wrote: "Never was a piece so hurried over, for the performers were all in the greatest agitation and confusion."(1)
God save the King
At the end of the play, the audience demanded 'God save the King' again. Kelly sung an extra verse that had been written “on the spur of the moment” by Mr Sheridan, which was met with “the most rapturous approbation”(1).
The extra verse was as follows:
From every latent foe,
From the assassin’s blow.
God save the King.
O’er him thine arm extend,
For Britain’s sake defend
Our father, prince, and friend,
God save the King.
(1) From Reminiscences of Michael Kelly (1826)
(2) From George III by Christopher Hibbert (1998)
Sources used include:
Hibbert, Christopher, George III (1998, Viking, Great Britain)
Kelly, Michael, Reminiscences of Michael Kelly of the King's Theatre and Theatre Royal Drury Lane (1826)