A tale of two regicides
(2014) European Journal of Criminology, 11 (2), pp. 228-250.
This paper examines two attempted 18th century cases of regicide: those of Robert François Damiens against Louis XV and Margaret Nicholson against George III, which have similar circumstances yet, on the face of it, strikingly different outcomes. For both assailants were seemingly unremarkable individuals, employed for much of their working lives as domestic servants, the attacks were relatively minor and both were diagnosed as ‘mad’. However, Margaret Nicholson was to be confined for life in Bethlem Royal Hospital for the insane, whereas Robert François Damiens was tortured and torn apart by horses at the Place de Grève. The name of Damiens resonates today amongst scholars of criminology through the utilization of his execution by Michel Foucault in the opening to his seminal work Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison (1975); Margaret Nicholson is less widely known. By analyzing the considerable amount of media and literary coverage devoted to these attempted regicides at the time this paper concludes by locating these crimes as symptomatic of the ‘spirit of the times’.
Historical research; popular resistance; regicide