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Victoria and the big-bang theoryFenian Fire The British Government Plot to Assasinate Queen VictoriaChristy CampbellHarperCollins 1899 pp320Twenty-five years ago I was one of the Secretaries of State who accompanied James Callaghan to Buckingham Palace when he presented the Queen with the Governments silver jubilee gift After we had discussed a short list of suitable presents including a saddle and a clock set in Welsh anthracite we had decided on a silver coffee potThe gracious speech with which it was accepted included a joke The Queen was grateful that her Ministers had not followed the precedent of the 1887 golden jubilee when the Cabinet had given the sovereign a portrait of the Prime Minister Lord SalisburyWe can only speculate about the pleasure with which Queen Victoria received her Ministers tribute But we can be certain that when the usual courtesies were exchanged she had no idea that Salisbury knew of and was encouraging a Fenian plot to blow her to smithereens during the service of thanksgiving in Westminster AbbeyAnyone who believes in the doctrine of absolute ministerial responsibility will argue that the Prime Minister was at the very least an accessory to the planned regicide It was devised by the secret service and the employment of the principal assassin was explicitly approved by Downing StreetOf course Salisbury always intended that the plotters should be caught and convicted before their dastardly work was done And the 30-year history of Fenian incompetence justified the assumption that it would be easy enough to frustrate their knavish tricks at the last minute But James Munroe head of the Metropolitan Police secret department thought it prudent to persuade his children not to attend the service and when the procession set off for Westminster there was still a possibility that the conspirators had managed to get some dynamite into the Abbey vaults Whatever the odds Salisbury was risking the Queens lifeThe jubilee plot is such a bizarre episode that I would regard
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