James Hadfield

James Hadfield

James Hadfield or Hatfield (1771/1772 – January 23, 1841) attempted to assassinate George III of the United Kingdom in 1800 but was acquitted of attempted murder by reason of insanity.

Hadfield's early years are unknown but he was severely injured at the Battle of Tourcoing in 1794. Before being captured by the French, he was struck eight times on the head with a sabre, the wounds being prominent for the rest of his life. After return to England, he became involved in a millennialist movement and came to believe that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ would be advanced if he himself were killed by the British government. He therefore resolved, in conspiracy with Bannister Truelock, to attempt the assassination of the King and bring about his own judicial execution.Eigen (2005)]

On the evening of May 15, 1800, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, during the playing of the national anthem, Hadfield fired a pistol at the King standing in the royal box. Hadfield missed his target, though it is unclear whether he simply intended to signal an attempt, then addressed the King, announcing "God bless your royal highness; I like you very well; you are a good fellow."

Hadfield was tried for high treason and was defended by Thomas Erskine, the leading barrister of that era. Hadfield pleaded insanity but the standard of the day for a successful plea was that the defendant must be "lost to all sense … incapable of forming a judgement upon the consequences of the act which he is about to do". Hadfield's planning of the shooting appeared to contradict such a claim. Erskine chose to challenge the insanity test, instead contending that delusion "unaccompanied by frenzy or raving madness [was] the true character of insanity". Two surgeons and a physician testified that the delusions were the consequence of his earlier head injuries. The judge, Lloyd Kenyon, 1st Baron Kenyon, at this point halted the trial declaring that the verdict "was clearly an acquittal" but "the prisoner, for his own sake, and for the sake of society at large, must not be discharged". ["R v. Hadfield" (1800) 27 St. Tr. (new series) 1281]

Up to that time, defendants acquitted by reason of insanity had faced no certain fate and had often been released back to the safe-keeping of their families. Hadfield's acquittal caused a public uproar and Parliament speedily passed the Criminal Lunatics Act 1800 to provide for the indefinite detention of insane defendants. Hadfield was detained in Bethlem Royal Hospital for the rest of his life save for a short period when he escaped. He was recaptured at Dover attempting to flee to France and was briefly held at Newgate Prison before being transferred to the new criminal facility at Bethlem. He died there of tuberculosis.



*cite journal | author= [Anon.] | year=1800 | title=Domestic Intelligence | journal=The European Magazine, and London Review | volume=37 | pages=410–413
*cite book|author=Eigen, J.P.|year=1995|title=Witnessing Insanity: Madness and Mad-doctors in the English Court|publisher=Yale University Press|id=ISBN 0-300-06289-3
*cite web | year=2005 | title=Hadfield, James (1771/2–1841) | work=Oxford Dictionary of National Biography | url=http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/41013 | accessdate=2006-03-11 | author=- ODNBsub
*cite journal | author=Moran, R. | year=1985 | title=The origin of insanity as a special verdict: the trial for treason of James Hadfield, 1800 | journal=Law and Society Review | volume=19 | pages=487–519 | doi=10.2307/3053574
*cite journal | author=Quen, J.M. | year=1969 | title=James Hadfield and medical jurisprudence of insanity | journal=New York State Journal of Medicine | volume=69 | pages=1221–6
*cite book|author=Walker, N.|title=Crime and Insanity in England: Vol.1 The Historical Perspective|year=1968|publisher=Edinburgh University Press|id=ISBN 0-85224-017-1

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