Margaret Lambrun, 1570?- ?: Courage of Conviction

By 1821, Napoleon had been defeated and peace seemed to spread out on the horizon for the foreseeable future.

Some people are never satisfied.

William Hazlitt in his essay “Guy Faux” bemoans the lack of passion and machismo in the post-war milquetoasts compared to the stalwart firebrands of earlier ages.  Nothing manly for Britain’s youth to get up to (one imagines the same sort of dismay as serious men compared World War One gave way to the Roaring Twenties)

A progressive sort of fellow (or perhaps he just wanted to shame the menfolk), Hazlitt cites admiringly the story of Margaret Lambrun  (“as it is but little know, I shall relate it as I find it”).

Briefly, the story is as follows:

Margaret Lambrun,  one of Queen Mary’s courtiers, was understandably  outraged at the execution of her sovereign.  She resolved to put things right by taking out Queen Elizabeth.  To effect this end, Ms Lambrun adopted the name of Anthony Sparke, then came to one of Elizabeth’s garden parties in drag, two muskets hidden under her coat, one for the queen, one for herself.

Fatefully, Ms Lumbrun was a bit of a clums. One of these guns discharged accidentally and prematurely, giving the game away.

When guards hustled the would-be assassin to face the queen,  Lambrun was asked if she took full responsibility for what she was attempting to do. She agreed that she must.

Asked what she imagined the Queen’s responsibility should be,  she said that Elizabeth  must, of course, pardon her.

Elizabeth was never all that keen on execution, least of all of other women. Taking the high road, the queen did pardon Lambrun and allowed her exile in France.  Honor displayed on both sides.  The reader closes the chapter with satisfaction.

It’s a good story and apposite to Hazlitt’s point. It comes, however, with a few problems.

For starters, the anecdote’s first mention comes in 1766 – a little late in the game.   It gets repeated over the next sixty years or so, with various improving details on the retelling.  One version claims that the weapon was knives, not muskets. Or perhaps pistoles. Or that a gun was dropped, but not discharged. Or that it not only was discharged, it killed a peacock.

In any event, no contemporary records seem to back the story up.  Thrilling Yarns and Romance (this was the same period when Parson Weems was putting out that claptrap of George Washington and the cherry tree) seem to have gotten the better of the reading public.*  And it seems, of the unwary Mr Hazlitt as well.

So in the end, Ms Lambrun becomes little more than a curious literary invention and a cautionary tale for the would-be historian or even impassioned essayist – always check your sources and don’t believe everything you read.  The reputation you save my just be your own.


*(Also the painting public.  As late as 1877, Louis Lang put the incident on canvas.)

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