14 November 2010


Jan Bondeson. Queen Victoria's Stalker: The Strange Story of the Boy Jones. Amberley, 2010.

'The Boy Jones' - Edward Jones - gained notoriety in the 1840s by making a series of intrusions into Buckingham Palace. At the time this was not as difficult as you might think, the Palace being run on a ramshackle system stretching back hundreds of years which seemed to have ensured that no-one was particularly responsible for anything. 
The first time 'The Boy Jones', as he was almost inevitably referred to by the press, was discovered he was hiding behind a pillar, covered in soot and grease. After a Keystone Cops-style chase around the Palace corridors he was collared and hauled off by the police and charged with theft of a number of small items and a sword. His subsequent trial was something of a farce, which made the Palace officials look stupid, and he was acquitted.

The thirteen-year-old 'Boy Jones' appeared to be a classic misfit, incapable of holding down a job, and the sort of youth who nowadays would probably be given an ASBO (for non-British readers, an 'Anti-Social Behaviour Order' is intended to forbid offenders from visiting certain areas or undertaking certain activities. One recent ASBO forbade its recipient from making too much noise whilst having sex!).

The Boy's experience of being held in custody at the notorious Tothill Fields prison before his trial did not seem to have any effect, and he was soon back wandering around the Palace and was discovered under a sofa in the Queen's sitting room. A second public trial was out of the question. Quite apart from a repetition of the shambles of the first trial, there were fears that The Boy may have seen Her Majesty in a state of dishabille, or overheard some intimate whispering between her and Prince Albert, which The Boy would be only too keen to repeat in a public court-room. Instead he was tried in private before a committee of the Privy Council, a procedure which had not been used since Tudor times and was usually reserved for noblemen plotting against the monarch.

Prison works, some say, but not in the case of The Boy. After a third intrusion into Buckingham Palace, the Court and political establishment were at their wits' end to know how to control this nightmare, and attempted increasingly desperate measures, which veered from the sinister to the comic. At one point The Boy became probably the last person ever to be shanghaied into the Royal Navy!

Bondeson was able to track down The Boy Jones' ultimate fate, and pick the facts from a maze of myth, legend and rumour. He brings the story up to date with accounts of some more recent Palace intruders, and looks at what may be the motivation behind such acts. Did The Boy, like some of his contemporaries, entertain erotic fantasies about the young Victoria? She was presented in the papers at the time as being a stunning beauty and received the sort of adulation which compared to that around Diana, Princess of Wales. Remember, although we now tend to think of her a portly, unsmiling widow, she was barely 18 when she acceded to the throne.

Bondeson's books are characterised by their depth of detailed historical research, and their fascinating and entertaining style, and this one does not disappoint. Well worth reading by anyone at all interested in the strange workings of the human mind! -- John Rimmer

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