On 2nd August 1786, George III was alighting from his carriage outside St James’s Palace when a poor woman dashed towards him holding out a piece of paper. As he reached out to take the paper, which he assumed to be a petition of some kind, the woman lunged at him with a large table-knife she had concealed in her other hand. The knife had sharp edges but a blunt point and it failed to penetrate the king’s topcoat. She was quickly seized but the king shouted out: “the poor creature is mad, do not hurt her. She has not harmed me.” Upon which, the would-be regicide was led away quietly.
The lady’s name was Margret Nicholson, a former maidservant who had fallen on hard times and apparently drifted into insanity, eventually believing that she was the rightful queen of England and George and a usurping impostor. She was immediately certified insane and committed to the ‘incurables’ ward of Bethlem Royal Hospital, colloquially known as ‘Bedlam’, where she would remain for the rest of her life.
The incident proved to be something of a propaganda coup for the royal family and spawned a wave commemorative prints and other commercial tat with which loyal subjects could demonstrate their thanks for the king’s deliverance. This enamel box was probably manufactured in the West Midland’s town of Bilston, which was then the centre of the English enamel trade. It measures 2.5 cm, 3.5 cm wide and 5 cm deep and consists of a pink enamel body and hinged lid decorated with a (sadly slightly damaged) image of Margaret Nicholson’s attack.