Marcus Sarjeant, 17, shot blanks at Queen Elizabeth in front of the world

By Monique Jessen
September 14, 2020 11:48 AM
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Queen Elizabeth at Trooping the Colour, June 13, 1981
Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth was unharmed when a shooter fired six blank shots at her during Trooping the Colour nearly four decades ago.

Three months after the shooting, on September 14, 1981, Marcus Sarjeant, a 17-year-old from Kent in the U.K., was jailed for treason.

The extraordinary events of the 1981 Trooping the Colour began with the Queen leading the ceremonial procession along The Mall on horseback. In a flash, Sarjeant pointed a pistol directly at her, firing six blank cartridges before being wrestled to the ground by police.

The Queen remained preternaturally calm, offering her 19-year-old horse Burmese a reassuring pat before riding on “as cool as a cucumber as if nothing had happened,” her former guard Alec Galloway recalled at the time. BBC reports at the time said “she looked shaken by the episode but soon recovered her composure.”

Queen Elizabeth calms her horse Burmese after the shooting incident in June 1981
PA Images via Getty Images

Charged under the 1848 Treason Act, Sarjeant was jailed for five years. Described as a shy loner obsessed with the murders of President John F. Kennedy and John Lennon, the teen had written in his diary: “I am going to stun and mystify the whole world with nothing more than a gun – I will become the most famous teenager in the world.”

Reflecting on the incident during for a 2016 BBC documentary, Prince Charles said: “She’s a marvelous rider; she has a marvelous way with horses. She made of strong stuff, you know.” The Queen continued to lead the parade with her beloved Burmese until the horse died in 1986.

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As for Sarjeant, he was released in October 1984 at the age of 20 and was given a new identity. He reportedly wrote to the Queen from prison to apologize but he never received a reply.

The Queen at Trooping the Colour on June 13, 2020
Pool/Samir Hussein/WireImage

This year due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Queen was forced to cancel Trooping the Colour and instead watched a scaled-down, socially-distanced military parade at Windsor Castle in her honor.