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Trooping the Colour, London, June 1981

What happened?

The Queen was riding the 19-year-old mare Burmese in the annual Trooping the Colour, to celebrate her official birthday.

She had left Buckingham Palace 15 minutes earlier, had ridden down The Mall and was just turning into a crowded Horse Guards Road when 17-year-old Marcus Serjeant pointed a pistol directly at Her Majesty and fired six blank cartridges, before being overpowered by a Guardsman, a police officer and a St John’s Ambulance volunteer.

Burmese was understandably startled by the incident, that happened just before 11am, but The Queen proved her prowess in the saddle by quickly getting her back under control.

“She is a marvellous rider, she has a marvellous way with horses,” said Prince Charles, reflecting on the incident in a documentary aired on the BBC. “She’s made of strong stuff.”

What happened next?

If ever there was an advert for Keep Calm and Carry On, this was it. The procession simply continued as planned, and after the Trooping the Colour ceremony on Horse Guards Parade, The Queen made her way back to Buckingham Palace by the same route.

Marcus Serjeant — who was an ex-cadet — was arrested and convicted under the Treason Act of 1842.

Continued below…



Burmese was ridden in a total of 18 consecutive birthday parades until she was eventually retired in 1986. She was the first of the horses given to The Queen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

At the 2016 Royal Windsor Horse Show, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police gave The Queen another horse as a 90th birthday present. She named the black horse Sir John, in honour of Canada’s first prime minister Sir John MacDonald.

Prince Charles reflects on that moment in 1981:

Don’t miss today’s Royal special of Horse & Hound magazine (16 November 2017), where we go behind the scenes at the Highland stud at Balmoral Castle, and find out how the Royal Mews really works