the monarchy

A New Zealand Teenager’s 1981 Attempt to Assassinate Queen Elizabeth Was Covered Up, Until Now

Queen Elizabeth. Photo: Getty Images

In a bizarrely fascinating story that will undoubtedly be explored in The Crown’s fourth or fifth season, it’s come to light by many news organizations this week that in October 1981, a teenager named Christopher John Lewis attempted an assassination plot against Queen Elizabeth II when she was on a royal visit in Dunedin, New Zealand. Per the New York Timess feature on the subject, Lewis, then 17 years old, was a self-described terrorist who was perched on the fifth floor of a nearby building with a .22-caliber rifle, who waited for the Queen and Prince Philip to emerge from their vehicle. When they stepped out, Lewis fired his weapon, although he missed by a wide margin.

The reason Lewis’ assassination attempt is coming to light now, as opposed to years earlier, is the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (S.I.S.) declassified a handful of documents this week, one of which details and confirms the plot. “Lewis did indeed originally intend to assassinate the queen,” a released memo said, according to the Times. “However did not have a suitable vantage point from which to fire, nor a sufficiently high-powered rifle for the range from the target.” Additionally, the memo points that the New Zealand government was pleased that the local media hadn’t yet made an assassination connection. “Current police investigations into the shots have been conducted discreetly and most media representatives probably have the impression that the noise was caused by a firework of some description,” the memo continues. “There is a worry, however, that in court the press may make the connections between the date of the offense and the Queen’s visit.”

At the time, Lewis was arrested not for a royal assassination attempt, but rather for possessing and firing a weapon in public. He was jailed for three years, and in 1997 committed suicide in prison while awaiting charges for a separate crime. Interestingly enough, when the Queen chose to return to New Zealand in 1995, officials believed Lewis was still a great danger to the monarchy — as such, the police paid him to go on an opulent 10-day vacation outside the country during the entire visit. Olivia Colman, what will you do with that?

New Zealand Teen Attempted to Assassinate the Queen in 1981