Celebrity stalkers may seem like a peculiarly modern phenomenon – particularly with social media bringing stars closer to their public than ever before – but they’ve been around far longer than you might have thought.
Even when Michael Fagan infiltrated Queen Elizabeth II’s bedroom to rudely awaken her one morning in 1982 – having already broken into the Royal residence a month earlier – he was not the first member of the public to have wandered the hallowed halls of Buckingham Palace uninvited.
“The young lad was hopelessly obsessed with the newly-crowned Queen Victoria.”
Almost a century and a half earlier, in 1838, a 14-year-old boy named Edward Jones took advantage of what would today be considered a jaw-dropping lack of security, sneaking through a series of unlocked doors and ground floor windows and ultimately worming his way into the Royal living quarters.
Eventually, Edward Jones was spotted by a porter as he made his way through the palace’s Marble Hall; Jones immediately ran – with the porter hot on his heels – and was caught by the police as he attempted to make his escape down St James’s Street. Upon closer inspection by the arresting officer, it was discovered that the boy had hurriedly smuggled a pair of Queen Victoria’s underpants into his trousers.
Despite having also stolen a regimental sword – and previously told his boss of his intentions to enter the palace – Queen Victoria’s juvenile stalker was acquitted by a jury and released. But the story was far from over.
Dubbed “the boy Jones” by the press, the young lad was hopelessly obsessed with the newly-crowned Queen Victoria. He showed no signs of mental illness, yet was driven to break into the palace again and again – stealing food, getting caught sitting on the throne, and on one occasion being discovered by Baroness Lezhen, hiding under a sofa in the Queen’s dressing room where he had been happily eavesdropping on her conversation with Prince Albert.
The boy Jones captured not just the nation’s imagination – appearing in newspapers and satirical cartoons – but his boundless enthusiasm and highly unusual face (he was noted for having an exceedingly wide mouth, a low brow and an ever-present coating of soot) became a source of amusement for the staff of the Royal household too.
“He was arrested, tried and this time sentenced to three months in prison.”
According to Grace Greenwood, a journalist of the Victorian era, “he was such an amusing vagabond, with his jolly ways and boundless impudence, and so young, that no very serious punishment was then meted out to him, nor even on his second ‘intrusion’, as it was mildly denominated.”
The charm soon wore thin. The boy Jones was caught a third time, and further admitted to entering unnoticed on another occasion, though it is expected his true number of visits is most likely far higher. He was arrested, tried and this time sentenced to three months in prison – despite his father, a tailor, pleading for him to be recognised as insane. Upon his release in 1841, the boy Jones was again found lingering outside the palace, and the government decided more drastic measures were needed.
According to Dr Jan Bondeson, a senior lecturer at Cardiff University who spent five years researching the boy Jones, the government kidnapped him and imprisoned him on a ship; “They put him on a ship to Brazil but he came back, so he was kidnapped again and incarcerated on a prison ship which was never allowed near the shore in case he escaped. He was kept on board for six years.”
As with many convicts of the day, he was deported to Australia, where it seems the immense distance from the object of his fascination finally allowed him to find a more productive way to spend his time – as a pie seller. Nevertheless, the boy Jones, now very much a man, was still somewhat haunted by a past that had turned him into a lifelong figure of ridicule, and may have played some part in his becoming an alcoholic.
Edward Jones did, however, finally gain some modicum of respect when he assumed a form of public office himself: he became the town crier of Perth. Now it was his job to make public pronouncements by order of the courts, much as the town criers of his youth might have proclaimed his own unbelievable exploits.
The story of the boy Jones is told in more detail in Queen Victoria’s Stalker: The Strange Case of the Boy Jones by Dr Jan Bondeson, and even inspired a 1950 film called The Mudlark.