Robert Harley and the Myth of the Golden Thread: Family Piety, Journalism and the History of the Assassination Attempt of 8 March 1711
Clyve Jones (notes)
The myth has persisted amongst historians that the life of Robert Harley was saved by the golden embroidery in the waistcoat that he was wearing at the time of the assassination attempt with a penknife by the marquis de Guiscard on 8 March 1711. This myth is examined and traced back through numerous contemporary report, mainly by his family, friends and fellow politicians to show that the waistcoat was made of brocade and was not embroidered with any golden thread and that the other items of clothing, notably a thick brown coat, he was wearing broke the force of the blow, the penknife finally breaking on Harley’s breastbone. The original source of the story of the embroidered waistcoat appears to have come from a pamphlet written by Jonathan Swift written in 1714, which contradicts what Swift wrote at the time of the assassination attempt. However, the story passed down by subsequent historians may have come from their inability to distinguish between brocade and embroidery, but this examination also shows that such historians often vary in their accounts of what was responsible for saving Harley’s life, and it further shows that the assassination attempt formed an important part of the family myth that Harley had been afforded divine protection.