A date that will always be remembered, in the corridors of Parliament. For it was on the 11th May 1812, when the then English Prime Minister, one Spencer Perceval was assassinated in the Palace of Westminster…
Spencer Perceval was born on the 1st November 1762, to the aristocratic family of the Earl of Egmont. The young Perceval attended Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge.
In 1786, aged twenty-four, Perceval was called to the bar. Come the early years of the 1790’s his success and publications against the French Revolution, led to him being appointed junior counsel in the prosecution of political radicals; Thomas Paine and John Horne Tooke. Then in 1796 became King’s Counsel and bencher at Lincoln’s Inn.
Perceval as an evangelical Anglican, was true to his beliefs, and saw Sunday as a day devoted to religious thoughts. In 1790, he married Jane Wilson, and the pair were blessed with twelve children.
In 1796, Perceval made his mark in the world of politics, first being elected as MP for Northampton, and his speech of 1798, making himself a contender for a position in William Pitt’s administration. In August of 1798, appointed Solicitor to the Ordinance and in 1799 Solicitor General to the Queen. Serving Prime Minister Henry Addington from 1801 as Solicitor General and later Attorney General, becoming William Pitt’s chief law officer in the Commons for political trials.
Spencer Perceval prosecuted the revolutionary Colonel Edward Despard, for plotting the seizure of the Tower of London, Bank of England and assassination of King George III. He was found guilty and executed for high treason in 1803.
Reluctantly he gave up his lucrative legal practice, becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the Commons in March of 1807, during the Duke of Portland’s leadership. On the 30th September 1809, his name was put forward to the King, as the Cabinet’s choice of Prime Minister.
Spencer Perceval, England’s Prime Minister, started out on rocky ground, with the Walcheren military expedition to the Netherlands, where some 4,000 soldiers died, a high proportion of those being attributed to disease.
John Bellingham an export trader from Liverpool had been charged and found guilty of owing money in Russia of 1804. He pleaded with British Authorities for assistance in fighting his case for injustice. His pleas went unanswered.
In 1809, Bellingham a very bitter man was released and returned to England, after serving a five-year prison sentence. He resented the British Authorities, and sought compensation… No one was willing to hear his claim. Insanity had taken hold of him, and believed he would get his day in court, if he shot the Prime Minister.
On Monday the 11th May 1812, John Bellingham entered the lobby leading to the House of Commons, and sat close to a fireplace. Concealed about him, was two loaded pistols.
Around 5.15pm Spencer Perceval, Prime Minister entered the lobby entrance, to the House of Commons.
John Bellingham rose to his feet, removed one of the pistols, walked towards the Prime Minister, fired without uttering a word. The Prime Minister called out; “I am murdered. I am murdered,” collapsing to the ground with a fatal bullet wound to the heart.
The thirty-five year old John Bellingham returned to his seat, waiting to be arrested.
On the 15th May Bellingham’s trial took place at the Old Bailey, where he pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder, telling the jury, his actions should be a lesson for future Prime Ministers. He believed by shooting the Prime Minister, the court would listen to him, and understand why he did it. The court was not prepared to listen to his claims, having committed an act of murder against the Prime Minister.
The jury took only fourteen minutes to reach a verdict, upon which all members agreed; Guilty as charged.
The Lord Chief Justice told the accused: You have been convicted by the court, of wilful and premeditated murder!
John Bellingham was hanged on Monday 18th May in front of Newgate Prison.
Spencer Perceval will be remembered as the only English Prime Minister to have been assassinated!