Assassination of Spencer Perceval

British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval is assassinated by John Bellingham, drawing by John Heaviside Clark
British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval is assassinated by John Bellingham, drawing by John Heaviside Clark

Historical Context

Spencer Perceval had a rapid rise to power in the British government, first being a member of parliament in 1796 before successively being appointed to the positions of Solicitor General, Attorney General, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons by 1807.

In 1809 he became Prime Minister in what was considered a fairly weak government, and he faced a number of crises at home including the madness of King George III, riots by Luddites and an economic depression.

His ministry was looking fairly stable in 1812, having largely overcome these problems, but his time in office was not to last much longer. In the lobby of the House of Commons, on May 11, 1812, he was shot by John Bellingham and died minutes later. Bellingham was a merchant, born in Liverpool, who was angry with the British government over a perceived lack of help when he had been imprisoned while working in Russia. Bellingham had shot Perceval through the chest once.

After the assassination, it appeared much of the public was generally supportive of the assassination, Bellingham having been met by crowds wishing to shake his hand when he was transferred to Newgate Prison. Perceval was particularly unpopular with the working class, who felt they had received nothing from his government.

Bellingham was tried four days later at the Old Bailey. His attorney attempted to use the insanity defence, but the judge rejected this, an action which Bellingham himself agreed with. Less than eight hours later and after only 15 minutes deliberation the jury found him guilty and the judge sentenced him to death. He was executed on Monday, May 18, 1812.

Perceval remains to this day the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated. Amazingly, descendants of both - Henry Bellingham and Roger Percival (different spelling) later stood for the same seat in Parliament at the same time but neither won.

Drawing Info

Artist: John Heaviside Clark
Location drawn: London, England, United Kingdom

Source: Royal Collection Trust

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