May 18th, 1812 – British Prime Minister Assassinated!


Spencer Perceval, is the only British prime minister to have been assassinated. He is also the only solicitor general or attorney general to have been prime minister.

NPG 4,Spencer Perceval,by George Francis Joseph

Spencer Perceval (November, 1st 1762 – May, 11th 1812)

The younger son of an Irish earl, Perceval was educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. He studied law at Lincoln’s Inn, practised as a barrister on the Midland circuit and in 1796 became a King’s Counsel before entering politics at the age of 33 as a Member of Parliament for Northampton. A follower of William Pitt, Perceval always described himself as a “friend of Mr Pitt” rather than a Tory. Perceval was opposed to Catholic emancipation and reform of Parliament; he supported the war against Napoleon and the abolition of the slave trade. He was opposed to hunting, gambling and adultery, did not drink as much as most Members of Parliament, gave generously to charity, and enjoyed spending time with his twelve children.

After a late entry into politics, his rise to power was rapid; he was solicitor and then attorney general in the Addington Ministry, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons in the Portland Ministry, and became prime minister in October 1809. At the head of a weak ministry, Perceval faced a number of crises during his term in office including an inquiry into the Walcheren expedition, the madness of King George III, economic depression and Luddite riots. He overcame these crises, successfully pursued the Peninsular War in the face of opposition defeatism, and won the support of the Prince Regent. His position was looking stronger by the spring of 1812, when he was assassinated by John Bellingham, a merchant with a grievance against the government, who shot him dead in the lobby of the House of Commons.

On May 18th, 1812, John Bellingham is found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.


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