Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die: The Assassination of a British Prime Minister

Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die: The Assassination of a British Prime Minister

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by Andro Linklater
     
 

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At approximately 5:15pm on the afternoon of May 11, 1812, Spencer Perceval, the all-powerful Prime Minister of Great Britain, was fatally shot at short range in the lobby of Parliament. His assailant was John Bellingham, a man who blamed his government for not intervening when he was unjustly imprisoned in Russia. The killer made no effort to escape in the confusion;

Overview

At approximately 5:15pm on the afternoon of May 11, 1812, Spencer Perceval, the all-powerful Prime Minister of Great Britain, was fatally shot at short range in the lobby of Parliament. His assailant was John Bellingham, a man who blamed his government for not intervening when he was unjustly imprisoned in Russia. The killer made no effort to escape in the confusion; remarkably, he firmly believed he would not only be exonerated, but applauded, for his action. But he was not to enjoy relief; a week later, granted the briefest of trials that trampled his right to due process, he was hanged.
In A Political Killing, Andro Linklater examines Bellinghams motives against the dramatic events of his time with the eye of a skilled forensic examiner and the determination of the finest detective. Though small in stature and quiet by nature, few prime ministers have enjoyed Percevals power; he was also Chancellor of the Exchequer, and as such, in a time of economic disaster caused by the naval blockade against Napoleons France, which he endorsed, Perceval nonetheless made the decision to sustain Wellingtons army in Spain against Napoleon; sent troops to Ireland to compel the loyalty of dissident Catholics; and raised taxes to new heights to finance his activities. Bellinghams act opens a fascinating window onto the western world at the height of the Napoleonic Wars and the start of the War of 1812. At the same time, Linklater investigates, as nobody appears ever to have, the movements and connections of John Bellingham to answer the same questions that have been asked ever since JFKs assassination: Did he act alone? And if not, who aided him, and why?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The only British prime minister to be assassinated, Spencer Perceval was shot dead in the Houses of Parliament lobby on May 11, 1812. Widespread Luddite rioting and violence had led many to believe the country was on the verge of revolution. The Evangelical Perceval simultaneously served as both PM and chancellor of the exchequer with powers close to autocratic. He plunged Britain into war with France and significantly raised taxes to finance his army; quashed the slave trade; silenced Irish Catholic dissidents, rioting factory workers, and political reformers; and caused a worldwide economic recession. As mobs rejoiced at Perceval’s murder, his assassin, John Bellingham—a Liverpool merchant who irrationally blamed Perceval for his imprisonment in Russia and loss of timber and iron ore he was trying to ship to England—became a celebrity. Linklater finds that Bellingham, hung days after his crime, may have acted with the support of American metal merchant Elisha Peck and the fanatically proslavery MP Isaac Gascoyne. Deftly sniffing out political machinations and murderous conspiracies, Linklater (Measuring America) has written a richly atmospheric, engrossing, and authoritative account of an assassination that, Linklater notes, shook the world 200 years ago as forcefully as JFK’s assassination did in our time. Agent: Peter Robinson, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (May)
Library Journal
Spencer Perceval is the only British prime minister (then called first lord of the admiralty) to have been assassinated. It happened on May 12, 1812, as he was walking into the House of Commons. The killer was a ruined businessman, John Bellingham, who blamed the government for his financial troubles. Perceval, a Tory grandee, was a family man, honest and upright—a rare combination in Regency politics. Probably legally insane by modern standards, Bellingham was tried and hanged within a week because of the damning evidence against him. Linklater (An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Double Life of General James Wilkinson) swiftly moves the narrative along, but this is the third recent book on this subject—the last was David C. Hanrahan's The Assassination of the Prime Minister (2008)—and Linklater doesn't convey deep expertise either on the law of the period or the tone of the era generally. Working almost solely from published sources, he acknowledges his debt to Mollie Gillen's Assassination of the Prime Minister (1973). It's not clear what more he brings to the subject other than hints of a conspiracy, largely based on speculation. VERDICT Readable, this may engage general readers, but it doesn't supersede previous books on the subject.—Michael Eshleman, Kings Mills, OH
Kirkus Reviews
The assassination of the British prime minister on the eve of the War of 1812 spirals gradually into a tale of pernicious political intrigue. In this account of Spencer Perceval's murder in the House of Commons on May 11, 1812, by the seemingly lone gunman John Bellingham, Linklater (An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Double Life of General James Wilkinson, 2009, etc.) bides his time adding key details that amplify the story from one man's private injury to a nation's sense of economic outrage. Bellingham started out as a Liverpool trader whose work lured him to Russia in 1804 to import a cargo of timber and iron; however, a snafu resulted in his arrest on debt charges, the result of commercial blackmail by a former partner. Repeated demands to British officials for justice came to naught, and over the next seven years the injury rankled at Bellingham, overtaking all aspects of his life. As the tale widens, Perceval is portrayed as an ambitious Evangelical, nobly born but penniless until marrying well and becoming a driven barrister. Embracing William Wilberforce's attempts to ban the slave trade, Perceval became prime minister in 1809. His determination to choke the illegal slave trade was essentially destroying international commerce, especially for Liverpool merchants and those who traded with them--namely, the American slavers. The plot thickens as Linklater follows the money: Who was financing the bankrupt Bellingham while he left his wife back in Liverpool supporting the family at her dressmaking business and went to London to plot and carry out the shooting of Perceval? The author creates a challenging mystery requiring some acquaintance with the historical period. Linklater cloaks a valuable history lesson within a dark, dramatic story.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802712417
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
05/08/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Andro Linklater is the author of Measuring America: How An Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy, The Fabric of America: How Our Borders and Boundaries Shaped the Country and Forged Our National Identity, and An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Double Life of General James Wilkinson. He lives in England.
Andro Linklater was the author of Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy as well as The Code of Love and several other books. He lived in England.

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A Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die: The Assassination of a British Prime Minister 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*smiles*