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

( 2 )

Overview

At approximately 5:15 P.M. 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 by John Bellingham, a Liverpool businessman. Perceval polarized public opinion: Revered by some and hated by others for his fight against the lucrative slave trade, he domineeringly kept Britain at war against Napoléon and was driving her into war with the United States despite the huge economic drain of each, raising taxes to ...

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

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Overview

At approximately 5:15 P.M. 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 by John Bellingham, a Liverpool businessman. Perceval polarized public opinion: Revered by some and hated by others for his fight against the lucrative slave trade, he domineeringly kept Britain at war against Napoléon and was driving her into war with the United States despite the huge economic drain of each, raising taxes to new heights to finance his decisions. Bellingham was not alone in blaming Perceval and his government for their ruinous policies; indeed, he claimed to have killed Perceval "as a matter of justice," and believed he would not only be exonerated, but also applauded for his action. But he was not to enjoy relief; within a week, granted the briefest of trials that trampled his right to due process, he was hanged.

In Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die, Andro Linklater examines the assassination against the dramatic events of the time with the eye and insight of the finest detective. Combing through Bellingham’s personal records, including hitherto undiscovered correspondence; piecing together his strange movements through the reports of London’s first detective agency; and using the letters and testimony of Bellingham’s wife, Linklater convincingly reveals, as nobody has before, the outlines of a conspiracy. While he fired the shot and was solely charged with the crime, John Bellingham clearly did not, as history has stated, act alone.

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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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802779984
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 5/8/2012
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,143,209
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.07 (d)

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.

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Table of Contents

1 A Horrible Event 1

2 The Identity of an Unfortunate Man is Revealed 11

3 Riots Break Out amid Rumours of Revolution 21

4 A Free and Easy Conspiracy? 30

5 Examining the Enigma of the Assassin's Sanity 46

6 The Victim is Seen as a Fond Father and Attentive Husband 58

7 A Prime Minister Put There by Providence 72

8 The Pervasive Power of Little P 84

9 The Beauty of Double Bookkeeping 97

10 The Prosecution Presents its Case 115

11 Bellingham and the Absence of malice prepense 126

12 The Compelling Evidence of Miss Stevens 135

13 The Search for the Truth behind the Murder 148

14 Choking to Death the Illegal Slave Trade 163

15 How to Boll an Economy 181

16 The Russian Connection Returns 196

17 Where the Money Came From 208

18 An Execution Ends all Cares 224

19 Understanding Why it Happened 234

Notes 243

Bibliography 277

Acknowledgements 287

Index 289

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2013

    Kaelin

    Spencer..?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2013

    Nathan

    *smiles*

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