On this day in history : 11th May 1812 – Conservative Prime Minister Spencer Perceval is shot dead by John Bellingham in the House of Commons…. He is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated….

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Spencer Perceval – George Francis Joseph, Public domain

John Bellingham was a rather unsuccessful businessman in his forties – and had been wrongly imprisoned in Russia for unpaid debts…. He had appealed to the British Embassy for help – but none was forthcoming…. After languishing in a Russian jail for five years he returned to England in 1809 seeking compensation from the British government….but was to be disappointed…. The disgruntled Bellingham decided to take matters into his own hands….

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Contemporary engraving of John Bellingham – Charles Squire, Printer – Public domain

Spencer Perceval, a trained lawyer who had been educated at Harrow and Cambridge became an MP in 1796 when in his thirties…. He rose through the ranks quickly, became Chancellor of the Exchequer under the Duke of Portland – and in 1807 Prime Minister after the death of William Pitt the Younger – whom he greatly admired….

The 11th of May had been a sunny Monday and at 5.15pm Perceval entered the lobby of the House of Commons, on his way to the chamber…. As he did so, a man who had been sitting by the fireplace got up, walked over to the Prime Minister, produced a pistol from out of his overcoat and fired….hitting Perceval square in the chest…. The Prime Minister fell, exclaiming “I am murdered!” – the gunman, who of course was Bellingham, calmly walked back to his chair and sat down….

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C.19th illustration of Perceval’s assassination in the Newgate Calendar – Public domain

Perceval was carried to the Speaker’s apartment and a doctor called – but by the time he had arrived the Prime Minister was dead…. 49-year-old Perceval left behind a wife and 12 children….

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Aftermath of Perceval’s assassination – a 1909 representation – Public domain

Bellingham was seized, his weapon – and another loaded gun concealed upon him – removed…. But it was nearly midnight before he could be safely taken from Parliament…. News had spread quickly about what had happened – there was a lot of unrest in the country at the time…. War with France had caused severe economic difficulties and there was much anger amongst the people – directed at the government…. A large crowd descended on Parliament with the intent of rescuing Bellingham – troops had to be used to hold them back….

Bellingham was taken to Newgate Gaol – when questioned he said….”I have been denied the redress of my grievances by government; I have been ill-treated. They all know who I am and what I am…. I am a most unfortunate man and feel here….sufficient justification for what I have done”….

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Newgate Prison c.1810 – Public domain

On the 15th of May his trial was held at the Old Bailey….his plea of insanity was not accepted…. Three days later, on the 18th of May he was hanged outside Newgate Gaol….

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