Born on 1st of November 1762
Died on 11th of May 1812
Spencer Perceval is the only British PM to have been assassinated (though cabinet ministers may have often contemplated the idea), and is chiefly remembered for that dubious accolade.
Perceval was from an aristocratic background, educated at Harrow and Trinity College Cambridge, second son of the Earl of Egmont. His family was well-connected – his father briefly First Lord of the Admiralty, his brother a minister under Pitt the Younger, and connections obtained him a job as recorder for Northampton, where in 1796 he became MP. Perceval had enjoyed a reasonably successful career as a lawyer, the highlight of which was as chief legal counsel to the Princess of Wales in her misconduct trial in 1806.
Solicitor General under Addington’s premiership in 1801, then Attorney General the following year, Spencer served in Pitt the Younger’s 1804 government in spite of differences with him over civil and political rights for Catholics. Generally a very conservative political thinker – against electoral reform and fiercely anti-Catholic – Spencer however supported the campaign against slavery. After the brief period of the ministry of all the talents following the death of Pitt in 1806 he re-entered government as Chancellor of the Exchequer in The Duke of Portland’s administration, which in effect he ran. After Portland’s stroke in August 1809 Perceval beat Canning in the race to be Prime Minister.
His period as Prime Minister was less than distinguished, and he found it hard to recruit major figures to his cabinet, being forced to serve as Chancellor himself. He did, however, prosecute the Peninsular War with great determination, recognising the ever growing danger of Napoleon to Britain, though the costs of the war damaged the country enormously, leading to rampant inflation.
Perceval was shot dead on May 11 1812 while walking through the lobby of the House of Parliament, his assassin John Bellingham a crazed businessman from Liverpool who blamed his bankruptcy on the government, something which even now must give pause for thought to politicians. Bellingham was very hastily tried, and was hanged within the week.
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