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Spencer Perceval

the only Prime Minister to be assassinated

Spencer Perceval

Spencer Perceval was born in Audley Square, London, on November 1, 1762, the second son of John, 2nd Earl of Egmont. He was educated at Harrow and at Trinity College, Cambridge, received his M.A. in 1782, and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1786. In 1790 he married Jane Spencer-Wilson, with whom he had six sons and six daughters.

Perceval's political career began in 1790, when he became Deputy Recorder of Northampton. In 1796 the voters of Northampton sent him to Parliament, where he became a supporter of William Pitt the Younger. He subsequently served as Solicitor General (1801-1802) and as Attorney General (1802-1806).

In 1806, the Tory government of William Pitt the Younger gave way to that of William Wyndham Grenville, a Whig, and Perceval became a member of the opposition. An ardent opponent of Grenville's plan to offer emancipation to England's Catholics, he delivered a speech before the House of Commons which helped destroy Grenville's administration (1807).

Grenville's government gave way to a coalition government led by the Duke of Portland, a Tory. Perceval became the duke's Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then succeeded him as Prime Minister, on October 4, 1809.

Perceval's government was marred by upheavels caused by the Industrial Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the increasing madness of King George III. He also had difficulty bringing qualified men into his administration, and even had to serve as his own Chancellor of the Exchequer because no one was willing to take the job.

On May 11, 1812, while on his way to attend an inquiry into the recent Luddite riots, Perceval was shot and mortally wounded by John Bellingham, a bankrupt merchant who had tried unsuccessfully to recover his losses from the government. He died in the lobby of the House of Commons, and became the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated. Although he was deemed insane, Bellingham was subsequently executed for his crime, on May 18, 1812.

illustration of Perceval's assassination

Encyclopędia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopędia Britannica, Inc., 1957.

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This page was last updated on October 25, 2017.