Monday, 5 November 2012

British Prime Minister Shot

Why Spencer Perceval had to die  - Andro Linklater  ,  Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

I have to concede that although I knew that an early nineteenth century British Prime Minister had been assassinated I was unaware of his name. That man was Spencer Perceval. On Monday 11th May 1812 he was fatally shot in the House of Commons by John Bellingham. Within a week Bellingham had been charged, convicted and executed. Nineteenth century justice was quick, albeit rather rough and ready.

Perceval comes across as being a devoted family man, never happier than when spending time with his wife and large brood of children. However Linklater also shows him to be someone who is despised and even hated by strong economic groupings due to the naval blockade of France and his actions against the slave trade. It is against this background that Linklater searches for the reasons and the persons who may have assisted Bellingham in his felonious mission. The Establishment of the day were anxious to be reassured that Bellingham's actions were those of an individual acting by himself  and Bellingham gave them the sought for reassurance right up until his death, even as he prepared to walk out onto the scaffold.

That some person or persons prodded Bellingham into shooting Perceval is I think an inevitable conclusion from the evidence presented by Linklater. Someone provided the funds for his long sojourn in London, someone provided the money for his trial and someone gave him the promissory note found at his lodgings. Linklater's investigations do not reveal with certainty who the agitators and benefactors were but his chief suspicions fall on a banker by the name of Thomas Wilson and a Liverpool merchant called Elisha Peck.

This is not a particularly academic book, but it does give an insight into the socioeconomic back drape  to the events of 11th May  1812.

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