Spencer Percival, First Lord of the Treasury


Spencer Percival as the only prime minister, to be assassinated, has a remarkably simple memorial in the parish church of St Luke, Charlton. Percival was the seventh son of the Ear of Egmont, as such he had to earn a living. Following time at Cambridge he was called to the bar and worked as a barrister, and was elected to parliament in 1796 as the MP of Northampton following the elevation of his cousin to the House of Lords. Percival continued working as a barrister as MPs did not receive a salary for their time in parliament.

Princess Caroline, the wife of the Prince of Wales, had been accused of adultery following her adoption of William Austin, a three-month old boy in 1802. During the subsequent ‘delicate inquiry’ Caroline was viciously supported by Percival. Caroline was found innocent of the main accusation of adultery, but testimony identified a number of unwise social contacts.

Percival became First Lord of the Treasury in 1809 and, during his short time as prime minister, must have been subject to a number of awkward negotiations with the Prince of Wales following his support for Princess Caroline.

Percival was shot in the lobby of the House of Commons on 11 May 1812. His assassin, John Bellingham, was hanged on 18 May.

Bellingham justification for the assassination followed his imprisonment in Russia. In 1803 the Russian ship Soleure was lost whilst in the White Sea. The ship was insured by Lloyds of London, and an insurance claim was submitted by the owner. An anonymous letter stated that the ship had been sabotaged. Bellingham was accused of writing the letter, accused of a substantial debt and was prevented from leaving Russia. He was jailed for one year until 1804.  He then tried to impeach the Governor General of St Petersburg, and was imprisoned again until 1808, when he was released onto the streets of Russia, with no permission to leave. A petition to the Tsar resulted in his return to Britain in 1809.

On his return to Britain, Bellingham petitioned for compensation for his imprisonment. As diplomatic relations had been broken between Britain and Russia this was refused. On 18 April 1812 Bellingham returned to the Foreign Office to press his case.  He was told, by a civil servant to take whatever action necessary. On 20 April he purchased two pistols.

The criminal case for assignation can be found at Old Bailey Online.