May 13, 2012

WHO?:

Target man: Spencer Perceval, the only British prime minister to be assassinated, had made an army of enemies (ANDRO LINKLATER, 5 MAY 2012, Spectator)


John Bellingham dressed fastidiously. On the day that he committed murder, he wore exactly what the fashion magazine Le Beau Monde advised for a gentleman's morning wear in 1812 -- a chocolate broadcloth coat, clay-coloured denim breeches and calf-length boots, the whole set off by a waspish black-and-yellow waistcoat. By contrast, his victim, clad in the equivalent of a business suit -- blue coat and dark twill trousers -- was almost ­anonymous.

But Spencer Perceval had no need for display. Not only was he prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer, but, thanks to the insanity of George III and the loyal support of a majority of MPs, he had achieved a unique degree of political power. And when Bellingham confronted him in the lobby of the House of Commons on Monday 11 May, and fired a bullet into his chest from close range, Perceval also experienced the unique distinction of becoming the only British prime minister in history to be assassinated.

Other than an occasional reference in footnotes and pub quizzes, this startling crime has passed into oblivion, dismissed as the act of a lone gunman who, although generally thought to be 'deranged', was quickly tried, found guilty and hanged on the ­Monday following the murder. More surprisingly, Perceval also disappeared from view, remembered only by specialist historians for his ferocious oppression of the Luddites -- he made it a capital offence to break a machine -- Catholics, and political reformers. Yet for a democracy that since 2001 has cocooned its political leaders in security for fear of assassination, the circumstances of a prime minister's murder should be of consuming interest.

Posted by at May 13, 2012 8:52 AM
  

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