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History and Tour

Spencer Perceval

Spencer Perceval Born: 1 November 1762 in Audley Square, London

First entered Parliament: 9 May 1796

Age he became PM: 46 years, 338 days

Maiden speech: 20 May 1797 on mutinies in sea and land forces

Total time as PM: Two years, 221 days

Died: 11 May 1812 at Lobby of the House of Commons

Facts and figures

Nickname: “Little P”

Education: Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge

Family: Perceval was the second son and fifth of nine children. He had several half brothers and sisters. He was married to Jane Spencer-Wilson, and had six sons and six daughters

Interests: Playing games with his children, the study of Biblical prophecy

Biography

Dark memorial

Spencer Perceval is best remembered as the only British prime minister to be assassinated.

A professional lawyer, he made his mark as by holding down the senior posts of Solicitor-General and Attorney-General. An admirer of William Pitt the Younger, he was politically conservative and an active Anglican, opposing Catholic emancipation.

In later life he became an expert on Biblical prophecy and wrote pamphlets relating prophecies that he had discovered.

When the Duke of Portland put together a coalition of Tories in 1807, Perceval served as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons.

With Portland old and unwell, Perceval was effectively the chief minister, and even lived at 10 Downing Street.

In 1809, Perceval formally succeeded the Duke of Portland as prime minister.

It was a difficult time due to the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, and the final descent of George III into madness. His government also suffered from the absence of most of the senior statesmen of the period. He had to serve as his own Chancellor after obtaining six refusals of office.

Economic depression

After two years his government had survived much longer than predicted amidst a severe economic depression. Indeed, it began to seem that the situation of his government looked as if it was set to improve.

But Perceval’s administration ended dramatically on 11 May 1812, when he was shot dead in the lobby of the House of Commons on his way to attend an inquiry into the recent Luddite riots.

Houses of Parliament. Picture: Britain on View The assassin was John Bellingham, a merchant who had incurred business debts in Russia.

He had tried to recover compensation from the government for his losses, but was refused. He therefore sought revenge on a representative of that government and carried out his dark wish.

Perceval’s body rested in 10 Downing Street for five days, mourned by his wife and twelve children. Bellingham was later tried and hung for Perceval’s murder. His last words were, appropriately, ‘Oh, I have been murdered’.

Quote unquote

During a debate on corrupt electoral practices: “I have nothing to say to the nothing that has been said.”

Did you know?

Perceval is buried at St Luke’s Church in Charlton, south-east London.

Wife

Jane Spencer-Wilson was the daughter of a Sussex landowner who objected to her marriage to Perceval. But she got around the problems by marrying him while on a family visit to East Grinstead. She raised 12 children and outlived her murdered husband by more than 30 years.

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History and Tour