At approximately 5:15 P.M. on the afternoon of May 11, 1812, Spencer Perceval, the all powerful prime minister of Great Britain, was fatally shot at short range in the lobby of Parliament by John Bellingham, a Liverpool businessman. Perceval polarized public opinion: Revered by some and hated by others for his fight against the lucrative slave trade, he domineeringly kept Britain at war against Napoléon and was driving her into war with the United States despite the huge economic drain of each, raising taxes to new heights to finance his decisions. Bellingham was not alone in blaming Perceval and his government for their ruinous policies; indeed, he claimed to have killed Perceval “as a matter of justice,” and believed he would not only be exonerated, but also applauded for his action. But he was not to enjoy relief; within a week, granted the briefest of trials that trampled his right to due process, he was hanged.
In Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die, Andro Linklater examines the assassination against the dramatic events of the time with the eye and insight of the finest detective. Combing through Bellingham’s personal records, including hitherto undiscovered correspondence; piecing together his strange movements through the reports of London’s first detective agency; and using the letters and testimony of Bellingham’s wife, Linklater convincingly reveals, as nobody has before, the outlines of a conspiracy. While he fired the shot and was solely charged with the crime, John Bellingham clearly did not, as history has stated, act alone.
About Andro Linklater
Andro Linklater is the author of Measuring America: How An Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy, The Fabric of America: How Our Borders and Boundaries Shaped the Country and Forged Our National Identity, and An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Double Life of General James Wilkinson. He lives in England.
In this account of Spencer Perceval’s murder in the House of Commons on May 11, 1812, by the seemingly lone gunman John Bellingham, Linklater (An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Double Life of General James Wilkinson, 2009, etc.) bides his time adding key details that amplify the story from one man’s private injury to a nation’s sense of economic outrage. Bellingham started out as a Liverpool trader whose work lured him to Russia in 1804 to import a cargo of timber and iron; however, a snafu resulted in his arrest on debt charges, the result of commercial blackmail by a former partner. Repeated demands to British officials for justice came to naught, and over the next seven years the injury rankled at Bellingham, overtaking all aspects of his life. As the tale widens, Perceval is portrayed as an ambitious Evangelical, nobly born but penniless until marrying well and becoming a driven barrister. Embracing William Wilberforce’s attempts to ban the slave trade, Perceval became prime minister in 1809. His determination to choke the illegal slave trade was essentially destroying international commerce, especially for Liverpool merchants and those who traded with them—namely, the American slavers. The plot thickens as Linklater follows the money: Who was financing the bankrupt Bellingham while he left his wife back in Liverpool supporting the family at her dressmaking business and went to London to plot and carry out the shooting of Perceval? The author creates a challenging mystery requiring some acquaintance with the historical period. – Kirkus Reviews
“Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die: The Assassination of a British Prime Minister,” by Andro Linklater
The Washington Post Book Review – July 7, 2012 (Excerpt)
We Americans tend to think of Britons as more peaceable than ourselves. Buthalf a century before an assassin’s bullet killed Abraham Lincoln — the first of four U.S. presidents to die that way — a British prime minister met the same fate. The year was 1812, and the story has now been retold by Andro Linklater.
Spencer Perceval “had to die” only because the twisted mind of his killer thought so. He was John Bellingham, a Liverpool businessman who blamed the prime minister for the failure of a Russian venture. The merchant’s complaint was complex (unjust imprisonment in Russia, financial losses suffered in consequence), but the basic idea was that the British government had failed in its duty to protect a British citizen from devastating harm and that the prime minister must pay. Lunacy ran in Bellingham’s family, and after examining his case, a lawyer concluded that the suspect “possessed an almost infantile refusal to accept the reality of events outside his control.” A week after changing the course of history, he had been tried (without an insanity defense), convicted and hanged. [Read the full article...]
THE LONDONDERRY AIR
Testament of an Ulster Gunman A Novel by Garrad Gawler
It all changed for Charles Cunningham, a Physics teacher at the local College of Technology in the County Derry town of Maddenstown, on a June afternoon in 1973 when a bomb exploded in his neighborhood. He answers an advertisement by the UDR, the Ulster Defence Regiment, but, in the time to come, he will experience the consequences of his decisions, and how his involvement complicates matters with family and friends, Protestants and Catholics alike, to an unexpected degree.
With “The Londonderry Air – Testament of an Ulster Gunman” Garrad Gawler describes in minute detail and with an astonishing level of authenticity not only the inner workings of the Ulster Defence Regiment, but also the activities of underground paramilitary groups of regular citizens who planned and carried out the assassination of suspected Republican terrorists in their neighborhood.
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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