May 11, 1812: P.M. Spencer Perceval Assassinated
On this day in 1812, British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was assassinated as he stepped into the House of Commons lobby. He remains the only prime minister to have been assassinated.
The assassin was John Bellingham, an export trader with a long-held grudge against the British ministry. Bellingham had suffered a six-year imprisonment in a Russian jail and believed it to have been unjust. As a result, Bellingham believed himself to be entitled to compensation from the British government. By the date of the assassination, he’d filed several petitions for compensation, all of which were rejected. Bellingham had become obsessed with being heard.
It is thought that prior to the evening of May 11, 1812, Bellingham had approached the prime minister, hoping that the “first among equals” would hear his grievance. Apparently, Perceval had also turned a deaf ear to the businessman, because at 5:15 that evening, Bellingham lay in wait in the House of Commons lobby. He held two pistols within a secret compartment of his coat.
Spencer Perceval entered the lobby, bound for an Orders of Council inquiry, likely lost in thought. No sooner had he entered than Bellingham stepped forward, gun drawn. A single shot to the chest felled the prime minister. He is believed to have uttered “I am murdered, I am murdered” as he collapsed. Those would be his final words.
In a move that casts his sanity in a questionable light, Bellingham simply sat down after pulling the trigger. He was arrested and brought to trial for the assassination. Boldly, he pled not guilty to the charge and simply told the jury that his actions were a lesson to future prime ministers. Unfortunately for him, the jury felt that future prime ministers needed no lessons. As the nation mourned the death of the generally well-liked Perceval, Bellingham was hung outside Newgate Prison.