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Useful Notes / Spencer Perceval

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The UK's least popular PM.

Spencer Perceval (1762-1812) was a Tory prime minister of less than stellar quality. Almost everything he tried to do led to unpopular consequences. His response to Napoleon's embargo on British trade led to the first of many splits in his cabinet. His legislation to improve British industry led to the Luddite movement. Even Perceval's assuming the leadership of the Tory party had downsides: All the major political figures of the age had supported his main rival and refused to join his cabinet. Toward the end of his three years as prime minister, he had to be his own chancellor, as six people had turned him down.

And then on the way to an inquiry he had been forced to have into the legislation that had led to the Luddites, he got shot by John Bellingham, a man of questionable sanity who either blamed Perceval's economic policies for the collapse of his business or for the dismissal of a lawsuit he was part of. This made Spencer Perceval the only British prime minister ever to be assassinated (although others, like Margaret Thatcher, have had attempts on their lives).


His final words were, "I am murdered." There is a possibly apocryphal story that when news of his assassination broke, crowds of people marched through the streets of several British cities crying, "Perceval is dead. Perceval is dead. Hurrah hurrah hurrah!" They changed their tune when he was succeeded by Lord Liverpool.

His eldest son (also called Spencer) also entered politics but never got much higher than an MP, although he was one of the last Tellers of the Receipt of the Exchequer.


Spencer Perceval in fiction:

  • British band iLiKETRAiNS wrote a pair of songs about the assassination in 2007, Spencer Perceval, written from the point of view of John Bellingham and I Am Murdered, written from Perceval's viewpoint.
  • One of the novels in the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series of Perspective Flips on Pride and Prejudice features the assassination of Spencer Perceval as a plot-point.
  • According to Horrible Histories, who gave him a short and sarcastic nod in the The Gorgeous Georgians, his last words were "Ouch."


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