cover image Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die: The Assassination of a British Prime Minister

Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die: The Assassination of a British Prime Minister

Andro Linklater. Walker, $26 (400p) ISBN 978-0-8027-7998-4

The only British prime minister to be assassinated, Spencer Perceval was shot dead in the Houses of Parliament lobby on May 11, 1812. Widespread Luddite rioting and violence had led many to believe the country was on the verge of revolution. The Evangelical Perceval simultaneously served as both PM and chancellor of the exchequer with powers close to autocratic. He plunged Britain into war with France and significantly raised taxes to finance his army; quashed the slave trade; silenced Irish Catholic dissidents, rioting factory workers, and political reformers; and caused a worldwide economic recession. As mobs rejoiced at Perceval’s murder, his assassin, John Bellingham—a Liverpool merchant who irrationally blamed Perceval for his imprisonment in Russia and loss of timber and iron ore he was trying to ship to England—became a celebrity. Linklater finds that Bellingham, hung days after his crime, may have acted with the support of American metal merchant Elisha Peck and the fanatically proslavery MP Isaac Gascoyne. Deftly sniffing out political machinations and murderous conspiracies, Linklater (Measuring America) has written a richly atmospheric, engrossing, and authoritative account of an assassination that, Linklater notes, shook the world 200 years ago as forcefully as JFK’s assassination did in our time. Agent: Peter Robinson, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (May)