Lesson Learned: Just Let it Go!

Spencer Perceval is not one of Britain’s better known prime ministers. In fact, he’s really only notable for one reason: the poor man holds the dubious distinction of being the only British prime minister to have been assassinated. He was shot by John Belingham, a failed businessman who was found guilty of the crime and hanged on May 18, 1812.

Bellingham, as you might imagine, was a sketchy figure at best. He tried a few professions, including the navy and factory ownership, and seems to have failed at all of them. In 1803 he was accused of insurance fraud and imprisoned in Russia (which, if you have a choice, is definitely not a country you want to be imprisoned in). He was released at some point, and promptly managed to piss off the wrong person and was thrown in prison again, where he remained until 1808. He was finally able to get back to England in 1809.

Once he was home, Bellingham petitioned the UK government for compensation for his imprisonment. The government ignored him, and although his wife warned him to drop the matter, he ignored her and kept pressing. Failing to get any satisfaction, he decided the best course of action would be to shoot the prime minister. He purchased a couple of guns and had his tailors sew some nifty gun-toting pockets into his coat.

On 11 May, Bellingham went with some family friends to a watercolor exhibition, then excused himself and headed to Parliament. He hung around the lobby until Perceval appeared, then shot the PM and sat down and calmly waited for capture.

Since he was clearly crazy, they wasted no time getting him to trial. The trial began on 15 May, with Bellingham arguing that he was entitled, as a wronged man, to kill the representative of his oppressors. He did add, though, that he would have preferred to kill the Russian Ambassador, as if that would somehow make things better.

A number of people came forward to claim that Bellingham was insane (as if that wasn’t already clear), but the trial judge discounted this evidence and quickly handed down his sentence. Bellingham was duly hanged; his widow swiftly remarried, probably happy to put that particular name behind her forever.

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