See biography by D. Gray (1963).
(born Nov. 1, 1762, London, Eng.—died May 11, 1812, London) British prime minister (1809–12). He entered Parliament in 1796 and supported William Pitt's policy of war with France. He served as attorney general (1802–06) and as chancellor of the Exchequer (1807–09). As premier from 1809, he was noted as an efficient administrator but also for his opposition to religious tolerance. He was assassinated by a deranged man who had applied to him for redress of a complaint against the government.
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He attended Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was impressed by the evangelical Anglican movement. In later life Perceval became an expert on Biblical prophecy and wrote pamphlets relating prophecies which he had discovered. Perceval became a barrister on the Midland circuit, where he found it difficult to obtain sufficient work until aided by family connections. Through his mother's family he was appointed as a Deputy Recorder of Northampton, and he was later made a Commissioner of Bankrupts and given a legal sinecure worth £119 annually. Perceval acted for the Crown in the prosecutions of Thomas Paine (1792) and John Horne Tooke (1794), and wrote pamphlets supporting the impeachment of Warren Hastings.
Perceval's brother Lord Arden served in William Pitt the Younger's government, which led to his being noticed. He was considered in 1795 as a possible Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant for Ireland but rejected the idea of a political career. However he accepted nomination as MP for Northampton in 1796, when the proprietor's heir was ineligible, as a family trust. He made several speeches fiercely attacking Charles James Fox and revolutionary politics, which impressed Pitt, who apparently considered him as a possible successor. He was appointed Solicitor of the Ordnance in 1798.
Perceval had no sympathy for Pitt's resignation over Catholic relief after the Act of Union with Ireland. He was therefore promoted in Addington's government to be Solicitor General from 1801, and then to Attorney General from 1802. However, Perceval did not agree with Addington's general policies (especially on foreign policy), and confined himself to speeches on legal issues. When he did defend the government, he was vituperative. He retained office when Pitt returned in 1804. While Perceval instigated prosecutions of radicals, he also reformed the laws on transportation to Australia.
At Pitt's funeral in January 1806, Perceval was one of the emblem bearers. He went into opposition when the new government included Fox, and made many effective speeches against the 'Ministry of All the Talents'. He was especially vehement in his opposition to Catholic emancipation. When the Ministry fell, the Duke of Portland put together a shaky coalition of senior Tories with Perceval as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. With Portland aged, unwell and a figurehead, Perceval was effectively Prime Minister. He even lived at 10 Downing Street for most of the time, despite buying Elm Grove -- a large comfortable house in Ealing to the west of London, and former home of the Bishop of Durham -- in 1808 .
It was under Perceval that William Wilberforce passed his Bill abolishing the slave trade. When Napoleon Bonaparte embargoed British trade under the Continental System, Perceval drafted Orders in Council to retaliate against foreign trade. He opposed the government grant to Maynooth College. The government was continuously riven with splits and when the Duke of Portland suffered a stroke in August 1809 there was intense manoeuvring between Perceval and George Canning over who should take over. Perceval won out with the support of Viscount Castlereagh.
Unable to include Canning and his allies, Perceval's administration was notable mostly for its lack of most of the more important statesmen of the period. He had to serve as his own Chancellor after obtaining six refusals of office. The government sometimes struggled in the House of Commons, being defeated in motions critical of both foreign and economic policy. He remained adamantly opposed to reform of the electoral system.
Perceval found himself having to cope with the final descent of King George III into madness. Though Perceval feared that the Prince Regent would dismiss his government, the Prince abandoned the Whigs and confirmed Perceval in office. Later attempts by the Prince to entice others to join the Ministry were unsuccessful. Perceval pursued the Peninsular War doggedly and always defended it against those who prophesied defeat.
The Orders in Council against trade which Perceval had instituted in 1807 became unpopular in the winter of 1811 with Luddite riots breaking out. Perceval was forced to concede an inquiry by the House of Commons.
On 11 May 1812, Perceval was on his way to attend the inquiry when he was shot through the heart in the lobby of the House of Commons by a mentally unsound man named John Bellingham, who blamed his financial instability on a casual suggestion of Perceval. He died almost instantly, uttering the words "I am murdered," and Bellingham gave himself up to officers. He was found guilty and hanged a week later. It is often thought to be illegal to die in the Palace of Westminster, but is in fact only illegal to die in the House of Lords, as was established in this case.
The fifth of Perceval's eleven children, John Thomas Perceval, was a pioneer whose work for the mental health advocacy movement led to lasting improvements in mental health care.
Did Liverpool Killer Act Alone in Murder of the PM? A New Book by Author Andro Linklater Looks at the Case of Liverpool-Based Merchant John Bellingham, Who Murdered British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in 1812. Paddy Shennan Investigates Death of PM: Riddle of Cash for Killer
May 05, 2012; Byline: Paddy Shennan IT HAS seemed, for so long, like an open and shut case - but a new book suggests there may have been more...
The Assassination of the Prime Minister: John Bellingham and the Murder of Spencer Perceval.(Brief article)(Book review)
Dec 22, 2008; The Assassination of the Prime Minister: John Bellingham and the Murder of Spencer Perceval. David C. Hanrahan. Sutton...
'Little P': The Life and Times of Spencer Perceval: R.E. Foster Shows That We Should Know More of Perceval Than the Manner of His Untimely Death
Dec 01, 2005; Roughly midway through The Pickwick Papers, the eponymous hero finds himself in court before the magistrate Mr Nupkins. Mr...