Spencer Perceval

The Rt Hon. Spencer Perceval</font></caption>
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Period in Office: October, 1809 - May, 1812
PM Predecessor: The Duke of Portland
PM Successor: The Earl of Liverpool
Date of Birth: 1 November 1762
Place of Birth: London
Date of Death: 11 May 1812
Place of Death: Lobby of the House of Commons
Political Party: Tory

The Right Honourable Spencer Perceval (November 1, 1762May 11, 1812) was a British statesman and Prime Minister. He is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated.


Perceval was the seventh son of John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont by his second wife. His father, a close advisor of Frederick, Prince of Wales and King George III, had served briefly in the Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty, but died when Perceval was ten.

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 the chief Minister. He even lived at 10 Downing Street for most of the time.

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. However his anti-Catholic bigotry showed with his opposition to 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 maneuvring 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 May 11, 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 John Bellingham. His assassin was demanding compensation for his imprisonment in Russia.

Perceval is buried at St Luke's Church in Charlton, south-east London.

Spencer Perceval's Administration, October 1809 - May 1812

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Arms of Spencer Perceval


Preceded by:
Sir William Grant
Succeeded by:
Sir Thomas Manners Sutton
Preceded by:
Sir Edward Law
Succeeded by:
Sir Arthur Pigott
Preceded by:
The Earl of Derby
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Buckinghamshire
Preceded by:
The Lord Henry Petty
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by:
Nicholas Vansittart
Preceded by:
Viscount Howick
Leader of the House of Commons
Succeeded by:
Viscount Castlereagh
Preceded by:
The Duke of Portland
Prime Minister
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Liverpool

Template:End boxcy:Spencer Perceval he:ספנסר פרסיבל


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