On the afternoon of May 11, 1812, Spencer Perceval, the all-powerful prime minister of Great Britain, was fatally shot at short range in the lobby of Parliament by John Bellingham, a Liverpool businessman. Perceval polarized public opinion: Revered by some and hated by others for his fight against the lucrative slave trade, he domineeringly kept Britain at war against Napoléon and was driving her into war with the United States despite the huge economic drain of each, raising taxes to new heights to finance his decisions. Bellingham was not alone in blaming Perceval and his government for their ruinous policies; indeed, he claimed to have killed Perceval "as a matter of justice," and believed he would not only be exonerated, but also applauded for his action. But he was not to enjoy relief; within a week, granted the briefest of trials that trampled his right to due process, he was hanged.
In Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die, Andro Linklater examines the assassination against the dramatic events of the time with the eye and insight of the finest detective.
This book gives an insight to the history of the early 1800s and shows why the 1812 war between UK, Canada, the Indian Confederacy and the USA occurred. It is also a story of political greed, obstinacy and lust for power which led to the assassination of a British prime minister.
A most enjoyable read.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
This book filled a knowledge gap for me I knew nothing of British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval. How his intransigent evangelism (which I was surprised to learn was not an exclusively American phenomenon) was key to the abolition to the slave trade by the British -- certainly a positive step for mankind-- , but also to the persecution of the Irish as Catholics, the continued presence of Wellington in Spain (I am a Francophile) and to the war of 1812.
The core of the story revolves around the assassin, but I shan't spoil that here. A most interesting part for me was the author's exploration of the "cui Bono" (Who profited). Sticking to the documented plausible and avoiding going full mad cap conspirationist.
I knew this bit of history as a 'factoid'.
After this I think I have an understanding of the way things happened and some theories as to why and all of this delivered in a compelling 'page turner' style.
Awesome history writing.
This book is of importance to our understanding of the modern world, and sets the early 19th Century in the context of the birth of both a developing Europe, and the new United States of America. Since we only had the one Prime Minister assassinated, it is perhaps interesting that he is so seldom mentioned. I was drawn to this book by the chapter on John Bellingham, in Kelly Grovier's The Gaol, and cannot say that I am disappointed. Stephen Rashbrook reads very effectively and engagingly, and the mystery of how Bellingham, penniless by the end of February 1812, had the cash to pay for lodgings, good clothing, and the weapon he used to shoot Spencer Perceval, well told. Perhaps the real takeaway message of this book is the is the force of Anglican Evangelicalism, and the meaning of Providence in 1812, and how followers of this branch of Christianity tried to comprehend the loss of a Prime Minister they valued highly.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
I chose this book as there was a story in my family that one of my ancestors was standing beside Spencer Perceval when he was assassinated. And he was as is documented in this pacey and interesting account of the event. It is a fascinating investigation into the perpetrator's possible motives and they emerge as a much more complex than was supposed at the time. It was a turbulent period in British history both economically and politically with war with America looming and pressure to outlaw the transportation of slaves: a move vigorously opposed by a powerful lobby of merchants.
I had earlier listened to William's Hague's masterly biography of William Willberforce, and was pleased to find that the present book complements the former in giving a different slant to the struggle.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
A must for anyone who likes history. The story of of the man who killed the prime minister is extremely interesting and in telling it, Linklater touches on many subjects which include the abolition of slavery, the legal system for a criminal trial, and many other such themes.
And Stephen Rashbrook is an excellent reader.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
I regret to say, I had never heard of this politician before listening to this book, so I am grateful to the author for filling the gap. A puzzling and almost bizarre story of one man's perceived injustice, and the long shadow it cast over the history of this island.
I was originally a bit put off this book by the title but it was absolutely gripping. The story of the assassination of a British prime minister itself was really interesting but what I loved about this book was the interweaving of this story into the historical context. I had no idea of the relationship between the fight against the slave trade and religion or about the economic effect of the banning of the slave trade and the behaviour of the Americans, which nearly led to a war with Britain. All of this was in there but not in too much detail - it progressed at quite a good pace, which I liked.
I very rarely listen to books twice but this was so rich and full of detail, I will probably do so this time.
It was hard to believe at first the author's assertion that the murder of Spencer Perceval was, in its day, as momentous as that of JFK - but this is a rivetting , if highly speculative account of who may have been behind the man who fired the gun and the clash of political principles ( if that's not a contradiction in terms) and mercantile pragmatism
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as I am ashamed to say it is a historical event I knew nothing about. The book puts you very firmly in the period explaining all the background and events that led up to the assasination in detail. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in British history.
Impossible to fault Andro Linklater's excellent book. I re-enact this period, and this gave us so much valuable background to the era. (We listened to it as we were hand-sewing our 1800 period costume!) So many people probably don't even know a British Prime Minister was assassinated - although we all know about the assassinations of US Presidents, which is a shame. 1811 has to be one of the most pivotal and fascinating points in European history. Hope I am not making this sound like a dry history tome - it is far from that. A compelling story, well told. My teenage son, who has never read or been interested in an history book in his life, loved this so much he downloaded it and listened to it himself, after overhearing a bit of it.
Sorry to say I found this rather dull and is one of the few books I have been unable to finish. One day I will try again - very thorough and detailed but not an easy listen.