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Spencer Perceval

04/10/180911/05/1812

Spencer Perceval

Spencer Perceval (1 November 1762 – 11 May 1812) was a British Tory statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from October 1809 until his assassination in May 1812. Perceval is the only British prime minister to have been murdered. He was also the only Solicitor General or Attorney General to become Prime Minister.

The younger son of an Anglo-Irish earl, Perceval was educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. He studied Law at Lincoln's Inn, practised as a barrister on the Midland circuit, and in 1796 became a King's Counsel. He entered politics at age 33 as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Northampton. A follower of William Pitt the Younger, Perceval always described himself as a "friend of Mr. Pitt", rather than a Tory. Perceval was opposed to Catholic emancipation and reform of Parliament; he supported the war against Napoleon and the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. He was opposed to hunting, gambling and adultery; did not drink as much as most MPs at the time, gave generously to charity, and enjoyed spending time with his thirteen children.

After a late entry into politics, his rise to power was rapid; he was appointed as Solicitor General and Attorney General, respectively, in the Addington ministry; Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons in the Portland ministry; and became Prime Minister in 1809. At the head of a weak ministry, Perceval faced a number of crises during his term in office, including an inquiry into the Walcheren expedition, the madness of King George III, economic depression, and Luddite riots. He overcame these crises, successfully pursued the Peninsular War in the face of opposition defeatism, and won the support of the Prince Regent. His position was looking stronger by early 1812, when, in the lobby of the House of Commons, he was assassinated by a merchant with a grievance against his government.

Perceval had four older brothers who survived to adulthood. Through expiry of their male-line, male heirs the Earldom of Egmont passed to one of his great-grandsons in the early twentieth century and became extinct in 2011.


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Published in 10/09/2020

Updated in 19/02/2021

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