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Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die: The Assassination of a British Prime Minister Hardcover – 10 May 2012


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; 1st Edition edition (10 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408828405
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408828403
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.9 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 544,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Andro Linklater's Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die is a beautifully written portrait of an overlooked prime minister and a fascinating account of his assassination during the Napoleonic Wars (Antony Beevor)

Enjoyable if ultimately eccentric survey ... He is entertaining on the temper of the times (Andrew Holgate, The Sunday Times Ireland)

Written with novelistic pace and the literary devices of a potboiler, the book is really two in one. The first, an overview of Perceval's neglected career, is sure-footed and worthy. The second, a breathlessly conspiratorial account of his death, is compulsively readable and wildly implausible (The Wall Street Journal)

Deftly sniffing out political machinations and murderous conspiracies, Linklater has written a richly atmospheric, engrossing and authoritative account of an assassination that, Linklater notes, shook the world 200 years ago as forcefully as JFK's assassination did in our time (Publishers Weekly)

Andro Linklater makes good use of the excellent copy that this story affords (Literary Review)

Fascinating ... as a popular account of a unique event in British history ... it stands up well (London Review of Books)

Linklater skilfully unpeels the onion of this enigma to identify the forces that led to the assassination ... an entertaining and deftly structured piece of historical detective work (Times Literary Supplement)

The facts revealed by letters, diaries and court records are fascinating enough. Linklater's book has more value than a historical whodunit. It helps us to understand the turbulent times and series of events that the author believes, inevitably, led to Perceval's assassination. It gives us a genuine understanding of the two key figures: the prime minister and his murderer (Sunday Express)

Fascinating (Tribune)

Book Description

On the two hundredth anniversary of the assassination of Spencer Perceval - the only British Prime Minister ever to have suffered that fate - this is the riveting untold story of the murder, the murderer and the repercussions of his act

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By S Riaz HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 18 May 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
On Monday 11th May, 1812, John Bellingham headed to the House of Commons to assassinate the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval. He was late. As we later learn, John Bellingham was a man for whom things rarely went to plan. However, he did kill the PM as he headed into the entrance lobby and was immediately seized. I have to admit that I knew nothing about this crime, but the author recreates both the murder and the times with great detail in this fascinating account of the assassination of a British Prime Minister.

Spencer Perceval was Prime Minister during a turbulent time. After the French Revolution, Napoleon was waging war in Europe. A naval blockade had been imposed on France; the US and the French had their own embargos. Trade worldwide had slowed to a trickle and there was economic recession, unemployment, social distress and the threat of war. Perceval was a man of strong beliefs, who opposed the slave trade and believed in respectable public and private behaviour during the reign of a notoriously dissolute Prince Regent. Happily married with many children, Perceval was respected by his peers and loved by his family.

This book looks at the aftermath of the assassination, how it was perceived in the country, the trial of Bellingham and his reasons for wanting to kill the PM. We are taken from trading in Archangel, to slave traders in Liverpool, through the lives of both Bellingham and Perceval, examining who benefited from the removel of the Prime Minister, what motives there could be, looking at Luddites, radicals, Catholics and slave trade abolition along the way. This really is a very well written, informative and interesting read, which examines the consequences of Perceval's death and finishes by telling us what happened to all the people involved in the events surrounding the assassination. Lastly, I read the kindle edition of this book and the illustrations were included.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By History Geek on 11 Jun. 2013
Format: Hardcover
Spencer Perceval has been relegated to a pub quiz question - who is the only Prime Minister to have been assassinated? Many people are unaware of the fact. This book tries to right that and gives an impressive commentary of the events that occurred in the House of Commons in 1812. We hear about Perceval's autocratic Premiership and the travails of his assassin, John Bellingham - a tragically flawed character who blamed the government for his business failings and imprisonment in Russia. Linklater offers something new by digging into how Bellingham managed to fund his three-month stay in London prior to the assassination and suggests that he was funded by anti-Perceval interests who hoped to bring down the Prime Minister - although how far they were aware of Bellingham's ultimate intentions, rather than attacking the government in court, is unclear. Well-written, easy to follow, this is an excellent accessible history of a mostly forgotten subject.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Merryn Williams on 26 Jan. 2013
Format: Hardcover
Fascinating, the most interesting non-fictional work I have read in ages. Like most people, I knew very little about Spencer Percival or his assassin, but this author brings them to life brilliantly. I've never been able to finish any book about the assassination of JFK - but I loved this one.
Percival was a contradictory character. He was doing all he could to end the slave trade, and apparently, his murder meant that forty thousand extra slaves were transported across the ocean each year. That alone is enough reason for condemning it. Yet the common people loathed him, and he was also hated by some very rich and ruthless men. Bellingham insisted, no doubt truthfully, that he acted alone. Yet if he had been allowed to live longer he might, like Oswald, have parted with some interesting information.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By terracotta on 14 Jan. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The story is a good read but all relies on Elisha Peck and Anson Greene Phelps being the bad guys that funded the plan. However, they formed their partnership well after the assassination also Peck was born in 1789 and not 1781 [...]. So in 1801 when he "inscribed the name of Peck & Phelps in the minute book of the American Chamber of Commerce" (p.200) he would have been 12. Phelps was born in 1781 but even he would have only been 20 and was probably still making saddles in Hartford where he stayed until 1815. Reference to the Phelps Peck story can be found in Cleland, Robert Glass (1952). A History of Phelps Dodge. New York: Alfred A Knopf. ASIN B0007DMY86. Dodge, Phyllis B (June 1987). Tales of the Phelps Dodge Family. New York: New York Historical Society. ISBN 978-9998263864. Lowitt, Richard (1954). A Merchant Prince of the Nineteenth Century. Columbia University Press. ASIN B001DJ0E5S. and many on line references.

Still, there is much to enjoy in the book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By The Man From Utopia on 8 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback
Bellingham's assassination of him is probably about the only thing that people know about Spencer Perceval, so the sections of this book that investigate his Perceval's family life, political career and religious/moral convictions is welcome. It's not Linklater's aim to provide a full biography of Perceval (he admits that himself) so obviously this section's not as thorough as it could be, but it's interesting and well-researched. The parts on Bellingham's background are equally meticulous and I'd imagine had to be done from scratch, making them particularly impressive. I'm even prepared to overlook the rendering of John Gladstones as "John Gladstone" - his son, William, the Prime Minister, was the first to not use the "s" routinely.

Unfortunately the book's main argument - that Peck & Phelps organised the death of Perceval - is little more than conjecture. Linklater is able to produce a case, but not one that would very likely stand up in court. The main thrust of the argument seems to be that Peck & Phelps would benefit most from Perceval's death - or, more accurately, from the changes that would follow Perceval's death. This may be true, but there are two very important problems. Firstly, Peck and Phelps could not guarantee the changes that did follow the assassination. They benefitted, but to organise a high-profile murder on a hunch would be a very rash act.

Secondly, simply because someone benefits from a death it doesn't make them a suspect. Following the Ripper murders in London, a wide-sweeping series of social developments, such as gas lighting, slum clearances and better policing were pushed into the East End, years before they would have been otherwise and dramatically improving the lives of the residents.
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