Spencer Perceval, KC (1 November 1762 – 11 May 1812)
One thing we can say for certain about Spencer Perceval, without fear of contradiction, is that he was a man of rock-solid convictions and unbending principles. Unless, of course, there was some hard cash on offer, in which case he could shift faster than Usain Bolt’s carpet slippers. He was unwaveringly and steadfastly pro-Establishment (for fat land-owning toffs keeping their snouts firmly in the trough) and equally as unflinchingly anti-reform (against the peasantry, being more your let-them-eat-cake sort of a guy), plus he absolutely could not abide the French, not so much because they were a bunch of dangerous lower-class revolutionaries but simply because they were French. He didn’t much care for the Catholics either, or working people in general, though it was his loathing of all things French that would eventually land him on the Speaker’s table.
Back home in Britain, and still steaming mad about the whole affair, he decided to do something about getting himself some compensation out of the chronically useless government for their woeful dereliction of him in his time of utmost crisis, only to be told that, “Well now, you see how things stand, Mr Bellingham: this government severed its diplomatic relations with Russia in November 1808, so there’s really nothing to be done.” Not entirely unsurprisingly, this only raised his overheating dander another few notches towards boiling point, not least because they hadn’t done any actual severing (apart from their palpable responsibilities) until long after he’d finally got out of jail, no thanks to them. Which is when he took to hanging around the lobby in repeated but vain attempts to get his case heard and some justice done, even buttonholing the Prime Minister on a number of occasions, only to see a deaf ‘un cocked as the great man stalked away. What was a man to do under such circumstances? Other than to buy himself some hardware and have a large pocket sewn inside his coat?
Spencer Perceval was a small, slight, and very pale man, hugely unpopular and deeply despised. As a Prime Minister, he was as woefully incompetent as many another and far worse than most, a rabid bigot who hated the French, the Catholics and the lower orders, and a zealot who would stop at nothing for the sake of his country, no matter the cost inflicted upon the people. But there was another side to him also. He was a loving husband and a doting father, who clearly liked nothing better than staying in of an evening for an early night with Mrs P, whenever the opportunity arose. He is still the only Solicitor General or Attorney General to have clambered to the top of the greasy pole and, once there and thanks to his disastrous financial policies that had led to raging inflation, was the one to introduce banknotes as legal tender. Also on his cv, he can claim to be the last Prime Minister to have worn a powdered wig tied in a queue (pigtail) or to have sported knee-breeches (culottes), even though they were well out of fashion and he probably only did it simply to thumb his nose at those ghastly French Revolutionaries (the sans culottes), who had torn down the Bastille because of their preference for a full-length trouser. Sadly, Perceval died without recovering consciousness, so he left to posterity no memorable last words.
Unless, of course, they happened to be, “Oh yeah? And what are you going to do about it if I don’t listen to you, eh, Bellingham?”
[All views expressed herein are entirely personal]
Spenser Perceval: By George Francis Joseph [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Earl of Egmont: Thomas Hudson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Charlton House: By Bencherlite (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Spencer Perceval again: George Francis Joseph [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Warren Hastings: By Tilly Kettle (died 1786) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
William Pitt the Younger: John Hoppner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Suicide of Castlereagh: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
John Bellingham: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Assassination: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Florence Nightingale: Henrietta Rae [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A Hanging at Newgate: See page for author [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Henry Bellingham: By Foreign Office [OGL (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/)], via Wikimedia Commons