Successful assassinations have not really established themselves as a regular feature of the political repertoire in England. For some, this may be a matter of regret. If, at the back of a politician’s mind, there was always the thought that he or she might suddenly be called away, political life might be a little more responsive to the public mood. But for the most part English history only provides examples of incompetent, would-be assassins and conspiracies that were always exposed by someone with a tender conscience. John Bellingham, however, brought it off. On 11 May 1812, he shot the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, in the lobby of the House of Commons.
Bellingham’s defence counsel insisted that his client was insane. The man himself repudiated the idea. For him it was ‘a necessary catastrophe’. Quite simply, it was the only way he could obtain redress for a great hurt. Eight years previously, Bellingham, a Liverpool merchant in the Russian trade, had, as