The seven Prime Ministers who died in office
|Name||Year||Country||Title||Cause of death|
|Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington||1743||Great Britain||Prime Minister|
|Henry Pelham||1754||Great Britain||Prime Minister|
|Charles Watson-Wentworth, Marquess of Rockingham||1782||Great Britain||Prime Minister||Illness – influenza|
|William Pitt the Younger||1806||United Kingdom||Prime Minister||Illness|
|Spencer Perceval||1812||United Kingdom||Prime Minister||Assassination – shooting|
|George Canning||1827||United Kingdom||Prime Minister||Illness|
At 5:15 pm, on the evening of 11 May 1812, Perceval was on his way to attend the inquiry into the Orders in Council. As he entered the lobby of the House of Commons, a man stepped forward, drew a pistol and shot him in the chest. Perceval fell to the floor, after uttering something that was variously heard as "murder" and "oh my God". They were his last words. By the time he had been carried into an adjoining room and propped up on a table with his feet on two chairs, he was senseless, although there was still a faint pulse. When a surgeon arrived a few minutes later, the pulse had stopped, and Perceval was declared dead.
At first it was feared that the shot might signal the start of an uprising, but it soon became apparent that the assassin – who had made no attempt to escape – was a man with an obsessive grievance against the Government and had acted alone. The assassin, John Bellingham, was a merchant who believed he had been unjustly imprisoned in Russia and was entitled to compensation from the government, but all his petitions had been rejected. Perceval's body was laid on a sofa in the speaker's drawing room and removed to Number 10 in the early hours of 12 May. That same morning an inquest was held at the Cat and Bagpipes public house on the corner of Downing Street and a verdict of wilful murder was returned.
One of Perceval's most noted critics, especially on the question of Catholic emancipation, was the cleric Sydney Smith. In Peter Plymley's Letters Smith writes:
John Bellingham was tried on Friday 15 May 1812 at the Old Bailey, where he argued that he would have preferred to shoot the British Ambassador to Russia, but insisted as a wronged man he was justified in killing the representative of his oppressors.
He made a formal statement to the court, saying:
Evidence was presented that Bellingham was insane, but it was discounted by the trial judge, Sir James Mansfield. Bellingham was found guilty, and was sentenced to death.
Bellingham was hanged in public three days later. René Martin Pillet, a Frenchman who wrote an account of his ten years in England, described the sentiment of the crowd at the execution:
A subscription was raised for the widow and children of Bellingham, and "their fortune was ten times greater than they could ever have expected in any other circumstances". His widow remarried the following year.