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At the time of his assassination, the Prime Minister was aged 50. He left a wife and 12 children.

When executed, John Bellingham was 35, and left a wife and three children.

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On Thursday 14th May a Bill of Indictment charging Bellingham with the wilful murder of the Rt Hon Spencer Perceval was laid before a grand jury and a trial date was set for the Old Bailey.

John Bellingham
John Bellingham

At 10.00am on Friday 15th May 1812, Bellingham appeared before the Duke of Clarence and the Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas.

Bellingham was asked how he pleaded. A Mr Alley, who had been apointed counsel for the defendant, put forward that his client was unfit to plead through insanity. This motion was refused, and a plea of 'not guilty' was entered.

"A warning to all future ministers"

Evidence was heard from those who had witnessed the event. There was little dispute over what had occurred. Bellingham decided to address the court personally in his defence:

"Recollect, Gentlemen, what was my situation.

Recollect that my family was ruined and myself destroyed, merely because it was Mr Perceval's pleasure that justice should not be granted; sheltering himself behind the imagined security of his station, and trampling upon law and right in the belief that no retribution could reach him.

I demand only my right, and not a favour; I demand what is the birthright and privilege of every Englishman.

Gentlemen, when a minister sets himself above the laws, as Mr Perceval did, he does it as his own personal risk. If this were not so, the mere will of the minister would become the law, and what would then become of your liberties?

I trust that this serious lesson will operate as a warning to all future ministers, and that they will henceforth do the thing that is right, for if the upper ranks of society are permitted to act wrong with impunity, the inferior ramifications will soon become wholly corrupted.

Gentlemen, my life is in yur hands, I rely confidently in your justice."

The judge then summoned up the evidence. As he was doing so, Belluingham turned to his solicitor and, clearly thinking he was about to be acquitted, requested that his wife be informed accordingly.

A guilty verdict

The jury withdrew for about ten minutes before returning with a verdict of 'guilty.' The Judge then addressed the prisoner:

"John Bellingham, you have been convicted, by a most attentive and merciful jury, of one of the most malicious crimes that human nature can perpitrate.

It now only remains to pass the sentence of the law, which is, that you be taken on Monday next to a place of execution, there to be hung by the neck till you are dead; and your body delivered over to be anatomised; and may God have mercy on your soul."

Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas at Bellingham's trial.

Bellingham stared at the judge, a look of total confusion on his face.

He was immediately taken to the condemned cell at Newgate. When he entered the room he 'looked around him with composure, and requested the turnkey to furnish him with tea.' But Bellingham was informed he would be allowed nothing but bread and water.

At 5am on Monday 18th May1812, a hazy and wet day, Bellingham awoke, rose and washed and dressed himself.

In the streets outside crowds were already gathering. Strong barriers had been placed at the end of every street leading to the prison, and Bow Street runners were stopping and turning back all carriages.

A condemned man

At 7.00am the door to the condemned cell swung open and Bellingham was led from the room. He was taken, chained, through a maze of corridors, and after a few minutes, appeared at the debtor's door of the prison, where a scaffold had been erected nearby.

Bellingham was taken into a side room and placed before an anvil so that his chains might be removed. Bellingham appeared concerned that he might be hurt whilst the irons were removed, and asked that the blacksmith take special care.

quote Bellingham was led, heavily guarded, to the foot of the scaffold. He ascended the steps slowly and looked completely calm quote

The chains were replaced by rope, and his arms were tied behind his back. He took a deep breath and said, "Gentlemen I am quite ready." Bellingham was led, heavily guarded, to the foot of the scaffold.

He ascended the steps slowly and looked completely calm.

He was placed onto the trap-door and as the executioner moved forward to place the blindfold around his head, the condemned man requested that, "The business could be done without it." But his request was refused. Reverend Ford and Bellingham began praying, but it was only a minute before the clock began to strike eight.

On the seventh strike, the trap door opened and Bellingham fell as far as his knees, the remainder of his body being in full view. At 9.00am the body was cut down, placed in a cart and covered with sacking, and taken to the mortuary of St Bartholomew's Hospital in Bell's Yard.

John Bellingham's body was there dissected and examined 'in the furtherance of medical science.'

At the time of his execution, Bellingham was aged 35. On his assassination, Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was 50.

From More Crimes of Cambridgeshire
© John Bell 1995 ISBN: 1899558012

If you would like a copy of the book, you can contact John Bell, the author on tel: 01487 822123.

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