The answer is yes – but only once over two hundred years ago, on the 11 May 1812 by John Bellingham who shot dead the Rt. Hon. Spencer Perceval as he entered the House of Commons.
John Bellingham’s early life is largely unknown, and most post-assassination biographies included speculation as fact. Recollections of family and friends show that Bellingham was born in St Neots, Huntingdonshire, and brought up in London, where he was apprenticed to a jeweller, at age fourteen. Two years later, he went as a midshipman on the maiden voyage of the Hartwell from Gravesend to China. A mutiny took place on 22 May 1787, which led to the ship running aground and sinking.
In early 1794, a man named John Bellingham opened a tin factory on London’s Oxford Street, but it failed and the owner was declared bankrupt in March. It is not certain this is he, but Bellingham definitely worked as a clerk in a counting house in the late 1790s, and about 1800 he went to Arkhangelsk, Russia, as an agent for importers and exporters. He returned to England in 1802 and was a merchant broker in Liverpool. He married Mary Neville in 1803. In the summer of 1804, Bellingham again went to Arkhangelsk to work as an export representative.
In 1803, the Russian ship Soleure, insured at Lloyd’s of London, had been lost at sea. Her owners filed an insurance claim but an anonymous letter told Lloyd’s the ship had been sabotaged. The owners believed Bellingham was the author, and retaliated by accusing him of a debt of 4,890 roubles to a bankruptcy of which he was an assignee. Bellingham, about to return from Russia to Britain had his travelling pass withdrawn because of the alleged debt and he was placed in a Russian jail.
He 1809 he was allowed to leave Russia and once home, Bellingham began petitioning the United Kingdom’s government for compensation over his imprisonment. This was refused, as the United Kingdom had broken off diplomatic relations with Russia in November 1808. Bellingham’s wife urged him to drop the matter and he reluctantly did.
In 1812, Bellingham renewed his attempts to win compensation. On 18 April, he went to the Foreign Office where a civil servant told him he was at liberty to take whatever measures he thought proper. On 20 April, Bellingham purchased two .50 calibre (12.7 mm) pistols from a gunsmith of 58 Skinner Street. He also had a tailor sew an inside pocket to his coat. At this time, he was often seen in the lobby of the House of Commons.
After taking a friend’s family to a painting exhibition on 11 May 1812, Bellingham remarked that he had some business to attend to. He made his way to Parliament, where he waited in the lobby. When Prime Minister Spencer Perceval appeared, Bellingham stepped forward and shot him in the heart. He then calmly sat on a bench. Bellingham was immediately restrained and was identified by Isaac Gascoyne, MP for Liverpool.
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.
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 and was hung in public three days later. His skull was preserved at Barts Pathology Museum.
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.
In September 2009 the St Neots Local History Society erected a plaque on Bellingham House in St Neots. The house, on the corner of Huntingdon Street and Cambridge Street, is said to be the birthplace of Bellingham.