It’s quite a year for anniversaries from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee to the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens. It’s also a year when deaths are commemorated from Captain Scott’s failed mission to the South Pole in 1912 to the sinking of the Titanic in the same year.
Less well known is that 2012 is the bicentenary of the assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, shot in the central lobby of the House of Commons on 11 May, 1812, by loan pistolman John Bellingham.
The only British PM to have been assassinated (Margaret Thatcher had a near-miss when the IRA bombed her Brighton hotel during the 1984 Conservative Party conference), Perceval’s political preoccupations bring his era to life.
He witnessed crises including the madness of King George III, economic depression and Luddite riots. He opposed Catholic emancipation and reform of Parliament and supported the abolition of the slave trade. He held hunting, gambling, adultery and drinking in disdain, preferring to spend time with his 12 children.
Perceval also supported the war against Napoleon. With wars popularly marked by anniversaries, it’s also the bicentenary of Napoleon’s failed attempt to invade Russia, his thwarted imperial ambitions notably commemorated by Tolstoy in War and Peace and Tchaikovsky in his 1812 Overture.
Talking of French failure, expect the British media to indulge in a bit of jovial French bashing in 2015 when we mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo.
But anticipate far greater commemoration surrounding the victories, defeats and deaths in battle in 2014 when we have the centenary of the start of WW1 and the 75th anniversary of the start of WWII. I always find it a poignant reminder that there were just 25 years between these wars.
To Spencer Perceval. May he rest in peace (even if he didn’t like Catholics or claret).