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Hello, friends! Riana Everly is back today to celebrate the release of the second book in her Miss Mary Investigates series, Death in Highbury. I’m especially excited about this book because it brings together the worlds of Pride and Prejudice and Emma, which (along with Persuasion) are my favorite Jane Austen novels! Riana is here today to talk about the assassination of Spencer Perceval and how it’s tied to the novel, and to share an excerpt and giveaway. Please give her a warm welcome!


Thank you, Anna, for letting me stop by your super blog today as part of my blog tour for Death in Highbury: An Emma Mystery.

In this mystery, Mary Bennet finds herself stranded in Highbury when political chaos erupts in London, preventing her return there. She finds refuge with Emma Woodhouse, and befriends the residents of this Surrey town.

So what happened that threw all of England into such chaos? Nothing less than the assassination of the British Prime Minister! Fortunately for me (but not for the poor PM himself), this worked out perfectly for my story’s timeline.

Here is a quick history of the assassination and of his killer.

On May 11, 1812 at about 5:15 in the evening, British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was fatally shot in the lobby of the House of Commons in London. He is the only prime minister to have met such a fate. His attacker was a businessman named John Bellingham.

Bellingham was born around 1770 in Huntingdonshire. His father died while he was still a child, and the family lived with assistance from his mother’s brother-in-law, William Daw. When Bellingham grew up, Daw saw him first to the position of a junior officer on a British East India Company ship, and later as a tin plate manufacturer in London. Both ventures were failures, however, and Bellingham narrowly avoided debtor’s prison. He now decided to change his ways and took a position as bookkeeper in a company that dealt with trade with Russia. He was successful enough at this that he was appointed the firm’s representative in Archangel, Russia in 1800.

By 1804 he had returned to England and set up his own business in Liverpool. That year he travelled back to Archangel to oversee some dealings there. He had secured a pass for him, his wife, and infant son to travel to St. Petersburg, but his pass was rescinded by local authorities and he was arrested as being responsible for a supposed unpaid debt by a business associate. Despite an attempt at intervention by Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, the British ambassador in St. Petersburg, Bellingham was imprisoned from February to November of 1805. He sought redress with the Russian government, but only succeeded in angering them, and he was imprisoned again from mid-1806 to late 1809. 

He finally returned home to England and set about demanding compensation for his ordeal from the British government, whom he considered to blame for ignoring his constant appeals for help. He petitioned the Foreign Office, the Treasury, the Privy Council, and Prime Minister Perceval himself, but all pleas were denied. In 1811 he returned to his wife in Liverpool, but he could not abandon his need for justice, and in February of 1812 he returned to London to renew his cause. He met with failure. Seeing no other means of redress, he decided to exact retribution through violence. On April 20, 1812, he purchased two pistols and had a tailor sew an inside pocket into one of his coats.

He carried out the killing in the early evening of May 11, just as parliament was preparing for its evening session. He could have escaped in the chaos that followed the shooting, but instead he sat quietly on a bench until he was seized by an official who had witnessed the event. He submitted without a struggle. When questioned as to why he had done it, he replied that he was rectifying a denial of justice on the part of the government.

Bellingham was detained and sent to trial for the murder of Spencer Perceval four days later. He was deemed to be insane and was convicted and sentenced to hang. He died on the gallows at Newgate Prison on May 18, 1812.

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the story. Mary is sitting in the Crown Inn in Highbury, reading a letter from her brother-in-law, Mr. Darcy.


But even as the carriage had drawn up to the inn, and as the footman had leapt from the box to announce their arrival and ask after the Darcys, Mary could see that something was amiss. A man who must have been the innkeeper rushed up to the footman and driver and conferred with them in hushed tones, after which Mary was hustled into this small but comfortable salon and presented with a pot of tea and a tray of small sandwiches and this letter. She knew the handwriting well, for Mr. Darcy had a distinctive hand. But the presence of the letter meant that the man himself, and her sister with him, were not here. 

Without reading a word, she could see that something was wrong. The usually smooth and crisp handwriting was jagged and uneven, the result of hurry and distress, a portent of the dreadful matter mentioned within. She read the content, and then in shock, read it again.

Dear Sister Mary,

I must write quickly, and will dispense with pleasantries, for which you may castigate me when next we meet. All your family are well, never fear. But some dire events have occurred in London which prevent your sister and me from meeting you in Highbury as planned, and which must necessitate your remaining in that town for some amount of time. 

I had considered caution in relating this to you out of concern for your sensibilities, but I know you to be a reasonable and intelligent young woman who will not swoon at the news. I will not insult you by refusing to impart it. 

London is all in an uproar tonight, for only minutes ago, from the time that I write, the Right Honourable Spencer Perceval, our Prime Minister, was shot and killed in front of Parliament. I was in the neighbourhood when it occurred and heard the outcry but not the shot, and came right home to write to you.

I have sent Elizabeth back to Longbourn. She is not pleased with me, but her safety is paramount, and she may shout at me for all of her life should she wish. My only concern is her health and wellbeing. I will join her there as soon as I am able to conclude my affairs here, and we will remain there for several days until the City is brought back into order.

I must beg your forgiveness, Mary, for abandoning you in this way, and must entreat you not to return home, nor to travel anywhere near London, until such time as it is safe once more. 

I will not forsake you altogether. I know a gentleman—as fine a man as I have met, and one of the few very sensible people of my acquaintance—who lives not far from Highbury. I have already written to him to request his assistance in providing for your security and comfort whilst we all await a return to order in our country. His name is George Knightley, of Donwell Abbey, and he will see you right. 

I will send this message off at once with a fast rider, along with sufficient funds to see to your immediate comfort at the Crown Inn upon your arrival. (That explained the private salon and the tea and food.) Enclosed please find five pounds for any further needs you might incur, with a promise for more should it be required.

Your affectionate brother,

FD


About Death in Highbury

When political chaos in London forces Mary Bennet to take refuge in the picturesque town of Highbury, Surrey, she quickly finds herself safe among friends. Emma Woodhouse welcomes her as a guest at Hartfield, Jane Fairfax is delighted by her love of music, and Frank Churchill can’t stop flirting with her. But it is not long before Mary starts to suspect that beneath the charming surface, Highbury hides some dark secrets.

Alexander Lyons is sent to Surrey on an investigation, and at his friend Darcy’s request, heads to Highbury to make certain Mary is comfortable and safe. But no sooner does he arrive than one local man dies, and then another!

Soon Alexander and Mary are thrust into the middle of a baffling series of deaths. Are they accidents? Or is there a very clever murderer hiding in their midst? And can they put their personal differences aside in time to prevent yet another death in Highbury?

Buy: Amazon | Universal Buy Link


About the Author

Riana Everly was born in South Africa, but has called Canada home since she was eight years old. She has a Master’s degree in Medieval Studies and is trained as a classical musician, specialising in Baroque and early Classical music. She first encountered Jane Austen when her father handed her a copy of Emma at age 11, and has never looked back.

Riana now lives in Toronto with her family. When she is not writing, she can often be found playing string quartets with friends, biking around the beautiful province of Ontario with her husband, trying to improve her photography, thinking about what to make for dinner, and, of course, reading!

Connect with Riana: Website | Facebook | Amazon


Giveaway

Riana is generously giving away five eBooks of Death in Highbury worldwide over the course of this blog tour, chosen randomly from people who enter. To enter, please use this Rafflecopter link.

If you don’t like Rafflecopter, you can still enter. Just send Riana an email (riana.everly@gmail.com) saying so, and she will add your name to the list for the draw. The giveaway will close at 12 a.m. EST on February 27, 2021. Good luck!


Thank you, Riana, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

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