Camden author says world’s first assassination by firearm may have happened in London.

John Withington, author of Assassins’ Deeds. A History of Assassination from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. Picture...

John Withington, author of Assassins’ Deeds. A History of Assassination from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. Picture: John Withington - Credit: John Withington

The world’s first assassination by firearm may have taken place in London, according to a new book by a Camden author.

In Assassins’ Deeds: A History of Assassination from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day, John Withington claims the killing of parliamentarian Robert Pakington was likely the first assassination by firearm in history.

Pakington was shot on 13 November 1536 as he crossed Cheapside on his way to mass, and Withington suspects he may have been targeted for his criticisms of the Catholic clergy during the turbulent era of the English reformation.

While still officially a Roman Catholic, Pakington, a successful London merchant, had sympathies and connections with notable Protestants, many of whom blamed the Catholic clergy for his death, even alleging that the Bishop of London paid the killer.

The book, Withington’s 10th, is the product of four years’ work and documents the long and strange history of assassins and assassinations from the Pharaoh bodyguards of 2300BC to the death of Kim Jong-nam in 2017.


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He said: “Obviously there are quite a lot of books about assassination but what I haven’t seen is what I’ve tried to do, which is tell a history of assassination from the earliest time coming right up to the present day.”

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Withington defines “assassination” as the killing of someone powerful, important, or famous for reasons to do with their power importance or fame.

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He has been interested in the topic since living through the JFK assassination, but has learned that Kennedy’s death-by-sniper is relatively uncommon across history.

Analysing 266 assassinations from ancient Egypt onwards, Withington found that most assassinations were up close and personal, even after firearms took over from stabbing in the nineteenth century as the favoured method for killers.

Hired professionals were also a rarity, featuring in just 18 of the assassinations.

Assassins’ Deeds also tells the story of Spencer Percival, the only British prime minister to be assassinated.

Percival was gunned down by an embittered commercial agent, John Bellingham, who was known to practise with his pistol on Primrose Hill.

Assassins’ Deeds: A History of Assassination from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day by John Withington is published by Reaktion Books, price £18.

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