Perilous Question

ebook / ISBN-13: 9780297864318

Price: £14.99

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The two-year revolution that totally changed how Britain is governed.

Internationally bestselling historian Antonia Fraser’s new book brilliantly evokes one year of pre-Victorian political and social history – the passing of the Great Reform Bill of 1832, an eventful and violent year that featured riots in Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham.

The time-span of the book is from Wellington’s intractable declaration in November 1830 that ‘The beginning of reform is beginning of revolution’ to 7 June 1832, when William IV reluctantly assented to the Great Reform Bill, under the double threat of the creation of 60 new peers in the House of Lords and the threat of revolution throughout the country. Wider themes of Irish and ‘negro emancipation’ underscore the narrative.

The book is character driven; we learn of the Whig aristocrats prepared to whittle away their own power to bring liberty to the country, the all-too-conservative opposition who included the intransigent Duchess of Kent and Queen Adelaide and finally the ‘revolutionaries’ like William Cobbett, author of Rural Rides.

These events led to a total change in the way Britain was governed, a two-year revolution that Antonia Fraser brings to vivid dramatic life.


Antonia Fraser is one of the most readable historians writing today, and her aim is to be accessible to those who enjoy history but are not necessarily academics. She does a wonderful job here, describing and explaining the events surrounding the Great Reform Bill of 1832, which was Britain's belated response to the events of the French Revolution. It was far from perfect in terms of how many more people received the vote, but it almost certainly avoided a full-blooded insurrection.
Brisk and engrossing...Her book is a mine of juicy details, not all of the familiar. Until 1832, Britain's democracy was so ramshackle and corrupt that while Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds had no MPs at all, the rotten borough of Old Sarum, which consisted of "a lump of stone and a green field", had two
Dominic Sandbrook, SUNDAY TIMES
Antonia Fraser's wonderfully vivid, authentic and impeccably sourced account of the passage of this bill paints a picture of tempestuous times when a disenfranchised people, struck by poverty, chose reform in Parliament as their placard.
Giles Broadbent, WHARF.CO.UK
Fraser's rollicking history ... brisk engrossing narrative ... as a pure storyteller she has few equals
Dominic Sandbrook, SUNDAY TIMES
Fraser deftly charts the parliamentary brinkmanship - including the Prime Minister threatening to drown the Tory opposition in the House of Lords in a flood of newly created Whig peers - that finally brought victory to the Reformists, and nationwide celebrations at the passage of the legislation in 1832
John Adamson, MAIL ON SUNDAY
The 1820s and early 1830s have all too often been seen as a historical backwater between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the start of the Victorian era that began with the queen's accession in 1837. With Fraser's erudite and acute portrait of this age of reform, it won't be thought so anymore
The bill was finally passed after a titantic two year struggle. Antonia Fraser's work transforms our understanding of it. This is the best history book I have read so far this year.
This is history as it should be written: lively, witty and, above all, a cracking good read. I found it almost impossible to put down
Antonia Fraser's vivid account is particularly strong on characters
Britain, 1832. The 'perilous question' of the country's corrupt electoral system - is causing uproar. From the complacent Prime Minister, to radicals calling for revolution, Fraser expertly sketches the key players in a dramatic period of British history.
This is the brilliant history and storytelling we always expect from Fraser - impossible to put down.
Kate Williams, BBC HISTORY
Antonia Fraser relates these events with tremendous verve, admirably describing the exuberance and fury stirred up by Reform and explaining complex issues with exemplary clarity.
Anne Somerset, STANDPOINT
What I don't remember from school is how thoroughly entertaining it was. What a slice of human drama, how tense, how crucial and how very nearly it could have foundered, thereby propelling our nation into riot and revolution. For that we need impeccable historian Antonia Fraser, who invests such humanity in her huge cast of characters.
Jennifer Selway, DAILY EXPRESS
Antonia Fraser's superb narrative of the passing of the Great Reform Bill of 1832, one of the most potentially revolutionary moments in British politics, provides incisive pen portraits of all the major protagonists
a lively story of human drama and political intrigue
[I]n her usual elegant style Antonia Fraser recounts the furore over constitutional reform as a thrilling adventure story
This is a wonderful Westminster thriller, played out by characters both heroic and irredeemably crass. Fraser draws them all with her usual deft hand and dramatic instinct.
Dan Jones, THE TIMES
This is popular history of a very high order. Elegantly written, lavishly illustrated and deftly argued, it is a brilliant and entertaining evocation of a turning point in British history...In Antonia Fraser, the "perilous question" has found an apt chronicler, who may yet rescue the Reform Bill from the gross amnesia of posterity.
This is one of Antonia Fraser's very best books, well up to the standard of her admirable life of Cromwell and her gut-wrenchingly brilliant life of Marie Antoinette. When you have read it, you will not only have grasped all the twists and turns of one of the great parliamentary adventures of history, you will also feel as if you have spent the most entertaining week at a Whig house-party.
Ann Wilson, THE TABLET
Her deft pen portraits and gift for dramatic narrative had me on the edge of my seat, even though I know the plot backwards
She is a knowledgeable guide, spicing her narrative with vivid sketches of the anxieties of individuals involved, from the kings dismay at the indiscretions of Queen Adelaide to Lord Grey's grief at the death of his little grandson, the "Red Boy" of Thomas Lawrence's portrait. Such details give humanity and vigour to the story of one of the most important moments in British history
Not a typical summer blockbuster, but Fraser's analysis of the years preceding the Great Reform Act of 1832 is a rollicking good read, with rakish revolutionaries and reforming heroes
Documenting powerful change, the author brings to life an exciting chapter of history which divided a nation
The book take the reader through a complex political landscape with the humour, detail and keen-eyed observations that have made Fraser one of the country's most successful historical authors. In fact, this is historical writing at its best because it actually reads like a superb political thriller
A political thriller - Borgen in the era of Middlemarch ... It is a remarkable story told by an excellent storyteller, with a flair for character and a rare sympathy for context
David Aaronovitch, THE TIMES </i> Book of the Week<i>
From the first paragraph Fraser renders it a compelling drama with a cast of characters as awful, marvellous, duplicitous, self-seeking and public spirited as any that Dickens invented. The parallels with today are glaring and the lessons still only partially learned, the consequences as yet not fully redeemed. The brilliance of Fraser is that she sees everything first in human terms - this is history made by people for people and it's the people that dance, posture and rise with a moving grandeur off the page.
An engaging account of those turbulent times
Fraser's book is worth reading to get an overview of the revolutionary upsurge which led to the passing of the 1832 Great Reform Bill.
The Newsline
Lady Antonia (who was created a Dame in 2011 for services to literature) can be relied upon to build her story around personalities, and to portray them so skillfully that the reader becomes totally absorbed in their fortunes.
This, then, was probably the closest we ever got to full-blooded revolution, and Fraser describes it all with gusto. As she says in her introduction, we know the Reform Bill will pass, but the people who fought for it did not. And the people are the meat and drink of this story...It all makes for a rich landscape, a gripping tale and another fine book from one of our best popular historians
Marcus Berkmann, DAILY MAIL
Antonia Fraser creates gorgeous portraits of the landed aristocrats, who fought for the Great Reform Bill of 1832. It is a remarkable story told by an excellent storyteller
David Aaronovitch, THE TIMES
Antonia Fraser's sheer stamina - she is now in her eighties and a national institution - is an object lesson for younger historians. The clear joy and fascination she continues to feel for her subject shine through
Lucasta Miller, OXFORD REVIEW
Antonia Fraser's PERILOUS QUESTION succeeds in making a gripping read out of the political crisis of the Great Reform Bill. Lord Grey - the idealistic older statesman with his tight-fitting white pantaloons - emerges as an unexpected hero.
Written with colour, pace and learning, Fraser's history of the Great Reform Bill of 1832 and its rocky passage into law speaks clearly to politics today. The country, eager for even this limited increase in the franchise, was thwarted for months by a diehard Westminster elite. The people did prevail - in the end.
You could almost be reading a novel as the reforming Whigs take on the Conservative opposition aided by a cast of revolutionaries like William Cobbett
Theo Walden, THE LADY
Perilous Question is a cracking good read and should be on every parliamentarian's summer reading list.
A country divided, perhaps on the brink of revolution; a parliament rich with political intrigue, orotund speeches and ripe characters - the Reform crisis of the 1830s is a story waiting for a popular retelling.