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. For our inconclusive times, there is an attractive resonance with 1832, with its 'rotten boroughs' of Old Sarum and the disappearing village of Dunwich, and its lines of most resistance to reform. This book is character-driven - on the one hand, the reforming heroes are the Whig aristocrats Lord Grey, Lord Althorp and Lord John Russell, and the Irish orator Daniel O'Connell. They included members of the richest and most landed Cabinet in history, yet they were determined to bring liberty, which whittled away their own power, to the country. The all-too-conservative opposition comprised Lord Londonderry, the Duke of Wellington, the intransigent Duchess of Kent and the consort of the Tory King William IV, Queen Adelaide. Finally, there were 'revolutionaries' and reformers, like William Cobbett, the author of RURAL RIDES. This is a book that features one eventful year, much of it violent.
There were riots in Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham, and wider themes of Irish and 'negro emancipation' underscore the narrative. The time-span of the book is from Wellington's intractable declaration in November 1830 that 'The beginning of reform is the beginning of revolution', to 7th June 1832, the date of the extremely reluctant royal assent by William IV 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. 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.
The two-year revolution that totally changed how Britain is governed.
a lively story of human drama and political intrigue * DAILY TELEGRAPH * 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. -- Jane Ridley * THE SPECTATOR * Documenting powerful change, the author brings to life an exciting chapter of history which divided a nation * DISCOVER BRITAIN * 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. -- AA Gill * NEW STATESMAN * 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. * THE OLDIE * This is the brilliant history and storytelling we always expect from Fraser - impossible to put down. -- Kate Williams * BBC HISTORY * 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 * 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. * GOOD BOOK GUIDE * 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. -- Lord Lexden * THE HOUSE MAGAZINE * Perilous Question is a cracking good read and should be on every parliamentarian's summer reading list. * TOTAL POLITICS * 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 * 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 * 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 * An engaging account of those turbulent times * CATHOLIC HERALD * 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 * 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. -- John Ure * COUNTRY LIFE * 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 * 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. -- Robert Saunders * TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT * 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. * i NEWSPAPER * 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. -- Sue Gaisford * FINANCIAL TIMES * 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 * 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 * 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 * 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 vivid account is particularly strong on characters -- Kwasi Kwarteng * EVENING STANDARD * Her deft pen portraits and gift for dramatic narrative had me on the edge of my seat, even though I know the plot backwards -- Boyd Hilton * LITERARY REVIEW * 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. -- Andrew Roberts * SUNDAY TELEGRAPH * 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 * VOGUE * 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. -- Jane Ridley * THE SPECTATOR * 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 -book of the week * 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. * SURREY LIFE * 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 * ...in her usual elegant style Antonia Fraser recounts the furore over constitutional reform as a thrilling adventure story. -- Jad Adams * BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE * 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. * HISTORY REVEALED * 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. * DAILY TELEGRAPH * Fraser's rollicking history... brisk engrossing narrative..... as a pure storyteller she has few equals -- Dominic Sandbrook * SUNDAY TIMES * 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 is the author of many widely acclaimed historical works which have been international bestsellers. She was awarded the Norton Medicott Medal by the Historical Association in 2000 and was made DBE in 2011 for her services to literature.