Are you between 5 and 25? If so, enter the Wicked Young Writer Awards NOW - click here for details...

join us on facebook
Search our site
Last Letter from Istanbul by Lucy Foley Read the opening extract of the brand new Lucy Foley book before its publication on 19/03/2018

The Perilous Question The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832 by Antonia Fraser

The Perilous Question The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832

History   eBook Favourites   

Sue Baker's view...

I listened to this on audio and as well as recommending the history itself, I’d thoroughly recommend Sean Barrett’s narration (OrionAudio 9781409129813) as an excellent alternative. For me, and I suspect, for a great many others who learned (badly) The Reform Bill at school, it parallels the Corn Laws as a most paralysingly boring event. It is, of course, a vital part of our history and in the right hands, anything but dull and I was mightily glad to get over my Reform Bill phobia with Lady Antonia Fraser’s blow by blow account, now if only she’d turn to the Corn Laws...

Like for Like Reading

The Life and Adventures of William Cobbett, Richard Ingrams

Wellington: A Personal History, Christopher Hibbert

Who is Sue Baker


The Perilous Question The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832 by Antonia Fraser

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.


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 * 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 *'

About the Author

Antonia Fraser

Antonia Fraser is the author of many widely acclaimed historical works including the biographies, CROMWELL: OUR CHIEF OF MEN, KING CHARLES II and THE GUNPOWDER PLOT (CWA Non-Fiction Gold Dagger; St Louis Literary Award). She has written five highly praised books which focus on women in history, THE WEAKER VESSEL: WOMEN'S LOT IN SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND (Wolfson Award for History, 1984), THE WARRIOR QUEENS: BOADICEA¿S CHARIOT, THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII, MARIE ANTOINETTE: THE JOURNEY (Franco-British Literary Prize 2001), which was made into a film by Sofia Coppola in 2006 and now most recently LOVE AND LOUIS XIV: THE WOMEN IN THE LIFE OF THE SUN KING. Antonia Fraser was made CBE in 1999, and awarded the Norton Medlicott Medal by the Historical Association in 2000. She lives in London and is currently working on a biography of Queen Elizabeth I. She was married to Harold Pinter who died on Christmas Eve 2008 and has eighteen grandchildren.

Below is a Q&A with this author.

What's the first book you remember reading?
Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall, when I was aged four and a half. I still have the copy, rebound after much use.

Where do you live? And why?
I have lived in the same house in Campden Hill Square since 1959; my six children were brought up here (two of them actually born in the house). I can't imagine living anywhere else.

Where do you write?
In the children's old nursery at the top of the house, rechristened the Eyrie. I couldn't wait to move in when they moved out as it has magnificent views.

Typewriter, word processor or pen?
Ancient electric typewriter (circa 1970) to which I am devoted.

Where were you born and raised?
Although I was born in Sussex Gate, Bayswater (now Ryadh House, I see), I was brought up in Oxford where my father taught at the University.

Did you enjoy school? What is your most vivid memory of your school years?
I loved two out of my three schools, the Dragon School, Oxford, and St Mary's Convent, Ascot, which was the setting for the first Jemima Shore mystery, Quiet as a Nun.

Did you always want to be an author? If not, what did you originally want to be and when and why did you change your mind?
I didn't want to be an author. I just was an author since before memory.

What were the first pieces of writing that you produced? e.g. short stories, school magazine etc. I wrote mock Shakespearean tragedies in verse: I like to think I've got better.

What jobs did you have before you started writing?
I only had one job: working for Weidenfeld & Nicolson and they've published all my non-fiction ever since.

If your house were burning down, what would you save?
My black and white cat Placido – except he'd probably get out first.

Have any of your books been televised or made into films? Who by and when were they screened? The Jemima Shore crime stories were made into two TV series, Quiet as a Nun, starring Maria Aitken, and Jemima Shore Investigates, starring Patricia Hodge. Marie Antoinette has recently been filmed by Sofia Coppola.

What is a typical writing day?
I like to work the whole morning without interruption (in an ideal world!), then time off, for a swim perhaps, and back about 5.00 pm. I never work at night.

What do you do when you are not writing? How do you relax? What are your hobbies? I love reading other people's crime novels to relax.

Have you started your next book? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
I'm going to write about Queen Elizabeth I. I always wanted to look at the other side of the picture since I wrote Mary Queen of Scots nearly 40 years ago and now it's time.

What single thing might people be surprised to learn about you?
I used to play rugger at the Dragon School! My children never believed me and I don't think my grandchildren do. On the wing, not in the scrum.

More books by this author
Author 'Like for Like' recommendations

Loading similar books...
Loading other formats...

Book Info

Publication date

8th May 2014


Antonia Fraser

More books by Antonia Fraser
Author 'Like for Like'

Author's Website


Weidenfeld & Nicolson an imprint of Orion Publishing Co


448 pages


eBook Favourites

Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900
Politics & government



As for why I'd recommend Lovereading, it's simple - it's a great place to get information and reviews about new books!

Margaret Freeman

My horizons have been broadened by some of the books I have been lucky to review and I expect it to be no different in the future.

Daran Bellingham

It is a website dedicated to those who adore reading It really is a one stop shop for book lovers. Love it!

Edel Waugh

Love books. Love reading. Love reading books. And, here's the trick. Here's a website which caters for people like me.

Ian Harvey-brown

Lovereading are lovely people who send me lovely books. What's not to love?

Gavin Dimmock

I love the newsletter with reviews of all the new books coming out. Can't wait to open it when it arrives in my inbox.

Rachel Aygin

Lovereading has given me the opportunity to delve into new and exciting worlds of authors who I would never have tried before.

Glynis Elliott

Insightful reader reviews and unbiased recommendations. I don't know how I chose books before Lovereading! An essential for all book lovers.

Sarah Harper