When the people spoke: the Great Reform Act
Antonia Fraser's latest book explores one of the key moments in Britain's electoral history: the Great Reform Act. Here, she spoke to Matt Elton about a crisis in which the populace's demands for greater representation almost triggered a revolution
How far back can the roots of the Great Reform crisis be traced?
Why did people’s demands for greater representation come to a head in the 1830s?
Are there any characters from the crisis that particularly stand out?
How important do you think public pressure was in effecting reform?
How close did the crisis come to descending into revolution?
Was there anything in the course of your research that surprised you?
Do you think that the men in power who fought for, and against, reform were driven by idealism or pragmatism?
How significant was the Great Reform crisis in British history?
In context: The 1832 Reform Act
Even following the election of the pro-reform Whig party in 1830, progress was slow: two bills failed to pass parliament, and it was not until 7 June 1832 that what became known as the Great Reform Act received royal assent in England and Wales (separate reform bills for Scotland and Ireland were passed in the same year).The act disenfranchised 56 boroughs, reduced another 31 to a single MP and created 67 new constituencies. Small landowners, shopkeepers and tenant farmers were also included in the franchise for the first time.