William IV’s dismissal of the Whig administration in 1834

William IV's dismissal of Lord Melbourne's Whig government in November 1834 was the last time a British monarch tried to assert political authority by bringing down a government that had majority support in the House of Commons.

Free Trade and the Repeal of the Corn Laws

Belief in free trade became an enduring characteristic of British liberalism in the 19th century but its roots were complex. In part it stemmed from popular Radical hostility to monopoly in all its forms, in part from the diffusion of Smithian and Ricardian political economy and in part from the administrative pragmatism, reinforced by evangelical religion, of the liberal Tories in the 1820s.

The Anti-Corn Law League

The second Corn Law of 1828 sparked a wave of radical protest amongst Britain’s urban classes by introducing a sliding scale of duties on foreign wheat, thus causing bread prices to fluctuate excessively during a period that was plagued by high unemployment and poor harvests. The Corn Laws were seen to safeguard the interests of Britain’s traditional country landowners, at the expense of her new and growing industrial class and urban dwellers soon took exception to the resulting rise in food prices.

The Age of Russell and Palmerston, 1846-1868

The collapse of Sir Robert Peel's Conservative government, following the 1846 repeal of the Corn Laws, began a complex re-arrangement of British political parties; one that took more than a decade to complete. Paradoxically, by rejecting Peel, the remaining Tories held the advantage of unity in their desire to protect agricultural interests and the established Anglican Church while their foes were divided. Could the more liberal MPs, a majority in the House of Commons, form a cohesive party?

Journal articles

The ‘European mind’ of late Victorian Liberalism

W. E. Gladstone and Joseph Chamberlain

Liberals, free trade and Europe

From Cobden to the Common Market

Radical Joe and Chocolate George

Review of Andrew Reekes, Two Titans, One City: Joseph Chamberlain and George Cadbury (History West Midlands, 2017)

A history of by-elections

Review of T. G. Otte and Paul Readman (eds.), By-elections in British politics 1832–1914 (Boydell, 2013)

A very distinguished tightrope dancer

Review of James Chambers, Palmerston: ‘The People’s Darling’ (John Murray, 2004).

‘Nothing talked of, thought of, dreamt of, but Reform’

Review of Edward Pearce, Reform! The Fight for the 1832 Reform Act (Pimlico, 2004).

‘When in doubt what should be done, do nothing’

Review of David Cecil, The Young Melbourne and Lord M (Phoenix Press, 2001).

Legacy of famine

Review of Peter Gray, Famine, Land and Politics: British Government and Irish Society, 1843-50 (Irish Academic Press, 1999).

The Grand Old Man and Dizzy re-examined

Review of Dick Leonard, The Great Rivalry: Gladstone & Disraeli (I. B. Tauris, 2013).

Gladstone and the great Irish famine

Views of Peel

Review of Richard A. Gaunt, Sir Robert Peel: The Life and Legacy (I. B. Tauris, 2010).

Liberalism and national identity

Liberals in Ulster

Review of Gerald R. Hall, Ulster Liberalism 1778-1876 (Four Courts Press, 2011).

Radical failure

Review of Miles Taylor, The Decline of British Radicalism 1847-1860 (Oxford University Press, 1995).

Gladstone as Chancellor

Report: The repeal of the Corn Laws

Richard Cobden and British Imperialism

Exploding the delusion of protection

Let us open to them the door of the House of Commons

Lord John Russell and the Irish Catholics

Plus ca change

A political man

‘His friends sat on the benches opposite’

The legacy of Gladstone

‘He would not stoop, he did not conquer’

Review of Robert Rhodes James, Rosebery (Phoenix, 1995).

Vacillating statesman

Review of Arthur Aspinall, Lord Brougham and the Whig Party (Originally published 1927; reprinted Nonsuch, 2005).

Gladstone 1809-1874

Review of H.C.G. Matthew, Gladstone 1809-1874 (Oxford University Press, 1988).

Origins of the party

Review of John Vincent, The Formation of the British Liberal Party 1857-68 (Constable, 1966).

The high summer of Victorian Liberalism

Review of Ian Bradley, The Optimists: Themes and Personalities in Victorian Liberalism (Faber & Faber, 1980).

‘The representative man’

Reviews of Kenneth Bourne, Palmerston: The Early Years 1783-1841 (Allen Lane, 1982) and Donald Southgate, The Most English Minister (Macmillan, 1966).

Dizzy and the Grand Old Man

Review of Richard Aldous, The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs Disraeli (Hutchinson, 2006).

No one likes us, we don’t care

Review of Leslie Mitchell, The Whig World 1760-1837 (Hambledon Continuum, 2005).

Promoting progress everywhere

Review of Jonathan Parry, The Politics of Patriotism: English Liberalism, National Identity and Europe 1830-1886 (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Out of Chartism, into Liberalism?

Coalition before 1886

The Liberal electoral agent in the post-Reform-Act era

Secular intellectuals

Review of William C. Lubenow, Liberal Intellectuals and Public Culture in Modern Britain, 1815-1914: Making Words Flesh (Boydell Press, 2010).


The Day Parliament Burned Down

In the early evening of 16 October 1834, a huge ball of fire exploded through the roof of the Houses of Parliament, creating a blaze so enormous that it could be seen by the King and Queen at Windsor, and from stagecoaches on top of the South Downs. In front of hundreds of thousands of […]

The strange birth of Liberal England

One hundred and fifty years ago, on the 6 June 1859, at Willis Rooms in St James, Westminster, Radical, Peelite and Whig Members of Parliament met to formalise their Parliamentary coalition to oust the Conservative government and finally brought about the formation of the Liberal Party. To commemorate the compact made at Willis Rooms in […]

The Great Reform Act of 1832: its legacy and influence on the Coalition’s reform agenda

Soon after becoming Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg promised “the most significant programmes of reform by a British government since the 19th century…. the biggest shake-up of our democracy since 1832.” But how do the Coalition governments constitutional changes actually compare to the changes brought in by the Great Reform Bill of 1832? Dr Philip […]