William Godwin's Diary


Following a cabinet committee on reform, and consultation with the king, after which a proposal for the ballot was dropped, Grey’s government introduced a series of proposals for parliamentary reform. There was widespread support for the motion in the country, with over 1,000 petitions in favour being submitted to the House before 1 March 1831, and Grey was firmly committed to a moderate reform in the distribution of seats and of the franchise. There followed a fifteen-month struggle for reform that had a major impact on the relationships between king, Lords and Commons. The Commons took the view that they were representing the concerns of the people throughout the country and those concerns should over-ride the reservations of both the King and the House of Lords. In the first attempt at reform a largely conservative House, out of touch with opinion in the country, rejected the motion and Grey asked the king for a dissolution. The elections gave him a clear backing for reform and a second Bill passed the Commons in July 1831 with substantial majorities. It then spend forty days in House Committee. It was passed to the House of Lords who defeated the Bill by a majority of 41 on 7 October 1831. A number of serious riots resulted throughout the country. In March 1832 a third Bill was introduced and passed through the Commons to reach the Lords, and Grey extracted a promise from William IV that, should the peers reject the Bill, he would create sufficient numbers of new peers to see the measure through. The Peers rejected the Bill, the king refused to create the peers required, Grey resigned and the king sought to put together a new ministry who would agree to the Bill as amended by the Lords. The crisis was exacerbated by the threats of popular violence in the early days of May. The King’s initiative failed and he was forced to call back Grey, on the understanding that he would create the necessary peers to pass the Bill. In the event, facing the inevitable, the peers capitulated and the Bill passed on 7 June. When parliament was dissolved in December the Whigs under Grey’s leadership won a substantial electoral victory. Godwin’s entries in the diary track this complex process in some detail.

See Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People: England 1783-1846 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) pp. 420-429.