This authoritative and thought-provoking history takes a fresh view of what was a period of unprecedented and rapid change. Assuming no prior knowledge of the subject, Hugh Cunningham provides a clear narrative of political events, and an analysis of change and continuity in ideas and in economic and social structure. Britain is set firmly in the context of world power and the possession of empire. An overarching theme is the challenge presented by democracy in a period framed by the First and Fourth Reform Acts. `Democracy' had no stable meaning, and its opponents were just as vocal as its advocates. The book explores its implications for the role of the state, for the governance of empire, and for the relationship between the different nations within the United Kingdom.