The best books on Regency politics

Who am I?

More than 40 years ago, I first started writing a book on great ‘Tory’ leaders throughout history, several of whom were inexorably tied to this Regency period. Having never lost interest in the topic I continued to study the period and its political life and found a way to parlay experience from my career in finance and international business into a biography of the most economically proficient Prime Minister Britain has ever had. Research for that biography as well as for future Industrial Revolution-related books on which I am currently working has resulted in a broad and fruitful list of books on the period's politics.

I wrote...

Britain's Greatest Prime Minister: Lord Liverpool

By Martin Hutchinson,

Book cover of Britain's Greatest Prime Minister: Lord Liverpool

What is my book about?

Britain’s Greatest Prime Minister: Lord Liverpool unpicks two centuries of Whig history to redeem Lord Liverpool (1770-1828) from ‘arch-mediocrity’ and establish him as the greatest political leader the country has ever seen. Past biographers of Lord Liverpool have not sufficiently acknowledged the importance of his foremost skill: economic policy (including fiscal, monetary, and banking system questions). Here, Hutchinson’s experience in the finance sector provides a specialised perspective on Liverpool’s economic legacy.

From his adept handling of unparalleled economic and social difficulties, to his strategic defeat of Napoleon and unprecedented approach to the subsequent peace process, Liverpool is shown to have set Britain’s course for prosperity and effective government for the following century. In addition to picking apart his domestic and foreign policy, Hutchinson advances how a proper regard for Liverpool’s career might have changed the structure and policies of today’s government for the better.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of William Pitt the Younger : A Biography

Why did I love this book?

William Pitt, the younger, established the Tory-dominated Regency politics and William Hague, the former Foreign Secretary, is by far his best qualified modern biographer. (Lord Rosebery was Prime Minister but his brief biography of Pitt was published in 1891!)  Hague’s biography, which is very elegantly written, shows a deep understanding of the political forces Pitt faced, inside and outside Parliament. Pitt was a leader and father-figure to all the great Tory leaders of 1783-1830; he also began the process of dealing with industrialization and that of fighting the Napoleonic Wars. He is thus one of Britain’s most important prime ministers, and Hague’s biography throws a welcome light on the Regency period, when the country surmounted enormous threats and difficulties through being truly well-governed.

By William Hague,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked William Pitt the Younger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The award-winning biography of William Pitt the Younger by William Hague, the youngest leader of the Tory Party since Pitt himself.

William Pitt the Younger was one of the most extraordinary figures in British history. Prime minister at the age of twenty-four, he went on to dominate British politics for two decades, presiding over such complex and treacherous national crises as the madness of King George III, the beleaguered union with Ireland, the fallout from the French Revolution and the trauma of the Napoleonic Wars.

With the keen eye of an experienced politician, William Hague examines the enigmatic life and…

Book cover of In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon's Wars, 1793-1815

Why did I love this book?

Jenny Uglow looks at the Napoleonic Wars period from the bottom up -- what life was like, how political issues affected the person in the street. Bankers, clergymen, working men and women, manufacturers, and statesmen all play roles in her narrative. Through the letters and diaries of ordinary people, she produces a vibrant picture of life in a period of unprecedented political, social, and economic turmoil. She still ends with the Battle of Waterloo, but Waterloo as experienced by the junior officers and enlisted men. A fascinating book, that shows how high politics and world events affected ordinary people and is highly accessible to general readers.

By Jenny Uglow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In These Times as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The sharply-observed characters and constant pricks of humour make this book seem almost as if Jane Austen had written a history of her own times." (Lucy Worsley The Times). We know the thrilling, terrible stories of the battles of the Napoleonic wars - but what of those left behind? The people on a Norfolk farm, in a Yorkshire mill, a Welsh iron foundry, an Irish village, a London bank or a Scottish mountain? The aristocrats and paupers, old and young, butchers and bakers and candlestick makers - how did the war touch their lives? Every part of Britain felt the…

Book cover of Britain Against Napoleon: The Organization of Victory, 1793-1815

Why did I love this book?

This book is heavier going than the first two yet answers a deep and interesting question: how in a political system with dilettante politicians and tiny departments of amateur administrators, did Britain fight and eventually win a 20-year total war against a country with twice the population. The period’s politicians are here shown at work, wearing themselves down with long hours and short weekends, setting up policies and systems that could do the job. Their sheer intelligence and professionalism is remarkable; a century later Britain almost lost World War I because it had forgotten lessons about Naval convoys learned during this conflict. Of all the books here, this shows best why Pitt and Liverpool had a much tougher job and worked much harder than Disraeli or Gladstone.

By Roger Knight,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Britain Against Napoleon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Roger Knight, established by the multi-award winning The Pursuit of Victory as 'an authority ... none of his rivals can match' (N.A.M. Rodger), Britain Against Napoleon is the first book to explain how the British state successfully organised itself to overcome Napoleon - and how very close it came to defeat

For more than twenty years after 1793, the French army was supreme in continental Europe. How was it that despite multiple changes of government and the assassination of a Prime Minister, Britain survived and eventually won a generation-long war against a regime which at its peak in 1807…

Book cover of Castlereagh: Enlightenment, War and Tyranny

Why did I love this book?

John Bew’s biography of Clement Attlee is superb, this biography of Castlereagh, “perhaps the greatest of all Britain’s foreign secretaries” (Andrew Roberts) is even better. Castlereagh is a Regency politician’s Regency politician; he fought a duel against the devious Canning and when informed he was popular, replied that unpopularity was “more convenient and gentlemanlike.” He also, with Liverpool’s help and support, designed a peace settlement that lasted in essentials for 100 years, based on principles of legitimacy and lack of vengefulness that his successors at the 1919 Congress of Versailles would have done well to follow. Bew writes beautifully; this is a great biography of a very great man.

By John Bew,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Castlereagh as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

No British statesman of the nineteenth century reached the same level of international fame as Lord Castlereagh, or won as much respect from the great powers of Europe or America. Yet no British statesman has been so maligned by his contemporaries or hated by the public. His career took him from the brutal suppression of a bloody rebellion in Ireland to the splendour of Vienna and Paris. He imprisoned his former friends, abolished the Irish parliament, created the biggest British army in history, and redrew the map of Europe. At a time when the West turns from idealism to realism…

Book cover of The Making of the English Working Class

Why did I love this book?

This is the classic study of the other side of Regency politics: the working class’s struggle to achieve class consciousness and assert themselves in a threatening new industrial environment, where many of them were losing their jobs. Thompson has a Marxist support for the working-class struggle, combined with a surprising respect for the statesmen who prevented that struggle from erupting into revolution. Forestalling the emergence of Thompson’s working-class consciousness was a primary objective of Pitt, Liverpool, and their colleagues and generally, they succeeded; working-class consciousness only emerged, encouraged by the Whigs, in the Reform Bill struggle of 1831-32, after the Tories had lost power.  Alas, the workers lost out through that measure’s middle-class franchise; as the ‘Poor Man’s Guardian’ wrote, quoted by Thompson: “Of all governments, a government of the middle classes is the most grinding and remorseless.”

By E.P. Thompson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Making of the English Working Class as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fifty years since first publication, E. P. Thompson's revolutionary account of working-class culture and ideals is published in Penguin Modern Classics, with a new introduction by historian Michael Kenny

This classic and imaginative account of working-class society in its formative years, 1780 to 1832, revolutionized our understanding of English social history. E. P. Thompson shows how the working class took part in its own making and re-creates the whole-life experience of people who suffered loss of status and freedom, who underwent degradation, and who yet created a cultured and political consciousness of great vitality.


'A dazzling vindication of the…

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