Amanda Foreman examines the formative years of British politics when the most important structures of British life - still valued and recognised today - were established in the shadow of revolution.

Amanda invites us to enter the world of the political elite in London's luxurious St James' Square. Here, political heavyweights would gather for a season debating and defining British politics. Against a backdrop of decadence, they went about the serious business of crafting the structures of politics and society so familiar to us in the 21st Century.

The Georgians continuously tested where true power lay - in the Monarchy, or in Parliament. At Buckingham Palace with the keeper of the Queen's pictures, Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Amanda discovers how a monarchy imported from Hanover styled themselves as a constitutional monarchy that showed deference to the structures of British politics.

But this wasn't just a power play by ambitious politicians, it was part of a reforming attitude exemplified by calls to reform Parliament and make it more representative of the people. No 18th century figure embodied the development of this political modernity more than Edmund Burke, the Irish philosopher and politician, who Amanda encounters with MP Jesse Norman.

The struggle for power was a struggle for control of the people, made more pressing in a climate of fear as revolution took hold across the channel in France. But, as Amanda shows, local-level politics in Georgian Britain was a type of 'soft power' that eased tensions.

Producer: Katherine Godfrey
A Whistledown production for Radio 4.

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28 minutes

Last on

Wed 23 Jul 2014 11:00