Between 1770 and 1830, the Tories were the dominant political party in the House of Commons. The Tories were strongly opposed to increasing the number of people who could vote. However, in November 1830, Earl Grey, a Whig, became prime minister. Grey explained to King William IV that he wanted to introduce proposals that would get rid of some of the rotten boroughs - towns that had declined in size but continued to send MPs to Parliament. Grey also planned to give Britain's fast-growing industrial towns representation in the House of Commons.

In April 1831 Grey asked the king to dissolve Parliament so that the Whigs could secure a larger majority in the House of Commons. Grey explained this would help his government to carry its proposals for parliamentary reform. William agreed to Grey's request and after making his speech in the House of Lords, walked back through cheering crowds to Buckingham Palace.

After Grey's election victory, he tried again to introduce parliamentary reform. The House of Commons passed the Reform Bill. However, the Tories still dominated the House of Lords, and after a long debate the bill was defeated. When people heard the news, riots took place in several British towns including Merthyr Tydfil.

John Doyle produced this cartoon showing John Bull (who represents public opinion) helping Earl Grey against the Duke of Wellington and King William IV (May 1832).
NGfL / GCaD Cymru