Following recent scandals such as Enron and World.com, the problems of governing business corporations have loomed large across the developed world. This book examines the history of these problems in the world’s first corporate economy: Britain and Ireland in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Based on the largest survey of the early corporate economy yet undertaken, the book is a systematic examination of a range of governance practices across all major sectors. A key aim of the book is to relate the ‘political’ dimensions of business to the wider history of Britain and Ireland. It shows how, particularly in large enterprises, a space opened up between shareholders and managers, and that this space became a political arena in which governing executives confronted their ‘public’ legislatures. It is essential reading for anyone interested in how companies were managed in the past, and in the origins of modern debates about corporate governance.