Charles Stewart Parnell

From Academic Kids

Charles Stewart Parnell (June 27 1846October 6 1891) was an Irish political leader and one of the most important figures in 19th century Ireland and the United Kingdom; William Ewart Gladstone thought him the most remarkable person he had ever met. A future Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, described him as one of the three or four greatest men of the nineteenth century, while Lord Haldane described him as the strongest man the British House of Commons had seen in 150 years.


Family background

Charles Stewart Parnell, the "uncrowned King of Ireland"
Charles Stewart Parnell, the "uncrowned King of Ireland"

Charles Stewart Parnell1 was born in County Wicklow, of gentry stock. He was the third son and seventh child of John Henry Parnell, a wealthy Anglo-Irish landowner, and his American wife Delia Stewart, daughter of the famous American naval hero, Commodore Charles Stewart (the stepson of one of George Washington's bodyguards). Commodore Stewart's mother, Parnell's great-grandmother, belonged to the Tudor family and so could claim a distant relationship with the British Royal Family. John Henry Parnell himself was a cousin of one of Ireland's leading aristocrats, Lord Powerscourt. Thus from birth Charles Stewart Parnell possessed an extraordinary number of links with a whole variety of elements of society; from the established Church of Ireland to which he belonged (and most of whose members were unionists) and the aristocracy through his cousins, the Powerscourts, to the American War of Independence and the War of 1812 (where his grandfather had been awarded a gold medal by the United States Congress for gallantry) right to a distant link with the Royal Family. Yet it was as a leader of Irish nationalism that Parnell established his fame.

The young Parnell studied at Magdalene College, Cambridge and in 1874 became high sheriff of his home county of Wicklow. The following year he entered parliament as member for County Meath, supporting the Home Rule party.


Parnell, though a surprisingly poor speaker in the House of Commons, showed himself to be a skilled organizer. By 1880 he had replaced Isaac Butt and William Shaw as chairman of the Nationalist Party.

Under his leadership, he reorganized the party as the Irish Parliamentary Party in 1882, becoming perhaps the first professionally organized political party anywhere in Britain and Ireland. Professional selection of candidates took place, with party MPs (who previously had been notorious for their lack of unity) whipped to vote as a block. Parnell's unified Irish block came to dominate British politics, making and unmaking Liberal and Conservative governments in the mid-1880s as it fought for home rule (internal self government within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) for Ireland. In the mid 1880s, Liberal Party leader William Ewart Gladstone committed his party to support for the cause of Irish Home Rule, introducing the First Home Rule Bill in 1886. However the measure failed to pass the British House of Commons, following a split between pro- and anti-home rulers within the Liberal Party.

Though home rule was a central demand of the Irish Parliamentary Party, it also campaigned for Irish land reform. In its campaign, some of its members worked closely with a radical agitation organization known as the Irish Land League. These associations led various members, including John Dillon, Tim Healy, William O'Brien and Parnell himself to serve periods in prison. The agitation led to the passing of a series of Land Acts that over three decades changed the face of Irish land ownership, replacing large Anglo-Irish estates by tenant ownership.

The Piggott Forgeries

In March 1887, Parnell found himself accused by the British newspaper The Times of support for the murders of the Chief Secretary for Ireland Lord Frederick Cavendish, and the Permanent Under-Secretary for Ireland, T.H. Burke. Burke and Cavendish had been brutally stabbed to death on May 6 1882 in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Letters were published which suggested Parnell was complicit in the murders. However a Commission of Enquiry, set up to destroy Parnell, vindicated him, as did a libel action instituted by him, when it was revealed in February 1890 that the letters were in fact a fabrication created by Richard Piggott, an anti-Parnell journalist who promptly committed suicide. He then took The Times to court for libel and in an out court settlement they paid him 5,000 in damages. They have since been known as the Piggott Forgeries.

Mrs O'Shea

Parnell's grave in the predominantly   in , alongside ,  and .
Parnell's grave in the predominantly Roman Catholic Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, alongside Eamon de Valera, Michael Collins and Daniel O'Connell.

Parnell was viewed as an Irish national hero, referred to as the Uncrowned King of Ireland, a term originally coined to describe Daniel O'Connell. However Parnell's triumph was shortlived, when it was 'revealed' (though it had been widely known among politicians at Westminster) that Parnell had been the longterm lover, and father of some of the children of Catherine O'Shea. Although now known as Kitty O'Shea, this name was coined by Parnell's opponents, and no-one who knew her called her Kitty. (A "kitty" was a slang term for a prostitute.) She was the wife of a fellow MP, Captain Willie O'Shea, who had initiated divorce proceedings after failing to secure a large inheritance due to his wife. Under pressure from the religious wing of the Liberal Party, Gladstone reluctantly indicated that he could not support the Irish Parliamentary party as long as Charles Stewart Parnell remained its leader.

Parnell refused to resign, leading to a wholesale party split between Parnellites and Anti-Parnellites. When at a party meeting, he challenged Gladstone's intervention with the question, "Who is the master of the party?" a notoriously waspish MP, Tim Healy responded with the legendary "Who is the mistress of the party?" putdown.

See also: Diocese of Meath


Parnell was deposed as leader and fought a long and bitter campaign for re-instatement. He conducted a political tour of Ireland to regain popular support, attracting Fenian 'hillside men' to his side. He married Catherine on 25 June, 1891 in Steyning, West Sussex, on which day the Catholic hierarchy issued a condemnation of his conduct, only Edward O'Dwyer of Limerick withholding his signature. He lost support of the Freeman's Journal. On the difficult campaign trail he had quicklime thrown at his eyes by hostile crowd in Castlecomer, County Kilkenny. Medical aid was given to him by a Dr Valentine Ryan of Carlow Town, a Home Rule sympathiser. He addressed a crowd in pouring rain at Creggs on the GalwayRoscommon border and contracted pneumonia, 27 September.

He returned to Dublin, thence to Brighton, departing by the mail boat, 30 September. ("I shall be all right. I shall be back next Saturday week"); He died of pneumonia, near midnight, 6 October in his and Catherine's home in Brighton. Though an Anglican, he was buried in Dublin's largest Roman Catholic cemetery, Glasnevin. Such was his reputation that his gravestone carries just one word in large lettering: PARNELL.


  1. Most contemporaries pronounced his name as par-nell with the emphasis on the latter part of the name. He himself disapproved of this pronunciation, pronouncing his name par-nell, with the emphasis on the start of the name.

Additional reading and sources

External links

fr:Charles Stewart Parnell he:צ'ארלס סטיוארט פרנל pt:Charles Stewart Parnell sv:Charles Stewart Parnell


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