Charles Stewart Parnell

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Charles Stewart Parnell, between 1870 and 1880

Charles Stewart Parnell (* 27. June 1846 in Avondale, County Wicklow , † 6. October 1891 in Brighton ) was an Irish politician who from 1875 to 1891 a member of the British House of Commons was, and as leader of the Home Rule League for the self-government of Ireland entered . He is considered one of the most important Irish personalities of the 19th century.


Origin and family

Charles Stewart Parnell was the third son and seventh child of John Henry Parnell and his American wife Delia Stewart . The father was a wealthy Anglo-Irish landowner and the cousin of one of the leading Irish aristocrats , Lord Powerscourt (see Powerscourt Gardens ). Delia Parnell was the daughter of the American naval hero Commodore Charles Stewart, who in turn was the stepson of one of George Washington's bodyguards . Parnell came from the noble House of Tudor through his great-grandmother, Commodore Stewart's mother, and was therefore distantly related to the British royal family. Because of his noble ancestry and relatives, Parnell had excellent relationships with the most influential circles in society from an early age.

Most of the family name is Par nell pronounced - with the emphasis on the second syllable. Parnell himself against it emphasized the first syllable, saying his name par from -nell. This emphasis was also used by William Butler Yeats in the lines of poetry And Parnell loved his country / And Parnell loved his lass .

Political activity

Statue of Parnell on O'Connell Street in Dublin

After studying at Magdalene College , Cambridge , Parnell was elected steward of his native County Wicklow in 1874 and elected to the House of Commons for the first time the following year as a representative of County Meath . There he stood up for the self-government of Ireland, the so-called Home Rule , throughout his career .

While the up to then dominant representative of Irish interests in the British House of Commons, Isaac Butt, took a more moderate position and sought consensus with the established parties to enforce the Home Rule, Parnell took a much tougher line. While not a good speaker, he turned out to be an excellent organizer. After Isaac Butt died in 1879, he replaced William Shaw as chairman of the Irish Nationalist Party in 1880 . He converted it into the Irish Parliamentary Party in 1882 , giving it a modern structure and clear leadership. Possible constituency candidates were selected according to strict rules, so that the parliamentary group, formerly notorious for their disagreement, now voted as one in line with the party leadership.

As a united Irish bloc, Parnell's faction in the House of Commons was able to temporarily tip the scales between Whigs and Tories. She opposed the liberal and conservative governments of the 1880s and forced the opposing parties to debate the Irish question in the House of Commons. By giving filibuster speeches and tabled countless amendments to any law, the members of the Irish Parliamentary Party temporarily paralyzed parliamentary work completely. In the mid-1880s, Liberal party leader William Ewart Gladstone finally agreed that the Whigs would support Parnell's Home Rule endeavors. 1886 introduced the first Home Rule bill into parliament. However, the proposal failed in the House of Commons and split the Liberals into Home Rule supporters and opponents.

In addition to the central demand of the Home Rule, the Irish Parliamentary Party also fought for land reform in Ireland, where the land was then in the hands of English landowners . In this endeavor, some members of the party worked closely with the Irish Land League , which Parnell had founded with Michael Davitt . This association put various members, including John Dillon, Timothy Michael Healy , William O'Brien, and Parnell himself, in jail for some time. Ultimately, however, their policies resulted in a series of laws that changed ownership in Ireland over three decades, with large Anglo-Irish properties being owned by Irish tenants.

In March 1887, the British newspaper The Times accused Parnell of being involved in the so-called Phoenix Park murders of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Henry Burke , based on published letters . However, he was acquitted of all charges when it was revealed that journalist Richard Piggott had forged these letters. They came to be known as the Piggott forgeries .

Marriage affair, end of career and death

Parnell's soaring was short-lived when it emerged (although it was largely known among Westminster politicians) that Parnell had long been the lover and father of some of Katharine O'Shea's children . She was the wife of Parnell's party friend, MP Willie O'Shea . Parnell and Katherine married shortly after their divorce from O'Shea.

Under pressure from the religious wing of the Liberal Party, British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone reluctantly announced that he could no longer support the Irish Parliamentary Party as long as Parnell remained its leader.

Parnell refused to resign. This led to a split within the party. At a party meeting he encountered Gladstone's statement with the question “Who is the leader of this party?” ( Who is the master of the party? ). One of his party colleagues, Timothy Michael Healy , answered with the legendary words, "Who is the mistress of this party?" ( Who is the mistress of the party? ).

Parnell's tombstone in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin

Parnell was eventually deposed as leader and fought long and fiercely for his reinstatement. He went on a political tour of Ireland to get new support. On the day of his marriage to Katharine on June 25, 1891 in Steyning ( West Sussex ), the Catholic superiors condemned his behavior in writing; only Edward O'Dwyer of Limerick refused to sign. While traveling through Ireland, he was thrown quicklime in the eyes by a hostile crowd in Castlecomer, County Kilkenny . He was then taken over by a Dr. Valentine Ryan from Carlow treats a Home Rule advocate .

In September he held in the pouring rain in Creggs (border between the counties of Galway and Roscommon ) a public meeting, and fell ill on September 27 from pneumonia. He returned to Dublin and from there took the mail boat to Brighton on September 30th . He died of pneumonia just before midnight on October 6, 1891, at his and Katharine's home in Brighton. Though Anglican, he was buried in Dublin's largest Roman Catholic cemetery in Glasnevin . Despite his adultery, his overall reputation was very high - just like the inscription on his tombstone in capital letters simply reads: "PARNELL".

The anniversary of his death was celebrated annually by his followers as "Ivy Day" (Efeutag).


Parnell is considered a national hero in present-day Ireland and was often referred to as the "uncrowned King of Ireland" during his lifetime - a term originally applied to Daniel O'Connell . Political competitors and opponents also showed him respect. Long-time British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone considered him the most remarkable person he had met in his life. Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith described him as one of the three or four greatest men of the 19th century, while Richard Burdon Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane , considered him the strongest figure the British House of Commons had seen in 150 years. In Dublin, Parnell Square is named after him and a statue on O'Connell Street is a memorial to him.


  • Winston S. Churchill: Lord Randolph Churchill, Odhams Press, London 1905
  • Sil-Vara : English statesmen . Berlin: Ullstein, 1916, pp. 195-205
  • Robert Kee: The Green Flag. A history of Irish nationalism . Penguin, London 2000, ISBN 0-14-029165-2 .
  • Robert Kee: The Laurel and the Ivy. The story of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish nationalism . Penguin, London 1994, ISBN 0-14-023962-6 .

Web links

Commons : Charles Stewart Parnell  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

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