Parnell was an Irish nationalist and statesman who led the fight for Irish Home Rule in the 1880s.
Charles Stewart Parnell was born on 27 June 1846 in County Wicklow into a family of Anglo-Irish Protestant landowners. He studied at Cambridge University and was elected to parliament in 1875 as a member of the Home Rule League (later re-named by Parnell the Irish Parliamentary Party). His abilities soon became evident. In 1878, Parnell became an active opponent of the Irish land laws, believing their reform should be the first step on the road to Home Rule.
In 1879, Parnell was elected president of the newly founded National Land League and the following year he visited the United States to gain both funds and support for land reform. In the 1880 election, he supported the Liberal leader William Gladstone, but when Gladstone's Land Act of 1881 fell short of expectations, he joined the opposition. By now he had become the accepted leader of the Irish nationalist movement.
Parnell now encouraged boycott as a means of influencing landlords and land agents, and as a result he was sent to jail and the Land League was suppressed. From Kilmainham prison he called on Irish peasants to stop paying rent. In March 1882, he negotiated an agreement with Gladstone - the Kilmainham Treaty - in which he urged his followers to avoid violence. But this peaceful policy was severely challenged by the murder in May 1882 of two senior British officials in Phoenix Park in Dublin by members of an Irish terrorist group. Parnell condemned the murders.
In 1886, Parnell joined with the Liberals to defeat Lord Salisbury's Conservative government. Gladstone became prime minister and introduced the first Irish Home Rule Bill. Parnell believed it was flawed but said he was prepared to vote for it. The Bill split the Liberal Party and was defeated in the House of Commons. Gladstone's government fell soon afterwards.
In April 1887, the Times published a reproduction of a letter, allegedly bearing Parnell's signature, that excused the Phoenix Park murders. Proof that the letter was a forgery transformed Parnell into a hero in the eyes of English liberals and he received a standing ovation in the House of Commons. It was the peak of his career.
It was a short-lived resurgence. In December 1889, William O'Shea, formerly one of Parnell's most loyal supporters, filed for divorce from his wife Katherine on the grounds of her adultery with Parnell. Kitty had in fact been Parnell's mistress for some years and Parnell was the father of three of her children. The scandal provoked a split in the party and Parnell was replaced as leader. He was politically sidelined and died in Brighton on 6 October 1891.
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