Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Parnell: The Empire Strikes Back
Inspired by Geoffrey Wheatcroft's article on Gladstone in The Guardian today, here is a little story of sex and unintentional revenge.
The story begins on the morning of the 28th February 1881 on a hilltop in South Africa. A British Army led by one of the best and brightest of its Generals has been defeated by a bunch of farmers. General Colley and 91 of his men lie dead and 59 bewildered survivors are marched off into captivity. The Boers have only lost one man dead on the field.
Back in the British camp, General Sir Evelyn Wood, an experienced and successful commander in many of the Empire's small wars, is plotting how to extract revenge using the large army that is even now marching to his aid. Wood is a veteran of the Empire's small wars, who had turned the course of the Zulu War with his victory at Khambula. However, before he can put his plan into action, word comes from the Prime Minister, William Gladstone, that he is to seek peace instead.
Aylyard. An Irishman qualified as a solicitor and a surgeon, the talented Mr Aylyard was officially there as a war correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, but he was really engaging in his primary occupation, that of professional revolutionary, and taking great delight in humiliating the British.
Aylyard wasn't the only Irish Nationalist jubilant at the Boer triumph. The Irish World declared, "Give thanks to God, ye starving Irish...the Boers and Basutos (referring to the recent revolt of Sekukini) of South Africa are fighting the battle of Ireland, although they don't know it."
Wood signed the peace treaty and his mentor, Sir Garnet Wolseley - the very model of a major general - was so incensed it was effectively the end of Wood's career.
As the 1880s wore on it seemed that Ireland would indeed finally get Home Rule. but without any fighting at all. O'Connell having won them the vote, Irish Catholics then used their votes to elect Charles Stuart Parnell to Parliament and to give his Irish Party enough seats to make them kingmakers in Westminister.
Unfortunately for Aylyard, Parnell and the Nationalists, the Wood family were to have their revenge, for the unfortunate General Wood had a sister, Katharine.
Known as Kitty, she had married one of Parnell's supporters, a Major O'Shea and it is as Kitty O'Shea that she enters history.
Like O'Connell before him Parnell fancied a bit on the side, and Kitty was his mistress. The Major was not impressed and when he sued for divorce Parnell was exposed and fell from power.
The Empire had stuck back.