to commit himself to disestablishment in Scotland and Wales, or to say which of the two
should be dealt with first.
Stuart Rendel to T. Gee, 16 Mar. 1889, in NLW, T. Gee MS, 8308 D, 257; see also
S. Kendall to T. Gee, 18 Mar. 1889, ibid., 258.
104 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
In this respect the Principality was supposed to be more similar to
Ireland than to either England or Scotland, particularly because its
Episcopal Establishment, like the Church of Ireland before 1869, was
perceived not just as unscriptural, but also as an â€˜alienâ€™ institution
symbolizing the English conquest.277 Disestablishment was thus â€˜a meas-
ure designed not alone to remove religious inequality, but to initiate
a scheme of social reconstruction and to secure the effective recognition
of Welsh nationalityâ€™.278 Further affinities between the two â€˜Celticâ€™
nations included the peopleâ€™s attachment to both the soil and the
ideal of a national farming community, the problem of rural poverty
and the desire to revive the national language.279 In both countries
agriculture was dominated by a large number of small tenants
with comparatively few farm workers. Such a situation encouraged con-
tacts and co-operation between Welsh and Irish land agitators and led to
the formation of a Welsh Land League at the end of 1886 under the
leadership of the fierce Nonconformist preacher Thomas Gee of
Denbigh, the publisher of the intensely political Baner ac Amserau
In Wales as much as in Ireland the social divide between farmers and
landlords coincided with a contested religious frontier, to the extent that
it was difficult to say which of the two problems was more important in
sustaining the Welsh â€˜Tithe Warâ€™ of 1886â€“91 â€“ land hunger or sectarian
animosity. Rural unrest reached Irish levels of intensity.281 The extensive
evidence collected by the Revd Robert Lewis â€“ himself involved in the
â€˜warâ€™ as a church bailiff â€“ vividly conveys the strength of the resistance, the
role played by women and how resistance was encouraged by some
Nonconformist ministers (to the dismay of many of their colleagues),
some of whom took upon themselves the role of national liberators (one
Notes for speeches in the Ellis papers, suggesting parallels between the Welsh, Irish and
Italian national movements, in which he compared the Anglican Bishop of St Asaph to
Prince Metternich (the architect of Austrian rule in Italy between 1815â€“48): â€˜Notes on
decentralizationâ€™, n.d., NLW, T. E. Ellis MSS, 3022.
From T. E. Ellisâ€™ 1895 electoral manifesto, in NLW, Ellis MSS, 2963.
See NLW, T. E. Ellis MSS, 4647, containing notes on the similarities between Ireland
and Wales, based on quotations from political speeches by contemporary politicians;
and â€˜Some considerations affecting the home language of the Cymryâ€™, Notes, n.d., in
M. Davitt to W. J. Parry, 28 Dec. 1885, in NLW, W. J. Parry MSS, 8823 C, 5â€“5(d); and
M. Davitt to W. J. Parry, 7 Jan. 1886, in ibid., 7: â€˜Mr Oâ€™Brien has promised to me
to speak to Mr Parnell and advise him to send one or two prominent members of his
party to address the projected meeting at Caernarvon.â€™ For the Land League see
K. O. Morgan, Rebirth of a nation: Wales, 1880â€“1980 (1982), 38â€“9, 50.
E. G. Griffith to T. E. Ellis, 11 Oct. 1886, in NLW, T. E. Ellis MSS, 8306D, 94a.
Home Rule in context 105
of them was aptly named Garibaldi Thomas).282 The government found
it necessary to provide bailiffs with strong police and military escort, often
amounting to hundreds of men. As columns of constables and soldiers
paraded throughout rural Wales, incidents were frequent and sometimes
serious. Even when none occurred, the deployment of the military â€˜was
felt as an insult to our humanity, loyalty and Christianityâ€™.283
In both Ireland and Wales there was a close alliance between national
and land reform movement and the locally predominant religious
denominations, the National League with rural Catholicism and Cymru
Fydd/the Welsh Liberals with Dissent.284 This came with comparable
class/political cleavages: if the Irish gentry dreaded the Nationalist farm-
ers, in Wales rich landowners had the reputation of â€˜hat[ing] small free-
holdersâ€™ because the latter â€˜voted Liberalâ€™.285 Even in the sphere of
education â€“ often the main cause of the â€˜disunity of heartsâ€™ within the
Home Rule camp â€“ the differences between Welsh and Irish nationalists
actually reflected a common pattern, namely the close alliance enjoyed by
each movement with its national religious culture, which demanded,
respectively, secular and denominational schooling. While in Wales the
education problem was largely solved from 1870 onwards through the
operation of the school board system,286 in the late 1880s the clash over
the tithes indicated the need for further reform. As Ellis wrote in 1889, â€˜[it]
is humiliating for us to be ruled in Wales by Home Secretary Matthews and
Major Bassett Lewis. I can understand why Irishmen denounce their
Castle rulers as brutal and mean. I often feel I should like some good
thumping, reeling blow dealt at the tithe system and police brutality.â€™287
Such perceived affinities help us to understand why Welsh caucuses
were solidly on the side of Irish Home Rule from 1886, despite the fact
that until 1885 Chamberlain had been very popular in Wales, where he
was identified with disestablishment, drink control, education and land
reform.288 Pressure from constituency parties soon forced the few
Revd R. Lewis, â€˜Reminiscences of the Tithe War in West Walesâ€™, NLW, MS 15321 D.
Cf. K. O. Morgan, Wales in British politics, 1868â€“1922 (1980), 84â€“94 and J. Davies,
A History of Wales (1994), 452â€“3.
R. Morris from Pentre to T. E. Ellis, 19 Aug. 1893, in NLW, T. E. Ellis MSS, 1524.
For an example see Resolution enclosed with Amlwch Reform Club to T. E. Ellis,
9 Mar. 1894, in NLW, T. E. Ellis MSS, 63.
W. P. Davies, a smallholder, in a letter to his MP, T. E. Ellis, 23 Feb. 1892, in NLW,
T. E. Ellis Papers, 313.
T. M. Bassett, The Welsh Baptists (1977), 327; cf. Biagini, Liberty, chapter 3.
T. E. Ellis to Mr Gibson, n.d. , in NLW, Ellis MSS, 2755, Letter Book, 22. Major
Bassett Lewis was chief Constable of Cardiganshire (15321 D, ibid.).
Stuart Rendelâ€™s notes from interviews with local Liberal party activists in Feb. 1886
indicate substantial support for Home Rule, which was expected to give the Irish the
106 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
remaining Chamberlainite Radicals â€“ including the young Lloyd George â€“
to forsake Unionism.289 In fact from an early stage some resented
Gladstoneâ€™s unwillingness to treat Wales â€˜in the spirit of the proposed
Irish legislationâ€™,290 which would involve â€˜freeingâ€™ the country from the
constraints of Westminster politics and granting it an assembly to deal
with purely Welsh matters according to Welsh ideas. When a motion
along these lines was put to a meeting of two thousand dock workers in
Cardiff, in July 1886, it was carried with only four dissentient voices.291
Thus the Welsh did not so much complain about past oppression under
the Union, as focus on the future: theirs was â€˜a much less romantic and
much more prosaic standpoint [than the Irish]â€™ for, as they put it, â€˜we do
not feel so much that we are writhing under a wrong done to us 180 years
ago; we feel rather that we are suffering from a disability at this very
For Tom Ellis â€“ a farmerâ€™s son, the rising star of Welsh Liberalism and
â€˜the Parnell of Walesâ€™ â€“ â€˜the Irish question [was] so huge, fierce, volcanic
that it fills the public mind to the exception of all other topics . . . so
comprehensive that in fighting on its various issues we fight on principles
which will have application far and outside Ireland, and not the least [in]
Walesâ€™.293 He regarded Home Rule as by â€˜far the noblest effort of modern
Liberalism. It is the touchstone of Liberalism. I believe in Home Rule for
its intrinsic value to a nation and to the sum total of human good.â€™294 In
both countries Home Rule was â€˜a policy of prudence for labour . . . a
policy of hope, of promise, of growthâ€™.295 It was not only a device for
power to solve their internal difficulties: interviews with J. Hamer Jones, 15 Feb. 1886,
and with D. Jones, 15 Feb. 1886, both in Stuart Rendel MSS, 19448, VII 1. For further
examples see the reports â€˜East Glamorgan Liberal Three Hundredâ€™, Pontypridd
Chronicle, 23 Apr. 1886, 3, and â€˜Meeting of Swansea Liberalsâ€™, Cardiff Times & South
Wales Weekly News, 12 June 1886, 2.
Graham Jones, â€˜Welsh experience, 1886â€™, 450, 465â€“70; R. Price, â€˜Lloyd George and
Merioneth politics, 1885, 1886 â€“ a failure to effect a breakthroughâ€™, Journal of Merioneth
History and Record Society, 8 (1975), 301â€“3.
Dr I. Davies to A. J. Williams MP, 6 June 1886, in Ellis Papers, 4007.
Rep., â€˜Sir E. J. Reed at the docksâ€™, Cardiff Times & South Wales Weekly News, 3 July
J. W. Crombie speaking at the â€˜Conference with the Aberdeen Liberal Associationâ€™, in
rep., â€˜Scottish Home Rule Conference at Aberdeenâ€™, The Scottish Highlander, 1 Oct.
1891, 5. For further examples see the reports â€˜Meeting of the South Glamorgan Liberal
300â€™, Cardiff Times & South Wales Weekly News, 19 June 1886, 3; â€˜Mr W. Abraham, MP,
at Mountain Ashâ€™, ibid., 9 Oct. 1886, 3; â€˜Cymry Fydd: the South Wales Liberal
Federation: annual meeting at Swanseaâ€™, ibid., 22 Feb. 1889; and Abrahamâ€™s article
â€˜Home Rule for Walesâ€™, ibid., 9 Feb. 1889, 1.
T. E. Ellis to Gibson, Letter Book, 22, 3 Apr. 1889, in Ellis Papers, 2755. For Ellis as
â€˜the Parnell of Walesâ€™ see rep., â€˜National demonstration at Navanâ€™, FJ, 2 Nov. 1888, 5.
Notebook, n.d. [1893â€“4], in Ellis Papers, 3019.
Notebook on Switzerland, n.d., Ellis Papers, 4375.
Home Rule in context 107
national self-determination, but also a Liberal safeguard against the evils
of centralized government and a step towards federalism, which he
regarded as a superior constitutional system.
As a student at Oxford Ellis had been influenced by Arnold Toynbeeâ€™s
critique of the evils of unlimited competition and laissez-faire as well as by
J. S. Millâ€™s claim that the distribution of wealth offered ample scope for
state intervention and â€˜socialistâ€™ experiments.296 He argued that â€˜[the]
first duty of a State is to see that every child born therein shall be well
housed, clothed, fed and educated, till he attains the years of discretionâ€™.
His vision of nationalism was deeply religious â€“ the political translation
of the Methodist revival, â€“ and he wanted to see â€˜all denominationsâ€™
involved in â€˜[the] nation making its own way to truth and light and self-
relianceâ€™.297 A Mazzini enthusiast and admirer of the Risorgimento, he
shared the Italian patriotâ€™s vision that citizenship should entail both social
and political rights and that it should be religiously inspired. Like Davitt,
he was a supporter of womenâ€™s rights and of the kind of social nationalism
inspired by both Ruskin and Walt Whitman.298 Ellis championed an ideal
of nationality which included a linguistic, literary, artistic and academic
revival. One of his models was Switzerland, â€˜the sacred home of repub-
lican freedomâ€™, with twenty-three cantons â€˜each sovereignâ€™, where â€˜[the]
advocate of parish councils finds the strength of his argument in the
working of the Communeâ€™.299 Another was the Tyrol, whose size and
population were smaller, though comparable to those of Wales. In the
Tyrol a â€˜Home Ruleâ€™ parliament had â€˜an unbroken history of over 500
yearsâ€™ during which it had been â€˜the centre of their national lifeâ€™. â€˜Its land
system has been modified to suit the necessities of its people. Of the tillers
of the soil 100,000 are freeholders and 10,000 tenants. The Tyrolese have
had native bishops and priests. They have had their University, their
National Museum, and a native School of Art.â€™ As a result, they had
always been very loyal to Austria.300 His dream was a nation of indepen-
dent farmers, one of the many ideals which he shared with the Irish
Notes on Political Economy, Oxford 1882â€“4 (â€˜Lectures on politico-economical ques-
tions, by Arnold Toynbeeâ€™), Ellis Papers, 3193.
T. Ellis Papers, 3019 (emphasis in the original).
Aberdare Womenâ€™s Liberal Association to Mrs T. E. Ellis, 15 Apr. 1899, in Ellis Papers,
Notebook on Switzerland, Tyrol and Home Rule for Wales, n.d. [but 1893] in Ellis
Notebook on Switzerland.
3 Constitutional Nationalism and popular
liberalism in Ireland
I am not sure at all that the Parnellites elected next Autumn will hang
together. The Labourers wonâ€™t pull with them and though these are a
weak body in Ireland they may be enough to form a New party in alliance
with Landlords of a Liberal type.1
When, said Mr Parnell, it was conceded to us as one of the principles of
the Irish Party that it was the right of the Irish people to be governed by
the people, for the people and in accordance with the will of the majority
of the people, we gladly recognised that that was our principle, and
â€˜upon that principle we cordially shake hands with you, and we wish
long life to the Liberal Party in their career of self-Government for
Ireland, and justice to the English peopleâ€™.2
The roots of Irish â€˜popular liberalismâ€™
â€˜Legislative and administrative decentralization is one Irish ideaâ€™,
Reynoldsâ€™s commented in 1888, â€˜and the abolition of landlordism is
another. We cannot advocate them as beneficial to Ireland without feeling
that they have the strongest significance for ourselves.â€™ â€˜Indeed,â€™ it con-
cluded, â€˜it is not the British Democracy that is absorbing the Irish â€“ it is
the Irish that is absorbing the British.â€™3 Few scholars would be prepared
to endorse such a view, but many would admit that there were at least
parallels between constitutional nationalism and British radicalism.4 The
question is whether such parallels depended merely on temporary alli-
ances between individual leaders, or whether they reflected ideological
affinities more widely shared by the rank and file as well. As already
Lord Spencer to Lord Lansdowne, 16 Aug. 1885, in P. Gordon (ed.), The Red Earl: the
papers of the Fifth Earl Spencer, 1835â€“1910, vol. II (1986), 73.
L.a., FJ, 21 July 1887, 4, summarizing Parnellâ€™s speech at the banquet held in honour of
the Irish party at the National Liberal Club.
L.a., â€˜Senators in harnessâ€™, RN, 19 Feb. 1888, 1.
Heyck, Dimension, 18â€“21; Brady, T. P. Oâ€™Connor, 54â€“6, 69â€“71.
Constitutional Nationalism and popular liberalism 109
indicated (pp. 28â€“30) my argument here is that the relationship between
the two movements was characterized, if not by â€˜absorptionâ€™, certainly by
cross-fertilization and by a common emphasis on both democracy and
Some agrarian radicals were obviously very close to their British col-