A new British history of the home rule crisis
: public opinion, representation and organisation

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis marries a multi-nation framework with a close reading of sources and quantitative techniques to trace grassroots responses to William Gladstone’s proposals for Irish self-government. It offers a holistic, whole-island, low-political history of the crisis, giving equal weighting to England, Wales and Scotland, and covers the period between the first and second Home Rule bills. The thesis demonstrates that extra-parliamentary engagement with Home Rule existed on a scale we previously knew very little of, and establishes the place of the crisis in the history of political culture, language and organisation in late nineteenth-century Britain. The way the crisis unfolded was due in no small part to the fact that there existed not only organisational networks through which opinion could be mobilised and disseminated, but also languages with which such ‘opinion’ could be dissected, the ‘language of the caucus’ being especially vital. We cannot fully understand the modernisation of the party system or of electoral politics unless we grasp the impact Home Rule had, both on trends already emergent and as a propellant of new styles and techniques. The crisis not only redefined patterns of political allegiance, it also (re)defined the purpose and portrayal of political organisation. 1886 was a moment of colossal political mobilisation in which fundamental concepts, practices and rituals of opinion, representation and power were at stake. Home Rule dominated political activity, language and organisation that year, but the reasons for this, and the ways in which activists and the ‘public’ responded to the policy, were coloured by the particular political and organisational cultures of each nation. Home Rule’s importance thereafter to party platforms and political language waxed and waned, competing with both resurgent and new ‘national’ and local issues, the articulation of which was facilitated and complicated on the one hand by the relationship between Home Rule and ‘the caucus’ and on the other by the relationships between ‘national’ and ‘British’ machines. The thesis draws throughout on the results of two major quantitative projects. The first is a survey of the meetings at which Ireland was reported to have been discussed between the introduction and defeat of the first Home Rule bill. The second is a study of the content of addresses issued by candidates at the 1886 and 1892 general elections.
Date of Award1 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorPaul Readman (Supervisor) & John Bradley (Supervisor)

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