Charles Stewart Parnell has traditionally been studied from the political angle but here Foster places him in the social context of 19th century Irish gentry, and studies him in relation to his remarkable family. Beginning with a survey of the social milieu into which Parnell was born, he traces the foundation of the family's eminence in Irish life, and explores the ways in which Parnell's connections exerted a much more decisive influence than has previously been realised. Foster's conclusions supply a new appreciation of major aspects of Parnell's political life and of the motivations which governed his ostensibly contradictory personal life, which ended in the 'Mrs. O'Shea' divorce scandal, the ruin of his career, and of Irish hopes of independence for a generation. This study gives us a new picture of the man, and of his world. 'A very valuable, pioneering study' - Conor Cruise O'Brien.