Wolfe Tone

BookWolfe Tone

Wolfe Tone

Second edition


February 4th, 2019



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Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-1798) was the founder of Irish Republican nationalism. As such his political ideas and the circumstances of his life and early death have become powerful political weapons in the hands of later nationalists. Today his name still arouses strong passions and he is hailed as the first prophet of an independent Ireland. Published originally in 1989, Marianne Elliott’s book was the first major biography of Tone, using a wealth of new material to examine his personal life and public actions. Tracing him from his upbringing as a member of the Protestant elite, through his involvement in Irish radical politics, his exile in America, his secret negotiations with the French and return to Ireland with a French invasion force, to his trial for treason and his suicide while awaiting execution, it was a monumental publication that won numerous awards and gained much praise. This second edition brings this award-winning book up to date with new scholarship, new historical insights and fresh insights by Professor Marianne Elliott herself, making a crucial publication for all scholars and readers of Irish history.

Marianne Elliott ...is better qualified than anyone to crack the Tone conundrum. Her meticulously documented Wolfe Tone balances a narrative of well-judged pace-accelerating as it reaches the climax of Tone's suicide before his execution-with clear, often subtle analysis...This is the fullest account of Tone's life to date; it is readable and warmly but critically sympathetic.

Angus Macintyre, Times Literary Supplement

Times Literary Supplement

[A] cool, splendidly researched biography...If Marianne Elliott dismantles the myth she in no way debunks the individual. Rather she releases a much more admirable figure, humane, high spirited, cultivated, very much of his turbulent, radical liberal times.

Peter Lennon, The Guardian

The Guardian

A work of such thorough and perceptive skill that there will never need to be another.

The Observer

A splendid biography.

John Kavanagh, The Irish Post

The Irish Post

[Tone] has for the first time received a thorough biography by the talented scholar, Marianne Elliott... Tone himself now comes alive in Elliott's completely researched pages and in her meticulous reconstruction of Tone's exciting world and its rush of events. Superb notes, bibliography, and index, plus a revealing closing essay on the tortuous building of the 'cult of Tone' that followed his death.


This book puts previous biographies of Tone altogether in the shade. . . . A story in the best sense. . . . Elliott shows a critical and imaginative sympathy with her subject, an approach indispensable to the biographer's understanding. The Wolfe Tone that emerges is historically credible, warts and all, though the warts are mostly of the benign variety.

John A. Murphy, The Irish Herald

The Irish Herald

Mrs. Elliott has written a full and fair biography—a brave book.
Terence de Vere White, Daily Telegraph

Daily Telegraph

Highly readable and splendidly illustrated, this work must rank as the final assessment of Wolfe Tone. It deserves a wide and appreciative readership.

Seamus Kelters, The Irish News

The Irish News

Traces the life of the recognized founder of Irish Republican Nationalism, from his upbringing and education as a member of the Irish Protestant elite, through his involvement in Irish radical politics, his exile in America and secret negotiations in France, to his trial for treason and his suicide while awaiting execution.

British Book News

In Ireland, where the dead hand of history still has the power to inflame political passions, the name of Theobald Wolfe Tone has a special place. Hailed as the founder of Irish Republican nationalism, he is a hero to the Brit-bashing provisional I.R.A. and Sinn Fein, members of which make an annual pilgrimage to his grave in County Kildare. In Ulster, this staunch Protestant is ignored by his countrymen. The advocate of an alliance between Ulster Presbyterians and Roman Catholic peasants against absentee English landowners, Wolfe Tone negotiated with the revolutionary French Republic and welcomed a French invasion of Ireland in 1798. Captured by the British, he was tried for treason and sentenced to hang, a fate he cheated by committing suicide. . . . This book is the definitive scholarly biography.

The Washington Post Book World

Nobody is better qualified to tell this story than Marianne Elliott. She leaves no stone unturned in a masterly trawl through archives in England, Ireland, France and the U. S. A., unearthing much new material on the way. Her command of the sources for the 1780s is awesomely thorough. Whether the issue is piracy, Pacific exploration or daily life in London and Paris, she is familiar with the best and most recent scholarship."

Frank McLynn, The Times Higher Education Supplement

The Times Higher Education Supplement

Marianne Elliott's study of Tone does not in any way diminish or demean the Father of Irish Republicanism or his role in the grand cause of Irish Nationalism. Quite the opposite. This book adds strength, stature, and verve to the life and times of Wolfe Tone as he struggled to break the connection with England.

Irish Socialist Review

The creation of Tone as a relic . . . required that he be wrenched out of his historical and political context. The great virtue of Marianne Elliott's biography is that she has placed him firmly back within it.

Thomas Flanagan, Newsday


A marvelous exposition from one of that group of outstanding young Irish historians. It is written with great verve and empathy and painstaking research.

The Irish Times

This is an excellent biography: the first life of Tone to be based on extensive research and probably also the last; 'definitive' probably does apply.

Conor Cruise O'Brien, The Times (London)

The Times (London)

This book puts previous biographies of Tone altogether in the shade. Dr. Elliott brings to her work a specialist knowledge of Franco-Irish relationships in the revolutionary period, and her Partners in Revolution book was an invaluable background for their study of Tone. Her familiarity with a rich array of sources results in a fuller picture of the subject than we've had heretofore, and the French and American contexts are particularly satisfying. All in all, it is unlikely that anything of substance will be added to the Tone story.

Sunday Independent

Marianne Elliott's book could be described as one of the very few major definitive biographies of an Irish political figure of modern history.

The Irish Times

Tone's attitude to terrorism is explored by Marianne Elliott in the first major biography of the man who is claimed by constitutional nationalists and militant republicans as their inspiration.


This extensively researched, lucidly written and sensitively interpreted work is not only a major contribution to Irish historiography, but is one which will have important public influence in challenging many of the simplistic public notions of Wolfe Tone's attitude towards the separation of Ireland from Britain.

John Cooney, The Irish Times

The Irish Times

Fluently written, skillfully constructed and rigorously scholarly. It draws on an impressive array of sources from archives in Ireland, England, France, and the U. S. A., and, as political biography, it successfully maintains the delicate balance between public and private, between 'life' and 'time'. . . . Dr. Elliott also unearths new information and brings fresh perspectives to bear. . . . Careful research and meticulous detail are the rule. It is a measure of Dr. Elliott's thoroughness, indeed, that alternative readings of Tone's career can be made from the material which she presents.
Jim Smyth, Irish Economic and Social History

More than a mere Life, daringly dramatic and romantic in itself, for Tone's story is also that of Ireland republicanism and of the impact of the French Revolution. . . . Dr. Elliott is likely the best qualified Irish historian writing today to have given us this authoritative work. The narrative is beautifully balanced and soundly based on sure groundwork among a wealth of new material in sources ignored or unavailable to former biographers of Theobald Wolfe Tone. This is a lucidly searching study of a most complex character who emerged from the Protestant Irish elite to become the mouthpiece of Irish national aspirations and the catalyst of political and military actions in the heady days of the French Revolution. . . . Dr. Elliott's portrait is full of insights, sensitive and fair-minded because it is thoroughly researched, has a restrained sympathy for her subject and is written in a crisp style. This nonsentimental life of Tone deserves a warm reception and a wide readership.

John McGurk, History Today

History Today

Elliott is one of only a handful of writers to attempt a biography, and hers is the first that can claim to be exhaustive and authoritative. She succeeds brilliantly. Not only is this the best biography of Tone ever produced, it is certain to be ranked among the very best biographies of any political figure in Irish history.

Gary Owens, Canadian Journal of Irish Studies

Canadian Journal of Irish Studies

A major academic achievement.

Maurice R. O'Connell, Catholic Historical Review

Catholic Historical Review

Sheds much new light both on Tone and his times; and . . . it prompts new and more informed discussion of that key decade in the modern history of Ireland, the 1790s.

Tom Bartlett, Linen Hall Review

Linen Hall Review

There have been many accounts of these events, but none so well documented as that given by Marianne Elliott. Partners in Revolution is a veritable tour de force.

John W. Boyle, Albion


A splendid scholarly portrait of the man behind the myth, the only one ever likely to be needed. . . . A fine complement to Tone's delightful autobiography.

Robert Kee, The Independent on Sunday

The Independent on Sunday

[A] detailed and compelling biography of Ireland's major revolutionary figure of the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. . . . The figure which emerges from these pages is far more complicated and humane than the icon which myth has long projected. He appears more vulnerable, less powerful and, for all this, more heroic. . . . The most important, and even compelling aspect of this work is the liberation of Tone and his thought from the polemical trap in which he has long been ensnared."

Kevin O'Neill, Social History

Social History

[A] beautifully written biography . . . its major fresh contribution to historical understanding is perhaps in the picture it gives of Tone in his pre-French, pre-Revolutionary days. She treads adroitly through what is still a politically loaded subject, using a very solid basis of research to dispose of myths in the subsequent cult of Tone. . . . Her able deployment of the wealth of material that has come to light since Frank MacDermot wrote in 1939, makes this undoubtedly the best biography of Tone available and easily the best written."
Michael Duffy, French History

Admirably written, and well illustrated.

Brian Fallon, The Irish Times

The Irish Times

... Elliott is to be commended for this remarkable portrait.
Irish Literary Supplement


Author Information

Professor Marianne Elliott, the Director of the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies, is internationally recognised as one of Ireland's leading historians and is best known for her acclaimed biography 'Wolfe Tone: Prophet of Irish Independence' (Yale), which won numerous awards and for 'The Catholics of Ulster: A History' (Penguin).

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Title page4
Copyright page5
Table of Contents8
List of Illustrations and Maps10
A Tribute to Kay Dickason16
Part I26
Chapter 128
Chapter 243
Chapter 361
Chapter 478
Part II92
Chapter 594
Chapter 6110
Part III124
Chapter 7126
Chapter 8135
Chapter 9147
Part IV160
Chapter 10162
Chapter 11170
Chapter 12182
Chapter 13193
Chapter 14200
Chapter 15210
Part V218
Chapter 16220
Chapter 17232
Part VI244
Chapter 18246
Chapter 19255
Chapter 20268
Part VII288
Chapter 21290
Chapter 22308
Chapter 23321
Chapter 24331
Chapter 25342
Chapter 26356
Part VIII364
Chapter 27366
Chapter 28380
Chapter 29392
Chapter 30408
Select Bibliography490