Green, Alice Sophia Amelia Stopford (1847–1929), historian and nationalist, was born 30 May 1847 in Kells, Co. Meath, seventh among nine children of Edward Adderly Stopford , archdeacon of Meath, and Anne Catherine Stopford (neé Duke) from Sligo. With the exception of one year at school, she was educated at home by a series of governesses. She learned Greek, became widely read, and travelled to the Continent on a number of occasions. She assisted her father in his work; however, a state of semi-blindness lasting seven years curtailed her activities. An operation restored her sight in 1871.
When her father died (1874) the family moved to Chester, England, where the Stopfords had originated in the seventeenth century. In December 1874, while staying at the London home of a cousin, Stopford Augustus Brooke (qv), she met John Richard Green, a pioneer of social history who had just published a Short history of the English people. They married in June 1877 and enjoyed five and half years of happy marriage before his death in March 1883, following a long illness. In those years she had become his amanuensis and collaborator: together they wrote A short geography of the British islands (1879). Following his death she completed his Conquest of England, published in 1883. For the rest of her life she acted as the guardian to her husband's intellectual legacy, overseeing the publication of numerous revised editions of his work.
She was financially comfortable, having an income of £1,800 a year, and so was free to pursue the interest in history which her husband had stimulated. She moved to 14 Kensington Square, London, where she worked from 5 a.m. to noon each day. She was commissioned by John Morley (qv) to write a biography of Henry II (qv) for a series on great English statesmen, and this was published in 1888. She then returned her focus to social history and her two-volume Town life in the fifteenth century appeared (1894). After noon her home became a salon where writers, politicians, and people of influence met. Her coterie embraced varied political opinions, but the nucleus consisted of leading liberals. Inevitably Ireland was a frequent topic of conversation, and during the 1890s she came to favour home rule while questioning British imperialism in general. This tendency was encouraged by friendship with John Francis Taylor, QC, (1853–1902). Taylor harboured ambitions to marry Green, but his advances were explicitly and finally rejected in early 1894.
During the Boer war she visited St Helena (September–October 1900) to investigate the treatment of the prisoners held there. Subsequently, she published several pieces condemning the conditions and both lobbied and collected on the prisoners’ behalf. She was angry at the impact of imperialism on Africa, and in 1901 she was a founder member of the Africa Society and its vice-president, and helped to edit its journal. Her brother, John, was the society's treasurer for a time. She met Roger Casement (qv) when both were active in the formation of the Congo Reform Association (1904). In tandem with her growing questioning of colonial policy grew doubts about the manner in which Irish history had been presented. In The making of Ireland and its undoing (1908) she set about rewriting the history of medieval Ireland. In this book she contended that pre-Norman Ireland was not a home to barbarians but to an admirable civilisation, which, she insisted, was marked by an attachment to spiritual rather than material values. This argument was clearly motivated by, and had implications for, contemporary politics. She sought to prove that, before interference from England, the Irish had successfully governed themselves and should be allowed to do so again. Indeed, she asserted that the English presence in Ireland had destructive rather than beneficial effects. This view of Irish history inspired nationalist writers to argue that the achievement of independence would see the return to a prelapsarian idyll.
Her political views not only led Green to romanticise Gaelic civilisation, but to indulge in hyperbole when referring to the evils of English rule. Her description of Ireland during the penal laws which appears in Irish nationality (1911) is typical of her tone: ‘Children shut out from all means of education might be seen learning their letters by copying with chalk the inscriptions on their fathers’ tombstones’ (Irish nationality, 192). To dismiss her work as propaganda, however, would be unfair. Much of her examination of Gaelic society and economy was scholarly and pioneering. It was well received at the time and she was awarded an honorary Litt.D. from Liverpool University (1913). She continued to write on Irish history for the remainder of her career: other works include The old Irish world (1912), History of the Irish state to 1014 (1925) – which brought her typical approach to Ireland up to the battle of Clontarf – and several smaller volumes, including two secondary-school textbooks. Apart from her role in attempting to create a national history for Ireland, her use of literary texts as evidence was pioneering, her gender set her apart from most contemporary historians, and she possessed an immensely readable style.
Her contribution to Irish nationalism was not limited to providing an historical justification. In 1914 she was chairman and primary funder of the committee set up to organise the importation of arms for the Irish volunteers. This group's activities culminated on 26 July 1914 when arms were landed at Howth. Despite this, Green was not a supporter of armed rebellion. She was shocked by the 1916 rising and horrified that Casement had been plotting to obtain German assistance. Nonetheless, she visited Casement in prison and lobbied hard to prevent his execution. The executions altered her views somewhat, but she remained uncomfortable with the violent struggle for independence. In 1918 she moved from London, buying a house at 90 St Stephen's Green, Dublin. From this base she and her secretary, Maire Comerford (qv), participated in various nationalist activities. The house was a meeting place for leading nationalists throughout the war of independence and was frequently raided by British forces, sometimes twice on a single evening. She published several propagandist pamphlets, including Ourselves alone in Ulster (1918) and The government of Ireland (1921).
She supported the treaty, joining Cumann na Saoirse and becoming a member of the Free State senate. She rarely spoke in the senate, but did argue for the retention of divorce. She was a member of senate committees on Irish manuscripts (1923–4) and on the Garda Síochána bill (1924). In November 1924 she presented a jewelled casket to the senate for the purpose of holding the vellum scroll on which the names of the first senators were written. This was given to the RIA in 1936. She recovered from a heart attack (1925), but her health declined in her last months and she died 28 May 1929 at home.