Mary Benson

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Mary Benson
Mary Benson.jpg
Mary Benson at 20.
Born Mary Sidgwick
Skipton, Yorkshire
Died June 15, 1918(1918-06-15)
East Sussex
Nationality British
Spouse Edward White Benson
Children A. C. Benson, Robert Hugh Benson, E. F. Benson, Margaret Benson

Mary Benson (née Sidgwick; 1841 - 1918) was an English hostess of the Victorian era. She was the wife of Revd. Edward Benson, who during their marriage became Archbishop of Canterbury, i.e. chief bishop of the Church of England and of the world-wide Anglican communion. Their children included several prolific authors and contributors to cultural life. During her marriage, she was involved with Lucy Tait, daughter of the previous Archbishop of Canterbury. She was described by Gladstone, the British Prime Minister, as the 'cleverest woman in Europe'.


Mary Sidgwick was born in Britain in 1841, at Skipton, Yorkshire, the daughter of William Sidgwick, a headmaster, and his wife, Mary (née Crofts). She was the youngest of six children, and was nicknamed Minnie.[1] Among her older brothers was the philosopher, Henry Sidgwick.

She and Edward White Benson were married on 23 June 1859 at Rugby, Warwickshire, by Frederick Temple.

Between 1860 and 1871 they had six children. Their fifth child was the novelist, E. F. Benson, best remembered for the Mapp and Lucia novels. Another son was A. C. Benson, the author of the lyrics to Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory" and master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Their sixth and youngest child, Robert Hugh Benson, became a presbyter in the Church of England before converting to Roman Catholic Christianity and writing many popular novels. Their daughter, Margaret Benson was an artist, author and amateur Egyptologist. None of the children married; and some of them appeared to suffer from mental illnesses, possibly bipolar disorder.

After her husband's death in 1896 Mary set up household with Lucy Tait, daughter of the previous archbishop of Canterbury, Archibald Campbell Tait, who had first moved in with the Bensons in 1889.[2]

She died on 15 June 1918 in East Sussex.

Further reading[edit]

  • Rodney Bolt, As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil: The Impossible Life of Mary Benson (2011) (republished in paperback as Rodney Bolt - The Impossible Life Of Mary Benson - The Extraordinary Story of a Victorian Wife, 2012)
  • Gwen Watkins, E. F. Benson & His Family and Friends (2003)
  • G. Palmer & N. Lloyd, Father of the Bensons (1998)
  • Betty Asquith, The Bensons ... (reprint 1994)
  • Brian Masters, The Life of E. F. Benson (1991)
  • David H. Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise: A. C. Benson the Diarist (1980)
  • David Williams, Genesis and Exodus: A Portrait of the Benson Family (1979)
  • E. F. Benson, As We Were (1930)
  • Percy Lubbock, The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson (1926)
  • E. F. Benson, Mother (1925)
  • E. F. Benson, Our Family Affairs 1867-1896 (1920)
  • A. C. Benson, Life and Letters of Maggie Benson (1917)
  • C. C. Martindale, The Life of Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (2 vols., 1916)
  • A. C. Benson, Hugh, Memoirs of a Brother (1915)
  • A. C. Benson, The Life of Edward White Benson ... (2 vols., 1899)


  1. ^
  2. ^ Vicinus, Martha (2004). Intimate Friends: women who loved women (1778–1928). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-85563-5.

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