Edward Benson (bishop)

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The Most Reverend and Right Honourable
Edward Benson
Archbishop of Canterbury
Installed 29 March 1883
Term ended 11 October 1896
Predecessor Archibald Tait
Successor Frederick Temple
Personal details
Birth name Edward White Benson
Born 14 July 1829
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England
Died 11 October 1896(1896-10-11) (aged 67)
Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales
Buried Canterbury Cathedral
Nationality British
Denomination Anglican
Parents Edward White Benson, Sr.
Spouse Mary (Minnie) Sidgwick

Edward White Benson (14 July 1829 – 11 October 1896) was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1883 until his death.


Edward White Benson was born at Lombard Street in Highgate, Birmingham on 14 July 1829, the son of Birmingham chemical manufacturer Edward White Benson Sr. (26 August 1802 - 7 February 1843) and his wife Harriet Baker Benson (13 June 1805 - 29 May 1850).[1] He was educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA (8th classic) in 1852.[2]

Benson began his career as a schoolmaster at Rugby School in 1852, and was ordained deacon in 1852 and priest in 1857. In 1859 Benson was chosen by Prince Albert as the first Master (headmaster) of Wellington College, Berkshire, which had been built as the nation's memorial to the Duke of Wellington. Benson was largely responsible for establishing Wellington as a public school, closely modelled on Rugby School, rather than the military academy originally planned.

From 1872 to 1877 he served as Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral, and first Bishop of Truro from 1877–82. He founded Truro High School for Girls[3] in 1880.

In 1883 he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. While at Canterbury, to avoid the prosecution before a lay tribunal of Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln, under the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 for six ritual offences he heard the case in his own archiepiscopal court which had been inactive since 1699. [4] In his judgement (often called "the Lincoln Judgement"), he found against the Bishop on two points, with a proviso as to a third that, when performing the manual acts during the prayer of consecration in the Holy Communion service, the priest must stand so that they can be seen by the people. Benson also tried to amalgamate the two Convocations and the new houses of laity into a single assembly. In 1896 it was established that they could 'unofficially' meet together.[5] In September of the same year, the papal apostolic letter Apostolicae curae was published and Benson had started to work on a reply before his sudden death of a heart attack while attending Sunday service in St. Deiniol's Church, Hawarden, Wales on 11 October 1896, while on a visit to former Prime Minister William Gladstone. Three days later his body was put on the train at Sandycroft station to be returned to London.[6] He was buried at Canterbury Cathedral, in a magnificent tomb located at the western end of the nave.

His devotion to Saint Cyprian bore posthumous fruit with the publication of Cyprian, his life, his times, his work the following year.[7]


Archbishop Benson

Benson is best remembered for devising the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, an order first used in Truro Cathedral on Christmas Eve, 1880. Considerably revised by Eric Milner White for King's College Cambridge, this service is now used every Christmas around the world.

Benson was the founder of the Church of England Purity Society, an organization which later merged with the White Cross Army. Alfred Ryder served as a trustee of the organization.[8]

Benson told Henry James a simple, rather inexpert story he had heard about the ghosts of evil servants who tried to lure young children to their deaths. James recorded the hint in his Notebooks and eventually used it as the starting-point for his classic ghost story, The Turn of the Screw.

Pulpit in Lincoln Cathedral commemorating Archbishop Benson

In 1914, a boarding house at Wellington College was named after him. Benson House carries the emblem of a blue Tudor Rose, and is situated outside of the main College.

Personal life[edit]

Edward White Benson's grandfather was Captain White Benson, of the 6th Regiment of Foot.[9] The Archbishop's seal and the Captain's coat of arms show their branch of the Benson family arms were blazoned: Argent, a quatrefoil between two trefoils slipped in bend sable, between four bendlets gules.

Benson married his distant cousin Mary (Minnie) Sidgwick, the sister of philosopher Henry. The couple had six children. Their fifth child was the novelist E. F. Benson, best remembered for his 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 minister of the Church of England before converting to Roman Catholicism and writing many popular novels. Their daughter, Margaret Benson, was an artist, author, and amateur Egyptologist. None of the children married; and some appeared to suffer from mental illnesses, possibly bipolar disorder. After the archbishop's death, his widow set up household with Lucy Tait, daughter of the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Archibald Campbell Tait;[10] and a full-length biography of her was published in 2011, casting light on the Bensons' domestic life.

He is buried in a vault in St Augustines Chapel under a north-west tower of Canterbury Cathedral.


Further reading[edit]

  • Rodney Bolt, As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil: The Impossible Life of Mary Benson (2011) [reprinted 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)
  • David Williams, Genesis and Exodus: A Portrait of the Benson Family (1979)
  • A. C. Benson, The Life of Edward White Benson, Sometime Archbishop of Canterbury (2 vols., 1899)
  • William Hutton, The Life of William Hutton, Stationer, of Birmingham: And the History of His Family (Google eBook); Charles Knight and Company, 1841 - Booksellers and bookselling - 135 pages; page 62.


  1. ^ 1841 census
  2. ^ "Benson, Edward White (BN848EW)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  3. ^ Amy Key Clarke, The Story of Truro High School, the Benson Foundation. Truro: Oscar Blackford, 1979
  4. ^ Chadwick, Owen The Victorian Church (Part II) Adam & Charles Black(1980) p.354
  5. ^ Chadwick, Owen The Victorian Church (Part II) Adam & Charles Black(1980) p.365
  6. ^ An article about the Archbishop's passing on the Flintshire website
  7. ^ Cross & Livingstone The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church OUP(1974) art."Benson, Edward White"
  8. ^ Prettejohn, p. 228
  9. ^ Joseph Jackson Howard; Frederick Arthur Crisp (1897). Visitation of England and Wales. Priv. print. pp. 122–. 
  10. ^ Vicinus, Martha (2004). Intimate Friends: women who loved women (1778–1928). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-85563-5.
  11. ^ http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?gl=ROOT_CATEGORY&rank=1&new=1&so=3&ssrc=pt_t4232135_p25790169900_kpidz0q3d25790169900z0q26pgz0q3d32768z0q26pgplz0q3dpid_m1&MSAV=1&gss=ms_r_f-2_s&gsfn=Charlotte&gsln=Mould&msbpn__ftp=England&msdpn__ftp=England&msfng0=James&msfng0_x=1&msfns0=Mould&msfns0_x=1&cpxt=0&catBucket=rstp&uidh=to1&_83004003-n_xcl=f&cp=4&mssng0=Thomas&mssns0=Baker www.Ancestry.com James and Sarah Mould, parents of Charlotte Mould


External links[edit]

Church of England titles
New diocese Bishop of Truro
Succeeded by
George Wilkinson
Preceded by
Archibald Tait
Archbishop of Canterbury
Succeeded by
Frederick Temple