Mary Benson (hostess)

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Mary Benson
Mary Benson at 20.
Mary Benson at 20.
BornMary Sidgwick
Skipton, Yorkshire
Died(1918-06-15)15 June 1918
East Sussex
SpouseEdward White Benson
ChildrenA. 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. Their children included several prolific authors and contributors to cultural life. During her marriage, she was involved with Lucy Tait (11 February 1856 – 5 December 1938), daughter of the previous Archbishop of Canterbury. She was described by Gladstone, the British Prime Minister, as the 'cleverest woman in Europe'.


Miss Tait, Archbishop Davidson (Archbishop of Canterbury), Mrs. Davidson, Mrs. Benson, A.C. Benson, Mrs. Cooper, 1911

Mary Sidgwick was born in Britain in 1841, at Skipton, Yorkshire, the only daughter of Rev. William Sidgwick of Skipton, Yorkshire, who was a headmaster, and his wife, Mary (née Crofts), whose parents were the Rev. William Crofts, B.D., vicar of North Grimston, and Miss Carr of Bolton Abbey, who were married at York in 1804.[a][1][2] She was the youngest of six children, and was nicknamed Minnie.[3] 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 daughter, Margaret Benson was an artist, author and amateur Egyptologist. Mary Eleanor "Nellie" Benson was a social worker and writer.[4] 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 priest in the Church of England before converting to Roman Catholicism and writing many popular novels.

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.[5]

She died on 15 June 1918 in East Sussex. Tait and Benson are buried at St Mary's Church, Addington, Surrey, with their respective families.


Mary, with her husband Edward, had six children.

  1. Martin Benson – A prodigy who was raising high hopes by academic excellence, but died at the age of 18 by a not clearly defined disease.
  2. Arthur Christopher Benson – An academic at Cambridge University, author of popular books in his time, and now remembered for his lyrics to Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory".
  3. Margaret Benson (Maggie) – An amateur Egyptologist who was committed to a psychiatric institution in her later life, following a now unclear incident involving her mother and possibly Lucy Tait.
  4. Edward Frederic Benson – a socialiser in London's high society and author of much popular fiction, including "Mapp and Lucia".
  5. Nellie Benson – Died at the early age of 26.
  6. Robert Hugh Benson -Church of England priest, converted to Roman Catholicism and author of popular religious and supernatural novels centred on apologetic themes of his religion.

There were no grandchildren.



  1. ^ Mary Crofts nephew was Ernest Crofts
  1. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1 January 1894). Genealogy of the Family of Benson of Banger House and Northwoods, in the Parish of Ripon and Chapelry of Pateley Bridge. New.
  2. ^ Aikin, John; Hill, Benson Earle (1 January 1804). Monthly Magazine and British Register. R. Phillips.
  3. ^ Harris, Alexandra (9 June 2011). "As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil by Rodney Bolt". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  4. ^ Oldfield, Sybil. "Benson, Mary Eleanor (1863–1890)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/56097.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Vicinus, Martha (30 June 2004). Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778-1928. University of Chicago Press. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-226-85563-9.
  6. ^ Howard, Joseph Jackson; Crisp, Frederick Arthur (1897). Visitation of England and Wales. Priv. printed. pp. 122–.
  7. ^ Carr, James Anderson; Benson, Edward White (1898). Life-work of Edward White Benson, D.D.: Sometime Archbishop of Canterbury. Elliot Stock. pp. 60–.

Further reading[edit]

  • Simon Goldhill, A Very Queer Family Indeed: Sex, Religion, and the Bensons in Victorian Britain (2016)
  • 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)
  • Janet Grayson, Robert Hugh Benson: Life and Works (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)
  • Thomas Dunham Whitaker[1]

External links[edit]