Robert Hugh Benson

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Robert Hugh Benson
Monsignor R. H. Benson in Oct. 1912, Aged 40.jpg
Photo of Benson by G. Jerrard, 1912
Robert Hugh Benson

(1871-11-18)18 November 1871
Died19 October 1914(1914-10-19) (aged 42)
Bishop's house Salford Cathedral, Salford
Parent(s)Edward White Benson and Mary Sidgwick Benson
ChurchRoman Catholic

Robert Hugh Benson AFSC KC*SG KGCHS (18 November 1871 – 19 October 1914) was an English Anglican priest who in 1903 was received into the Roman Catholic Church in which he was ordained priest in 1904. He was a prolific writer of fiction and wrote the notable dystopian novel Lord of the World (1907). His output encompassed historical, horror and science fiction, contemporary fiction, children's stories, plays, apologetics, devotional works and articles. He continued his writing career at the same time as he progressed through the hierarchy to become a Chamberlain to Pope Pius X in 1911 and gain the title of Monsignor.

Early life[edit]

Benson was the youngest son of Edward White Benson (Archbishop of Canterbury) and his wife, Mary, and the younger brother of Edward Frederic Benson and Arthur Christopher Benson.[1]

Benson was educated at Eton College and then studied classics and theology at Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1890 to 1893.[2]

In 1895, Benson was ordained a priest in the Church of England by his father, who was the then Archbishop of Canterbury.


After his father died suddenly in 1896, Benson was sent on a trip to the Middle East to recover his own health. While there he began to question the status of the Church of England and to consider the claims of the Roman Catholic Church. His own piety began to tend toward the High Church tradition, and he started exploring religious life in various Anglican communities, eventually obtaining permission to join the Community of the Resurrection.

Benson made his profession as a member of the community in 1901, at which time he had no thoughts of leaving the Church of England. As he continued his studies and began writing, however, he became more and more uneasy with his own doctrinal position and, on 11 September 1903, he was received into the Catholic Church. He was awarded the Dignitary of Honour of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Benson was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1904 and sent to Cambridge. He continued his writing career along with his ministry as a priest.


Like both his brothers, Edward Frederic Benson ("Fred") and Arthur Christopher Benson, Robert wrote many ghost and horror stories, as well as children's stories and historical fiction. His horror and ghost fiction are collected in The Light Invisible (1903) and A Mirror of Shallott (1907).[1] His novel, Lord of the World (1907), is generally regarded as one of the first modern dystopian novels (see List of dystopian literature).[1] Come Rack! Come Rope! (1912) is a historical novel describing the persecution of English Roman Catholics during the Elizabethan era. [3] The bibliography below reveals a prodigious output.

Vatican chaplaincy[edit]

Benson was appointed a supernumerary private chamberlain to the Pope (Pius X) in 1911 and consequently styled as Monsignor.[citation needed]

Private life[edit]

As a young man, Benson recalled, he had rejected the idea of marriage as "quite inconceivable".[4] He had a close friendship with "Baron Corvo", alias the notorious novelist Frederick Rolfe, with whom he had hoped to write a book on Thomas Becket, until Benson decided that he should not be associated (according to writer Brian Masters)[5] "with a Venetian pimp and procurer of boys". Nevertheless he maintained his friendship with Lord Alfred Douglas, the friend and lover of Oscar Wilde, and when an acquaintance protested that the connection with Douglas was inappropriate for him, he replied: "Lord Alfred Douglas is my friend, and he'll come down when he likes!"[5]

Death and legacy[edit]

Benson died of pneumonia in 1914 in Salford, where he had been preaching a mission. He was 42. At his request, he was buried in the orchard of Hare Street House, his house in the Hertfordshire village of Hare Street.[6] A chapel, dedicated to St Hugh, was built over the site. Benson bequeathed the house to the Catholic Church as a county retreat for the Archbishop of Westminster. The Roman Catholic church in the nearby town of Buntingford, which he helped finance, is dedicated to St Richard of Chichester, but also known as the Benson Memorial Church.[7]



Science fiction

Historical fiction

Contemporary fiction

Children's books

Devotional works

Apologetic works


Selected articles


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Ashley, Mike (May–June 1984). "The Essential Writers: Blood Brothers (Profile of E.F., A.C. and R. H. Benson)". Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine. pp. 63–70.
  2. ^ "Benson, Robert Hugh (BN890RH)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ Richard Griffiths, Pen and the Cross: Catholicism and English Literature 1850 - 2000. London: A&C Black, 2010 ISBN 9780826496973 (pp. 83-5).
  4. ^ Benson, Robert Hugh (1913). Confessions of a Convert. Longmans, Green and Co.
  5. ^ a b Howse, Christopher (3 February 2007). "Sacred mysteries". The Telegraph (opinion).
  6. ^ Benson, A.C. Hugh: Memoirs of a Brother. Dodo Press. p. 210. ISBN 1406548197.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "The Dawn of All," The Bookman, September 1911.
  9. ^ Cooper, Frederick Taber. "The Accustomed Manner and Some Recent Novels," The Bookman, May 1914.


External links[edit]

Online editions[edit]