Edward White Benson

Edward White Benson (14 July 1829 – 11 October 1896) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1883 until his death. Prior to this, he was the first Bishop of Truro, serving from 1877 to 1883, and began construction of Truro Cathedral.

He was previously a schoolmaster and was the first Master of Wellington College from 1859 to 1872.

Edward White Benson
Archbishop of Canterbury
Installed29 March 1883
Term ended11 October 1896
PredecessorArchibald Campbell Tait
SuccessorFrederick Temple
Personal details
Birth nameEdward White Benson
Born14 July 1829
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England
Died11 October 1896 (aged 67)
Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales
BuriedCanterbury Cathedral
ParentsEdward White Benson, Sr.
SpouseMary (Minnie) Sidgwick


Edward White Benson was born at Lombard Street in Highgate, Birmingham, on 14 July 1829, the eldest of eight children of chemical manufacturer Edward White Benson senior (26 August 1802 – 7 February 1843) and his wife Harriet Baker Benson (13 June 1805 – 29 May 1850).[1] He was baptised in St Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham, on 31 March 1830. The family moved to Wychbold when his father became manager of the British Alkali Works at Stoke Prior, Worcestershire.

From 1840, he was educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham and then Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA (8th in the Classical tripos) in 1852.[2] At King Edward's, under James Prince Lee, Benson "manifested a deeply religious tone of mind and was fond of sermons".[3]:7–8

Cambridge Ghost Society

The Cambridge Association for Spiritual Inquiry, known informally as the Cambridge Ghost Society or the Ghostlie Guild, was founded by Benson and Brooke Foss Westcott in 1851 at Trinity College.[4][5] Westcott worked as its secretary until 1860.[6] The society collected and investigated reports of ghosts. Other notable members included Alfred Barry and Henry Sidgwick.[4] It has been described as a predecessor of the Society for Psychical Research.[4][7]. According to the Notebooks of Henry James, his source for the novella The Turn of the Screw was the Archbishop of Canterbury (i.e. Benson) at Addington Palace on 10 January 1895.[8].

Schoolmaster at Rugby and Wellington

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 of Wellington College, Berkshire, which had recently been built as the nation's memorial to the Duke of Wellington. Benson was largely responsible for establishing Wellington as a leading public school, closely modelled upon Rugby School.[1]

Lincoln and Truro

A stained glass window depicting the foundation of Truro Cathedral

From 1872 to 1877, he was Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral. In 1874, he set up Lincoln Theological College.

He was appointed the first Bishop of Truro, where he served from 1877 to 1882. He was consecrated bishop by Archibald Campbell Tait, Archbishop of Canterbury, on St Mark's day, 25 April 1877 at St Paul's Cathedral.[9] The Diocese of Truro was established in December 1876. Construction of Truro Cathedral began in 1880 to a design by the Gothic Revival architect John Loughborough Pearson. From 24 October 1880 until 1887 a temporary wooden building on an adjacent site served as the cathedral. As archbishop, Benson consecrated the cathedral on 3 November 1887.

He founded Truro High School for Girls in 1880.[10]

Archbishop of Canterbury, 1883–1896

Edward White Benson
Archbishop Benson

In 1883 he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

Five years later Benson avoided the prosecution before a lay tribunal of Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln, under the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 for six ritual offences by hearing the case in his own archiepiscopal court (inactive since 1699).[11]:354 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 in a way that is visible to the people.[12]

Benson 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.[11]:365

In September of the same year, the papal bull Apostolicae curae, which denied the validity of Anglican orders, was published and Benson had started on a reply before his sudden death of heart failure. He was taken ill while attending Sunday service in St Deiniol's Church, Hawarden, Wales, on 11 October 1896, during a visit to the former Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. Three days later his body was put on the train at Sandycroft station to be returned to London.[13]

He was buried at Canterbury Cathedral, in a magnificent tomb located at the western end of the nave. The tomb is emblazoned with the epitaph Benson had chosen: Miserere mei Deus Per crucem et passionem tuam libera me Christe ("Have mercy on me O Christ our God, Through Thy Cross and Passion, deliver thou me").[14][15]

His work concerning Saint Cyprian, Cyprian: his life, his times, his work,[16] was published posthumously, in the year after his death.[12]


Order of Service for Nine Lessons and Carols 1880
Order of Service for the first Nine Lessons and Carols in 1880 on display in Truro Cathedral

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 broadcast every Christmas around the world.[17]

Benson was the founder of the Church of England Purity Society,[18] an organisation which later merged with the White Cross Army. Alfred Ryder served as a trustee of the organisation.[19]

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 idea in his Notebooks and eventually used it as the starting-point for his classic ghost story, The Turn of the Screw.[20]

St.Mary's pulpit - geograph.org.uk - 356000
Pulpit in Lincoln Cathedral commemorating Archbishop Benson
Eglwys St Deiniol's Church Penarlag Hawarden Flintshire Wales 09
Memorial to Benson in Hawarden Church

The hymn "God Is Working His Purpose Out" was written by Arthur C. Ainger as a tribute to Benson as both were Masters at Eton and Rugby respectively.[21]

In 1914, a boarding house at Wellington College was named in his honour. Benson House carries the emblem of a blue Tudor Rose, and is situated in its own corner of the college grounds.[22]

In 2011, a book about Mary Benson characterised her husband as living "a life of relentless success".[23]

Personal life

Benson married his second cousin Mary (Minnie) Sidgwick, the sister of philosopher Henry, when she was 18, having proposed to her when she was 12 and he was 24. The couple had six children. Benson also supervised the education of his younger sister Ada Benson who was left an orphan in 1852.[24]

Their fifth child was the novelist Edward Frederic Benson, best remembered for his Mapp and Lucia novels. Another son was Arthur Christopher 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. Their daughter, Margaret Benson, was an artist, author and Egyptologist. None of the children married; and some appeared to suffer from mental illnesses, possibly bipolar disorder.[25]

After the archbishop's death, his widow set up household with Lucy Tait, daughter of the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Archibald Campbell Tait.[26] A biography of Mary Benson, using her numerous letters, was published in 2011.[23]


The Benson family was of Scandinavian origin with the name of Bjornsen. The Bensons "emerge into history" as an English family in 1348 when John Benson held a "toft" from the Abbey at Swinton-by-Masham in Yorkshire.[3]:1–2

Arthur Christopher Benson, the Archbishop's son, wrote a genealogy of his family.[27] He found that "Old" Christopher Benson (born 1703) was the "real founder of the fortunes" of the Benson family having acquired a "good deal" of land. He also "established a large business."[27]:7–8[28]

Archbishop Edward White Benson's grandfather was Captain White Benson, of the 6th Regiment of Foot. 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.[29]

The Archbishop's father was Edward White Benson (born in York in 1802, died at Birmingham Heath in 1843). He was a Fellow of the Royal Botanical Society of Edinburgh and the author of books on education and religion.[29] He was also an inventor whose inventions made "considerable fortunes" for others, but not for him.[30]


  • Boy-life, Its Trial, Its Strength, Its Fulness: Sundays in Wellington College, 1859–1873. London: Macmillan & Co. 1883.
  • The Seven Gifts. London: Macmillan & Co. 1885.
  • Christ and His Times: Addressed to the Diocese of Canterbury in His Second Visitation. London: Macmillan & Co. 1889.
  • Living Theology. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Company. 1893.
  • Cyprian: His Life, His Times, His Work. London: Macmillan & Co. 1897.
  • Bernard, J. H., ed. (1896). Archbishop Benson in Ireland: A Record of His Irish Sermons and Addresses 1896. London: Macmillan & Co.
  • The Apocalypse,: An introductory Study of the Revelation of St. John the Divine. London: Macmillan & Co. 1900.


  1. ^ a b Chapman, Mark D. "Benson, Edward White (1829–1896)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/2139.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ "Benson, Edward White (BN848EW)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ a b Carr, James Anderson (1898). Life-work of Edward White Benson, D.D.: Sometime Archbishop of Canterbury. Elliot Stock.
  4. ^ a b c Oppenheim, Janet (1985). The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850–1914. Cambridge University Press. pp. 68, 123. ISBN 978-0-521-26505-8.
  5. ^ Byrne, Georgina (2010). Modern Spiritualism and the Church of England, 1850-1939. Boydell & Brewer. pp. 50–51. ISBN 978-1-84383-589-9.
  6. ^ Broad, C.D. (2014). Religion, Philosophy and Psychical Research: Selected Essays. Routledge. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-317-83006-1.
  7. ^ McCorristine, Shane (2010). Spectres of the Self: Thinking about Ghosts and Ghost-Seeing in England, 1750–1920. Cambridge University Press. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-521-76798-9.
  8. ^ The Notebooks of Henry James, edited by F.O. Matthiessen and Kenneth B. Murdock, published George Braziller Inc, New York, 1955
  9. ^ "Consecration of the Bishop of Truro". Church Times (#744). 27 April 1877. p. 245. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 26 December 2016 – via UK Press Online archives.
  10. ^ Clarke, Amy Key (1979). The Story of Truro High School, the Benson Foundation. Truro: Oscar Blackford.
  11. ^ a b Chadwick, Owen (1980). The Victorian Church (Part 2). Adam & Charles Black.
  12. ^ a b Cross, Frank Leslie; Livingstone, Elizabeth A., eds. (2005). "Benson, Edward White". The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 190. ISBN 9780192802903.
  13. ^ "Death of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Hawarden Rectory" (PDF). Brief History. Flintshire County Council. p. 19.
  14. ^ Edward White Benson at Find a Grave
  15. ^ Donaldson, Augustus Blair (1902). The Bishopric of Truro: the First Twenty-five Years, 1877–1902. London: Rivingtons. p. 191.
  16. ^ Benson 1897.
  17. ^ "The History of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols". whychristmas.com.
  18. ^ "The Church of England Purity Society". The Official Year-book of the Church of England. London: SPCK. 1884. p. 126.
  19. ^ Prettejohn, Elizabeth (1999). After the Pre-Raphaelites: Art and Aestheticism in Victorian England. Manchester University Press. p. 228. ISBN 9780719054068.
  20. ^ Hadey, Tessa (2002). Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure. Cambridge University Press. p. 186. ISBN 9780521811699.
  21. ^ "God Is Working His Purpose Out". hymnary.org.
  22. ^ "The Benson". Wellington College. Archived from the original on 20 January 2016.
  23. ^ a b Bolt, Rodney (2011). As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil: The Impossible Life of Mary Benson. London: Atlantic Books. ISBN 9781843548614.
  24. ^ Pryor, Ruth. "Benson, Ada (1840–1882)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/48641.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  25. ^ Ridley, Jane (9 July 2011). "The gay Lambeth way" (review of Rodney Bolt, As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil: The Impossible Life of Mary Benson)". The Spectator.
  26. ^ Vicinus, Martha (2004). Intimate Friends: women who loved women (1778–1928). University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-85563-5.
  27. ^ a b Benson, Arthur Christopher (1894). Genealogy of the Family of Benson of Banger House and Northwoods, in the Parish of Ripon and Chapelry of Pateley Bridge. Eton: George New.
  28. ^ Note that the above family tree gives “Old” Christopher Benson’s birth date as 1708.
  29. ^ a b Howard, Joseph Jackson; Crisp, Frederick Arthur (1897). Visitation of England and Wales. Priv. print. pp. 122–.
  30. ^ Benson 1900a, pp. 4–5.


Further reading

External links

Church of England titles
New diocese Bishop of Truro
Succeeded by
George Wilkinson
Preceded by
Archibald Campbell Tait
Archbishop of Canterbury
Succeeded by
Frederick Temple
1829 in the United Kingdom

Events from the year 1829 in the United Kingdom.

1880 in the United Kingdom

Events from the year 1880 in the United Kingdom.

Archibald Campbell Tait

Archibald Campbell Tait (21 December 1811 – 3 December 1882) was an Archbishop of Canterbury in the Church of England.

Arthur Lloyd (bishop)

Arthur Thomas Lloyd (13 December 1844 – 29 May 1907) was an Anglican bishop. He served as Bishop of Thetford (suffragan bishop to the Bishop of Norwich, 1894–1903) and as Bishop of Newcastle (1903–1907).

Bishop of Truro

The Bishop of Truro is the ordinary (diocesan bishop) of the Church of England Diocese of Truro in the Province of Canterbury.


The blastpipe is part of the exhaust system of a steam locomotive that discharges exhaust steam from the cylinders into the smokebox beneath the chimney in order to increase the draught through the fire.

Charles Corfe

Charles John Corfe (1843 – 20 June 1921) was the inaugural Anglican Bishop in Korea from 1889.

Frederick Temple

Frederick Temple (30 November 1821 – 23 December 1902) was an English academic, teacher, churchman, and Archbishop of Canterbury, from 1896 until his death.

George Wilkinson (bishop)

George Howard Wilkinson, DD (1 May 1833 – 11 December 1907) was Bishop of Truro 1883-1891 and then of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane 1893-1907. He was Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church from 1904, until his death.


Abbir Germaniciana also known as Abir Cella is the name of a Roman and Byzantine-era city in the Roman province of Africa proconsularis (today northern Tunisia). The city was also the seat of a bishopric, in the ecclesiastical province of Carthage, and is best known as the home town of the Pre Nicaean father, Cyprian, who was bishop of Abbir Germaniciana around 250AD.

God Is Working His Purpose Out

"God Is Working His Purpose Out" is an English Christian hymn. It was written in 1894 by Arthur Campbell Ainger as a tribute to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson. The original music for the hymn was written at the same time by Millicent D. Kingham but a number of other pieces of music have been used for the hymn in recent times.

James Atlay

James Atlay (3 July 1817 – 24 December 1894) was the 98th Anglican Bishop of Hereford, from 1868 to 1894.

John Lloyd (Bishop of Swansea)

John Lloyd (1847 – 10/17 June 1915) was a British Anglican bishop. He served as the Bishop of Swansea (a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of St David's) from 1890 until his death in office.

Lloyd was the son of William Lloyd of Newport, Monmouthshire, and was educated at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge — whence he was awarded his Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in 1876, his Cambridge Master of Arts (MA Cantab) in 1888, and a Doctorate of Divinity in 1891. He married in 1883.Made a deacon in London in 1876, he at first served as curate of Roehampton, Surrey; he was ordained priest in 1877 and became curate of Storrington, West Sussex. He served as vicar of St Peter's Church, Carmarthen from 1889, then a canon residentiary of St David's Cathedral from 1890; he became vicar of Jeffreston and Reynalton, Pembrokeshire, in 1900 and vicar of Lampeter, Cardiganshire, in 1903.Nominated to serve as the first Bishop of Swansea — to assist the Bishop of St David's —, Lloyd was ordained and consecrated a bishop on 24 June 1890, by Edward White Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury, at St Paul's Cathedral, and was sworn in on St Peter's day (29 June) 1890.

Katharine Esdaile

Katharine Ada Esdaile (née McDowall, 23 April 1881 – 1950) was a British art historian, particularly of English post-medieval sculpture, "the subject she made peculiarly her own".

Lincoln Theological College

Lincoln Theological College was a theological college in Lincoln, United Kingdom.

Mary Benson (hostess)

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'.

Province of Canterbury

The Province of Canterbury, or less formally the Southern Province, is one of two ecclesiastical provinces which constitute the Church of England. The other is the Province of York (which consists of 12 dioceses). It consists of 30 dioceses, covering roughly two-thirds of England, parts of Wales, and the Channel Islands, with the remainder comprising continental Europe (under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe).

Between the years 787 and 803, a third province, (of) Lichfield, existed. In 1871, the Church of Ireland became autonomous. The Church in Wales was disestablished in 1920 and therefore was no longer the state church; it consists of six dioceses and is an ecclesiastical province of the Anglican Communion.

The province's metropolitan bishop is the Archbishop of Canterbury who also oversees the Falkland Islands, an extraprovincial parish. The Church of Ceylon - Anglican Church in Sri Lanka has two dioceses - the Diocese of Colombo and the Diocese of Kurunegala which are extraprovincial dioceses under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Truro High School

Truro High School is an independent day and boarding school for girls in Truro, Cornwall. The school consists of a girls-only Prep School, Senior School and Sixth Form. It is a member of the Girls' Schools Association.

White Cross Army

The White Cross Army was an organisation set up in 1883 by philanthropist Ellice Hopkins with help from the Bishop of Durham, to promote "social purity". The recruits – all of them men – pledged to show a "chivalrous respect for womanhood", to apply ideas of purity equally to men and women, and not to indulge in foul language or indecent behaviour. It was renamed the White Cross League in 1891, and merged with the Church of England Purity Society, which had been formed by Edward White Benson.The organisation was Christian in ethos but, at the insistence of Hopkins and somewhat unusually for a purity association, it was non-denominational in practice. Its name was symbolic: White denoted purity, Cross referred to the campaign being for Christ, and Army reflected its disciplined nature. It adopted as its motto the words of Sir Galahad:

The army based its structure on that of the temperance movement. Its target audience was mostly working-class men, who were exhorted to pledge their support for its aims by speakers at mass meetings. In lectures delivered by the organisation, the pledge of purity was defined for married men as the practice of sexual restraint, while young and unmarried men were expected to practice chastity and renounce masturbation. As with the Church of England Purity Society, whose goals were similar but aimed at upper-class men, the Army believed that it was men who should be responsible for sexual virtue.There were 102 affiliated branches in Britain within a year of formation, and branches in Australia, Canada, Germany, India and the United States. The British branches had attracted 2000 pledge-takers in that time and were mostly in the industrialised regions of The Midlands and North England.



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