Edward White Benson

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



Edward White Benson was born in Highgate, Birmingham, the son of a Birmingham chemical manufacturer. 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 great English public school, closely modelled on Rugby School, rather than the military academy originally planned. He later served as Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral from 1872–77, and first Bishop of Truro from 1877-82. He founded Truro High School for Girls[3] in 1880. Benson died from cardiovascular disease in 1896.


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 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.

Personal life

Benson and his wife Mary Sidgwick Benson, the sister of philosopher Henry Sidgwick, had six children. Their fifth child was the novelist E. F. Benson. 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 Catholicism 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, probably 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.[4]

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