Benson, Edward White

Benson, Edward White

Benson, Edward White, 1829-96, archbishop of Canterbury, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was appointed (1877) the first bishop of Truro, and in 1882 he was appointed archbishop of Canterbury. His clerical writings include Cyprian (1897) and Apocalypse (1900). Three of his four sons became notable literary figures—A. C. Benson, E. F. Benson, and R. H. Benson.
Edward White Benson (July 14 1829October 11 1896) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1882 until his death.


Born in Highgate, Birmingham and educated at King Edward's School in Birmingham and Trinity College, Cambridge, Benson began his career as a schoolmaster at Rugby School in 1852. 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 Minster from 1872-77, and Bishop of Truro from 1877-82. He founded Truro High School for Girls in 1880.

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. 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 - a service that is now used every Christmas around the world.

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 wrote several novels. Their daughter Margaret Benson was an artist, author and amateur Egyptologist.

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