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Encyclopedia > Herbert Hensley Henson
Henson in 1932
Henson in 1932

Bishop of Durham from 1920 to 1939, Anglican preacher and controversialist, Herbert Hensley Henson was born in London in 1863 and died in Hintlesham, Suffolk, in 1947. Arms of the Bishop of Durham The Bishop of Durham is the officer of the Church of England responsible for the diocese of Durham, one of the oldest in the country. ...

In the public eye from 1892 (after an outburst at a diocesan conference in which he referred to dissenting protestant churches as “emissaries of Satan”) until his final retirement in 1941, he provoked some bemusement, not to say scorn, among his peers by entitling his autobiography Retrospect of an Unimportant Life. Henson revelled in his position as a bishop of the Church of England. He was conscious that a significant part of a diocesan bishop’s job must be to accept the responsibilities of a “great national officer”, and even before his elevation to the episcopal bench never avoided speaking his mind publicly on matters which he felt appropriate for a cleric. In the aftermath of the second Dreyfus trial of 1899, Henson castigated the French Catholic Church in his published sermons. In 1912, while canon of Westminster Abbey, he named from the pulpit the three British directors of the Putumayo Rubber Company, furious at their acquiescence in the notorious atrocities which the company committed against its Peruvian Indian labour force. In the more strictly ecclesiastical sphere he was vociferous for inter-communion between all regular Protestant churches, no doubt partly to make amends for his outburst of 1892, which he always regretted. Henson was in some respects a theological liberal, seeking, in the words of Owen Chadwick, to “restate the doctrines of the Church of England in such a way that they will not offend intelligent men”. His nomination as Bishop of Hereford in 1917 provoked what Henson himself called a “heresy hunt”. Until 1928 he was a prominent antidisestablishmentarian. As Bishop of Durham during the years of the Great Depression, Henson spoke out against the immorality of the coal-mining unions’ strikes, although fully alive to the hardships suffered by individual miners, and active in local attempts to provide meaningful work for the unemployed. From 1935 onwards he was prominent too among those who protested against the British Government's acceptance of Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia. In the course of a widely-reported speech in the House of Lords in May 1938, Henson castigated the prevailing policy of appeasement, referring to Lord Halifax’s abandonment of Abyssinia as “the cold sophistry of a cynical opportunism”. In the late 1930s he was characteristically uncompromising in his condemnation of the anti-semitic policies of Nazi Germany. In 1940, at Churchill’s personal request, and at the age of 77, Henson was persuaded out of retirement to take up for a second time a Westminster canonry “as a piece of war-work”. The Dreyfus Affair was a political scandal which divided France during the 1890s and early 1900s. ... The Abbeys western façade The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster, which is almost always referred to as Westminster Abbey, is a mainly Gothic church, on the scale of a cathedral, in Westminster, London, just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. ... The Içá or Putumayo River is one of the tributaries of the Amazon river, west of and parallel to the Yapura. ... Yeah, you fucking suck cunt. ... Great Depression was a worldwide economic downturn which started in 1929 (although its effects were not fully felt until late in 1930) and lasted through most of the 1930s. ... The Abyssinia Crisis was a pre-WW2 diplomatic crisis originating in the conflict between Italy and Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia). ... This article is about the British House of Lords. ... The Right Honourable Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax, KG, OM, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, PC (16 April 1881–23 December 1959), known as The Lord Irwin from 1925 until 1934 and as The Viscount Halifax from 1934 until 1944, was a British Conservative politician. ...

But these public utterances, expressed in language of at times devastating clarity, were ultimately of little influence in the affairs of Church or State. Henson referred to himself as a “lone wolf”, a “back number”. On the one occasion when his personal position was thoroughly in tune with the feeling of the times - his war-time residency at Westminster - failing eye-sight and the interruptions of the blitz made his preaching ineffectual. By inclination a historian (Prize Fellow of All Souls at the age of 20), his increasing involvement in public controversy, and work as Vicar of Barking (1888), Rector of St Margaret’s and canon of Westminster (1900), Dean of Durham (1915), Bishop of Hereford, then finally as Bishop of Durham, allowed him small leisure for scholarly pursuits. He may have hoped that his published sermons, journal and letters would, like those of one of his ecclesiastical heroes, Robertson of Brighton, ensure him a growing measure of continuing influence. It was, however, in the day to day fulfilment of the immediate responsibilities of his pastoral and administrative roles that he was agreed to have left the most effective legacy, by those of his contemporaries who knew him best. All Souls College (in full: The College of All Souls of the Faithful Departed, of Oxford) is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. ... The Anglican church of St. ... Frederick William Robertson (February 3, 1816 - 1853), English divine, known as Robertson of Brighton, was born in London. ...


  • H.H. Henson, Retrospect of an Unimportant Life (3 volumes 1942-50)
  • Owen Chadwick, Hensley Henson: a study in the friction between Church and State, 1983



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