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Herbert Hensley Henson

Bishop of Durham
1863 to 1947

Herbert Hensley Henson was born in London, England, in 1863 and was brought up in evangelical family. He was educated at Oxford University, where he was a fellow of All Soul’s College from 1884 to 1886. He then served as head of Oxford House in Bethnal Green (1887-1888). By the time he became vicar and rural dean of Barking (1888-1895) he was considered a high churchman. He was, however, impatient of party dogmatism and as rector of St Margaret’s Westminster (1900-1912) he became a stronger defender of the right and duty of critical inquiry.

Despite Henson’s views on party dogmatism, his career kept pace and from 1900 to 1912 he was a canon of Westminster. He also served as sub-dean from 1911 to 1912, and later as dean, 1912-1918. In 1918 he was then appointed to the bishopric of Hereford, which was attacked by conservative churchman. In 1920 he became bishop at Durham. During his tenure as bishop, the rejection of the revised Prayer Book by the House of Commons in 1927-1928 transformed Henson from a defender of the establishment to stalwart advocate of the disestablishment of the Church of England. Although he retired in 1939, he was recalled to a canonry of Westminster in 1940 by Winston Churchill’s personal request. Failing eyesight, however, obliged him to resign the following year.

Overall, Henson had a wide range of intellectual interests demonstrated by his Rede Lectures at Cambridge University in 1924 and by his Gifford Lectures (1935-1936) on Christian morality.

He died in Hintlesham, Suffolk, in 1947.

Other work by Henson includes Apostolic Christianity: Notes and Inferences Mainly Based on S. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians (1898), Godly Union and Concord: Sermons Preached Mainly in Westminster Abby in the Interest of Christian Fraternity (1902), The National Church (1908), Puritanism in England (1912), Anglicanism: Lectures on the Olaus Petri Foundation Delivered in Uppsala during September 1920 (1921), The Church of England (1939), Selected English Sermons: Sixteenth to Nineteenth Centuries (1939), Retrospect of an Unimportant Life, a three-volume autobiography (1942-1950), Bishoprick Papers (1946), and More Letters of Herbert Hensley Henson, a second volume chosen and edited by Evelyn Foley Braley (1954).

  • Kelly Van Andel, University of Glasgow