Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Herbert Hensley Henson: A Biography

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Herbert Hensley Henson: A Biography

Article excerpt

Herbert Hensley Henson: A Biography. By John S. Peart-Binns (Cambridge, UK: Lutterworth Press. 2013. Pp. 212. $50.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-7188-9302-6.)

Any new biographer of the English ecclesiastic Herbert Hensley Henson (1863-1947), bishop of Hereford (1918-20) and Durham (1920-39), faces two significant challenges. The first is Henson himself. One of the outstanding figures of early-twentieth-century English Anglicanism, Henson had almost uncontrollable propensities to self-documentation (he authored both a triple-decker memoir-unpromisingly titled Retrospect of an Unimportant Life [London, 1942]-and a manuscript diary running to more than 100 volumes) and uncompromising public statements that frequently made him the center of national controversy. Alongside these he exhibited a pained reserve about his early life and subsequent psychological and spiritual complexities; these helped fuel an unsettled theological and ecclesiological position and identity. His life is consequently one of twists and turns in allegiance and advocacy that could perplex and frustrate contemporaries, even as they remained in awe of his capacity to articulate with unrivaled clarity key dilemmas facing the Church of England, in some instances (such as the case for and against establishment) from both sides of the fence. The prize for the successful biographer is thus an exceptional insight into the modern history of Anglicanism; the test to offer a convincing account which makes coherent sense of his eventful career. Peart-Binns is not the first to try; and herein lies the second challenge. Ecclesiastical historians need courage to tread again a path taken by the late Owen Chadwick, whose Hensley Henson: A Study in the Friction between Church and State (Oxford, 1983) the London Times judged possibly "the best ecclesiastical biography of the century." A reviewer is therefore forced into a comparison with the earlier work.

Peart-Binns certainly brings new material to light, having gathered a significant body of reminiscence and archival material (now deposited with the Henson papers in Durham). He takes due account of relevant scholarship that has appeared since Chadwick wrote, although he puzzlingly makes no reference to Robert Lee's important study of relations between clergymen, capitalists, and colliers in The Church of England and the Durham Coalfield (Rochester, NY, 2007). …

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