Mary Benson was the wife of the Primate of the Anglican Church and resided in Lambeth Palace, London. The Primate of all Anglicans is also given the title of Archbishop of Canterbury. Although Mary and the Archbishop raised sex children, she spent most of her life chasing and bedding women. Like so many women of her time, Mary was expected to marry.
Her Priggish Husband
Like so many women of her time, Mary was expected to marry. At the age of 12 she was engaged to Edward, but did not marry him until she reached the age of 18. At the age of sixteen, Mary had her first experience of making love to a woman. and wrote of the joy of the experience.
Mary married Edward Benson, a handsome man with golden-brown hair and striking blue eyes. His own sexuality has always been questioned as according to his sister, Eleanor, her brother tended to “make idols of older men.” At the age of 12 she was engaged to Edward, but did not marry him until she reached the age of 18. At the age of sixteen, Mary had her first experience of making love to a woman. ‘I quite fell in love with her and spent a great deal of time with her,’ she wrote, although this happiness would not last long. On her wedding night, in June 1859, Mary described her disappointment.. ‘How my heart sank, knowing that I felt nothing of what I knew people ought to feel,’ she recalled. ‘Trying to be rapturous, not succeeding, feeling so inexpressibly lonely and young.’
Upon Reaching Forty Years of Age Mary developed an intense bond with Charlotte ‘Chat’ Basset, a vivacious middle-aged woman who had married into a wealthy Cornish copper-mining family. Chat liked to break rules and kept her cigarettes stashed in a leather-bound hymn book. While Charlotte used “Chat” as a name, she gave Mary the name of “Robin.” Chat had dark flashing eyes and Mary wrote, ‘I love you so dear that not one whit less than all of you will I have.”
Their relationship lasted until 1882 when Edward became Archbishop of Canterbury. In an anguished farewell letter Mary wrote, ‘I daren’t think of going away from here and you’. Mary it seems was quite adaptable and soon found herself in a literary circle. Their home included visits by Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning and Henry James.
Goodbye Chat, Hello Ethel
Mary seemed to be attracted to masculine women. Ethel is described by others as a tomboyish woman with a loud laugh. Although just 27 years old, Ethel was known to like older women. It seemed that masculine suitors like to rename Mary and Ethel named her Ben. Of course, this was a safety precaution because Ethel could write “I am in Love With Ben” and get away with it. Ethel was a ‘modern woman’ who like to try the new invention called the bicycle. Ethel liked to ‘show off” by riding her bike passed Lambert Palace, the home of Mary and the Archbishop. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the monarch’s spiritual advisor and Edward was constantly with the priggish Queen Victoria. He detested Ethel and was afraid of gossip.
The Family Triangle
After four years of happiness with Ethel, Mary slowly realised that her young girlfriend was forming an attachment to her daughter Nellie, then 26. In the first year of this friendship, Ethel wrote Nellie more than 150 love letters. Mary tried to be a ‘good sport’ and did her best to accept them as a couple.’
The relationship was cut short when in October 1890 Nellie died from diphtheria at the age of 27. She was the second child the Bensons had lost, their eldest son Martin dying of meningitis at 17; none of the remaining four was to marry. Her two boys, Arthur and Frederick, were homosexuals. And her daughter, Maggie, a celebrated Egyptologist, engaged in same-sex affairs.
The Death of Edward Benson.
In 1896, Edward died while praying in church. Queen Victoria offered the use of the Royal Lodge at Windsor Park. Mary declined knowing that she would be under scrutiny by the puritanical queen. When Edward died, Lucy came to share the marriage bed. Lucy had been in a relationship with Mary for six years. As the daughter of a previous Archbishop, Edward and Mary agreed for her to live in Lambert Palace. Mary and Lucy bought a large country house near Haywards Heath in Sussex. It was quite the lesbian household with Mary’s daughter, Maggie and her lesbian lover, Nettie Gourlay, whom she had met on an archaeological dig.
Mental Illness Stirred into the Pot!
Later on, Mary became painfully aware that her daughter, Maggie, was suffering from mental illness. Maggie was convinced that Lucy, her mother’s lover, was trying to get rid of her. Maggie became a danger to herself and the others in the household. She tried suicide an set her bedroom curtains on fire. Maggie was moved to an asylum. She died in 1916 of heart failure.
The Final Years of Mary Benson.
By 1916, Mary was in her late 70s. She was a frail figure and became deaf. But there is a happy ending, Mary died peacefully in her sleep in 1918. Lucy was in bed beside her. Naturally, the passing of an Archbishop of Canterbury’s wife did not include these details when reported in newspapers. There were also no details in any newspaper or journal that her husband, Edward, had struggled with his own homosexual feelings.