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Robert Hugh BensonAFSCKC*SGKGCHS (18 November 1871 – 19 October 1914) was an English Anglican priest who in 1903 was received into the Roman Catholic Church in which he was ordained priest in 1904. He was a prolific writer of fiction and wrote the notable dystopian novel Lord of the World (1907). His output encompassed historical, horror and science fiction, contemporary fiction, children's stories, plays, apologetics, devotional works and articles. He continued his writing career at the same time as he progressed through the hierarchy to become a Chamberlain to Pope Pius X in 1911 and gain the title of Monsignor.
Benson made his profession as a member of the community in 1901, at which time he had no thoughts of leaving the Church of England. As he continued his studies and began writing, however, he became more and more uneasy with his own doctrinal position and, on 11 September 1903, he was received into the Catholic Church. He was awarded the Dignitary of Honour of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
Benson was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1904 and sent to Cambridge. He continued his writing career along with his ministry as a priest.
Like both his brothers, Edward Frederic Benson ("Fred") and Arthur Christopher Benson, Robert wrote many ghost and horror stories, as well as children's stories and historical fiction. His horror and ghost fiction are collected in The Light Invisible (1903) and A Mirror of Shallott (1907). His novel, Lord of the World (1907), is generally regarded as one of the first modern dystopian novels (see List of dystopian literature). In the future he predicted there, the Anglican Church and other Protestant denominations would crumble and disappear in face of a rising tide of Secularism and Atheism, leaving the Catholic Church as the sole upholder and defender of Christianity - which helps explain his own personal choice. In the future he predicted in 1911 in The Dawn of All, the Catholic Church fares better than in the previous book and emerges victorious in England and worldwide by the end of the 20th Century; this book is also notable in its fairly accurate prediction of a global network of a passenger air travel . Come Rack! Come Rope! (1912) is a historical novel describing the persecution of English Roman Catholics during the Elizabethan era.  The bibliography below reveals a prodigious output.
As a young man, Benson recalled, he had rejected the idea of marriage as "quite inconceivable". He had a close friendship with "Baron Corvo", alias the novelist Frederick Rolfe, with whom he had hoped to write a book on St Thomas Becket, until Benson decided that he should not be associated (according to writer Brian Masters) "with a Venetian pimp and procurer of boys". Nevertheless he maintained his friendship with Lord Alfred Douglas, the friend and lover of Oscar Wilde, and when an acquaintance protested that the connection with Douglas was inappropriate for him, he replied: "Lord Alfred Douglas is my friend, and he'll come down when he likes!"
Death and legacy
Benson died of pneumonia in 1914 in Salford, where he had been preaching a mission. He was 42. At his request, he was buried in the orchard of Hare Street House, his house in the Hertfordshire village of Hare Street. A chapel, dedicated to St Hugh, was built over the site. Benson bequeathed the house to the Catholic Church as a county retreat for the Archbishop of Westminster. The Roman Catholic church in the nearby town of Buntingford, which he helped finance, is dedicated to St Richard of Chichester, but also known as the Benson Memorial Church. In 2019, the house was put up for sale. Benson's body was exhumed, and moved to the crypt of St. Edmund's College in Old Hall Green.
Portrait of Benson
Benson's birthplace. From the book Hugh, Memoirs of a Brother
Benson, aged 5, with Beth at the Chancery, Lincoln, in 1876. From the book Hugh, Memoirs of a Brother