What England Lost: Benson’s ‘The King’s Achievement’
Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) is most famous these days for his 1908 book, Lord of the World, hailed by many of different dispositions as one of literature’s first dystopian novels.
But between 1904 and 1907, Benson published his Reformation Trilogy: The King’s Achievement and By What Authority? (both 1905); and The Queen’s Tragedy (1907). Together they’re a perfect antidote to the revisionism of numerous recent works of history and fiction that portray the “greatness” of England’s King Henry VIII.
Benson wrote By What Authority? first, but by order of subject, it’s second in the trilogy, given that it’s about Elizabeth I (The King’s Achievement deals with her father). The Queen’s Tragedy tells Mary Tudor’s story.
Msgr. Benson’s own life story is almost the stuff of fiction. As a son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the younger Benson was a kind of prince within the Church of England.
Benson’s father ordained him to Anglican holy orders in 1895, but in 1903 Robert entered the Catholic Church and a year later was ordained to her priesthood. His decision to cross the Tiber caused a sensation in England as great or even greater than John Henry Newman’s had.