William Benson (abbot)

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William Benson (died 1549) was an English Benedictine, the last Abbot of Westminster and first Dean of Westminster. He was a friend of Thomas Cranmer, and belonged to the evangelical circle around Cranmer that included Thomas Goodrich, Hugh Latimer and Thomas Thirlby. [1]

The Abbot of Westminster was the head (abbot) of Westminster Abbey.

Dean of Westminster position

The Dean of Westminster is the head of the chapter at Westminster Abbey. Due to the Abbey's status as a Royal Peculiar, the dean answers directly to the British monarch. Initially, the office was a successor to that of abbot of Westminster, and was for the first 10 years cathedral dean for the Diocese of Westminster. The current dean is John Hall.

Thomas Cranmer 16th-century English Archbishop of Canterbury and Protestant reformer

Thomas Cranmer was a leader of the English Reformation and Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and, for a short time, Mary I. He helped build the case for the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which was one of the causes of the separation of the English Church from union with the Holy See. Along with Thomas Cromwell, he supported the principle of Royal Supremacy, in which the king was considered sovereign over the Church within his realm.



A native of Boston, Lincolnshire, Benson was apparently educated in some religious house belonging to the Benedictine order, of which he was a member. He took, according to custom in the order, the name of the town where he was born (i.e. Boston). He resumed the name Benson in later life. Until 1521, when he graduated B.D. at Cambridge University, little is known of him. He took the degree of D.D. in 1528. [2]

Boston, Lincolnshire town in Lincolnshire, England

Boston is a town and small port in Lincolnshire, on the east coast of England, approximately 100 miles (160 km) north of London. It is the largest town of the wider Borough of Boston local government district. The town itself had a population of 35,124 at the 2001 census, while the borough had a total population of 66,900, at the ONS mid-2015 estimates. It is north of Greenwich on the Prime Meridian.

Two years later he appears as one of the doctors to whom the university referred the question of the validity of the marriage of Henry VIII with Catharine of Aragon, when its opinion on the matter was sought by the king, and voted with the majority against the marriage. In the following year (27 March 1531) he was elected abbot of the Benedictine Burton Abbey, Burton-on-Trent. About 1532–3 he resigned this office to be elected abbot of Westminster, although not a previous member of the chapter, as every abbot had been since William Humez, who died in 1222. It is probable that a sum of 661l. 13s. 4d., which Cromwell received from him about the same time, was a part of the price of the preferment, and the 500l., to secure which three of the best manors belonging to the abbey were assigned to Cromwell and Paulet shortly after his election, may have been the balance (cf. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, vi. 578, No. 25). [3]

Burton Abbey

Burton Abbey at Burton upon Trent in Staffordshire, England, was founded in the 7th or 9th century by St Modwen or Modwenna. It was refounded in 1003 as a Benedictine abbey by the thegn Wulfric Spott. He was known to have been buried in the abbey cloister in 1010, alongside the grave of his wife.

Benson assisted John Stokesley, the Bishop of London at the christening of the Lady Elizabeth, which took place in September 1533 in the Church of the Friars Minors of the Order of St. Francis at Greenwich. In the following year he was appointed, jointly with Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Audley, and Cromwell, to administer the oath to accept, on pain of high treason, the statute defining the succession to the crown, in the preamble of which the marriage of Queen Catharine was declared void (25 Henry VIII, cap. 22). [3]

John Stokesley was an English church leader who was Catholic Bishop of London during the reign of Henry VIII.

Bishop of London third most senior bishop of the Church of England

The Bishop of London is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of London in the Province of Canterbury.

Elizabeth I of England Queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until 24 March 1603

Elizabeth I was Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death on 24 March 1603. Sometimes called the Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor.

Sir Thomas More finding himself unable to take the oath without at the same time distinguishing between the preamble and the operative part of the act, Benson endeavoured to induce him to ‘change his conscience’. More, however, refused to take the oath, was placed under arrest on Monday, 13 April 1534, Benson having the custody of him until the following Friday, when he was committed to the Tower of London. The same year (1534) Benson defended the privilege of sanctuary claimed by the collegiate church of St. Martin's-le-Grand, which had been annexed to the abbey by Henry VII, against the corporation of London, trying to suppress what was felt to be an intolerable nuisance. They failed, however, on this as on previous occasions, and Benson had a document drawn up and enrolled in the Court of Chancery accurately defining the extent of the privilege. He subscribed the articles of religion formulated in 1536, the year in which he surrendered to the king the manors of Neyte (whence Knightsbridge), Hyde, now Hyde Park, Eybury, and Todington, the advowson of Chelsea, some meadows near the horse-ferry between Westminster and Lambeth, Covent Garden, and some lands at Greenwich, in exchange for Hurley Priory in Berkshire. On 15 October 1537 he was present at the christening of the Prince of Wales at Hampton Court. [3]

Tower of London A historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London

The Tower of London, officially Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a historic castle located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the square mile of the City of London by the open space known as Tower Hill. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952, although that was not its primary purpose. A grand palace early in its history, it served as a royal residence. As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under kings Richard I, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. The general layout established by the late 13th century remains despite later activity on the site.

Sanctuary sacred place

A sanctuary, in its original meaning, is a sacred place, such as a shrine. By the use of such places as a haven, by extension the term has come to be used for any place of safety. This secondary use can be categorized into human sanctuary, a safe place for humans, such as a political sanctuary; and non-human sanctuary, such as an animal or plant sanctuary.

Henry VII of England King of England, 1485–1509

Henry VII was the King of England and Lord of Ireland from his seizure of the crown on 22 August 1485 to his death. He was the first monarch of the House of Tudor.

In 1539, he was summoned to the parliament which passed the law of the Six Articles. Early next year (16 January) he surrendered his monastery to the king, and on the establishment of the cathedral was made its dean. In this year he signed the document by which Henry's marriage with Anne of Cleves was nullified. [3]

Anne of Cleves 16th-century queen consort of England

Anne of Cleves was Queen of England from 6 January to 9 July 1540 as the fourth wife of King Henry VIII. Not much is known about Anne before 1527, when Anne became betrothed to Francis, Duke of Bar, son and heir of Antoine, Duke of Lorraine, although their marriage was never accomplished. In March 1539, negotiations for Anne's marriage to Henry began, as Henry believed that he needed to form a political alliance with her brother, William, who was a leader of the Protestants of western Germany, to strengthen his position against potential attacks from Catholic France and the Holy Roman Empire.

He was present at convocation in 1547, when the right of the clergy to marry was discussed, and declared himself in favour of the lawfulness of matrimony. He does not, however, seem to have been married himself. In an undated letter to Cromwell, written before 1540, he begs to be relieved of his office, describing himself as feeble. He remained there, however, for many years afterwards, during which the abbey became impoverished, owing to the depreciation of money and the rapacious greed of the Protector Somerset, who in 1549 secularised its appanage of St. Martin's-le-Grand, and extorted the surrender of fourteen of its manors under threat to demolish the entire structure. [3]

Benson's death the same year purportedly was hastened over his distress. He was buried in the abbey in the chapel of St. Blaize, but the inscription on his tomb has been obliterated. [3] He made bequests to the reformers Martin Bucer and Paul Fagius.[ citation needed ]


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  1. MacCulloch, Diarmaid, pp. 20, 136
  2. "Benson, William (BN520W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Rigg 1885.

Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Rigg, James McMullen (1885). "Benson, William (d.1549)". In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography . 4. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 259–260.; Endnotes: