Henson’s speeches in the House of Lords


When Henson was appointed bishop of Durham in 1920, he became an ex officio member of the House of Lords. He welcomed the opportunity it provided to play a part in national politics, which was ever, he claimed, the ‘principal attraction of episcopal office’ to him. However, he regretted that distance from London prevented him from being more than an ‘occasional visitor’ to the chamber.[1] The limited number of speeches he gave in the Lords reflected the large expenditure of time and money that attendance from Durham entailed, which he could ill-afford.  However, he underestimated his influence there, despite the infrequency of his visits, as is evident in the Journal. On his retirement, his speech on the Prayer Book measure in December 1927 was singled out for special praise by one local newspaper (Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 27 Oct. 1938, 1).[2]

He did not attend the House of Lords on 4 October 1938 when the chamber debated the Munich agreement, despite his strong opposition to the policy of appeasement. His biographer, Owen Chadwick, attributed his unusual silence to a belief that bishops should not appear to be warmongers.[3] A further factor was that the Munich crisis coincided with his decision to retire at the age of seventy-five the following February, and with a bout of depression he was unable to shake off. In addition, he had thought that his speech on Abyssinia in May of that year would probably be his last in the chamber; Lord Halifax’s reply for the Government and press criticism of his speech may have contributed to a mounting sense of failure.[4]

The following list is thought to be complete.


House of Lords Debates, 5th series

Divorce Bill (10 Mar. 1921), Vol. 44

Divorce Bill (21 Apr. 1921), Vol. 44

Matrimonial Causes Bill (28 Apr. 1921), Vol. 45, cc. 87-92

Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Bill (28 June 1921), vol. 45, cc. 827-29

Newspaper reports of law cases (24 Apr. 1923), Vol. 53, cc. 854-56

Coal Mines Agreement (27 Feb. 1924), Vol. 56, cc. 402-403

Diocese of Winchester (Division) Measure (2 July 1924), Vol. 58, cc. 142-9

Liquor (Popular Control) Bill (8 July 1924), Vol. 58, cc. 315-320

Bishoprick of Shrewsbury Measure (4 Mar. 1926), Vol. 63, cc. 450-56

Liquor (Popular Control) Bill (21 June 1927), Vol. 67, cc. 841-45

Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Bill (5 July 1927), Vol. 68, cc. 133-7

Prayer Book Measure (14 Dec. 1927), Vol. 69, cc. 924-32

Durham Castle (3 July 1928), Vol. 71, 816-20

Labour conditions in Russia (5 Feb. 1931), Vol. 79, cc. 857-60

Marriage Bill (24 June 1937), Vol. 105, cc. 768-774

Matrimonial Causes Bill (19 July 1937), Vol. 106, cc. 586-88

Foreign Policy (18 May 1938), Vol. 109, 138-45, c. 146


[1] Journal, 11 Dec. 1925.

[2] Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 27 Oct. 1938, 1.

[3] Owen Chadwick, Hensley Henson: A Study in the Friction between Church and State (Oxford, 1983), 271.

[4] Henson, Retrospect of an unimportant life (London, 1943), II, 409-11.