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, he claimed, had always been the ‘principal attraction of episcopal office’ to him. Distance from London quickly proved that he would be no more than an ‘occasional visitor’ to the chamber, to the regret of his fellow peers[1] The limited number of speeches he gave reflected the large expenditure of time and money that attendance required, which he could ill-afford.  However, despite the infrequency of his visits, he underestimated his influence there, not only within the House as the Journal shows, but beyond.  On his retirement, his speech in defence of the Prayer Book measure in December 1927 was praised by one local newspaper as perhaps his greatest.[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] However, 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. He had thought that his speech on Abyssinia in May 1938 would probably be his last in the Lords; Lord Halifax’s reply for the Government and the hostility of press may have contributed to a mounting sense of failure.[4]

The following list is thought to be complete.


House of Lords Debates, 5th series

Matrimonial Causes Bill (10 Mar. 1921), Vol. 44, cc. 484-91

Matrimonial Causes Bill (21 Apr. 1921), Vol. 44, cc. 1083-5.

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

Public expenditure (22 June 1932), Vol. 85, cc. 98-102

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; 4 Feb. 1936.

[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.