From that day 'Mary's duty to her mother had been supplanted by duty to her husband', writes South African historian Rodney Bolt in his historical tome, The Impossible Life Of Mary Benson: The Extraordinary Story of a Victorian Wife, originally titled As Good As God, As Clever As The Devil....
Indeed, not only did Mary bear her difficult, obstinate, argumentative, depressive and often cruel intellectual spouse with six preternaturally gifted children - two of whom died in childhood, four of whom became published authors - but she also supported him through the meteoric rise of his career, a career which culminated in him being made Archbishop of Canterbury. And this is all particularly impressive when you learn that Mary was simultaneously juggling a hefty secret complication of her own: she was a lesbian.
All of the Benson children were intellectually brilliant - among them were poet Arthur Benson, who wrote the words to Land of Hope and Glory, and E. F. Benson, whose Mapp and Lucia books still enjoy a cult following today. Mary also embarked on a four-year relationship with a young composer named Ethel Smyth who gave Mary her much-loved nickname 'Ben' but also complicated matters by forming a relationship with Mary's youngest daughter, Nellie.
'I feel that this time is emphatically Nellie’s and I do long for her to have it good,’ Mary wrote to Ethel, bowing out. ‘I think she is very happy now.’
In 1896 Edward Benson died of heart failure while praying, and Mary left Lambeth Palace, choosing to set up home near Haywards Heath, Sussex, with her girlfriend of six years, Lucy Tait. They lived there with Mary’s daughter Maggie and Maggie's own lesbian lover, Nettie Gourlay.