ROYDEN, (Agnes) Maude  [1876 - 1956]

Agnes Maude Royden – always known as Maude – was born on 23rd November 1876, at the family home, ‘Holmefield’ in Mossley Hill (the house still stands and is currently part of the I.M.Marsh Campus). She was the youngest of eight children of shipowner Sir Thomas Bland Royden and his wife Alice. The family later moved to ‘Heathfield’ in Church Road, Wavertree (the house has long since gone but is remembered in the name Heathfield Road) and then to Frankby Hall on the Wirral.

She attended Cheltenham Ladies’ College and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford gaining a degree in history. Returning to the north-west in 1900 she worked in the Victoria Women’s Settlement in Liverpool at 322 Netherfield Road L5 (now demolished). The settlement provided a residential house for women social workers in the working-class area of Everton, “a residence for those daughters of good family eager to live among those they wished to serve”. [quoted from Eleanor Rathbone and the Politics of Conscience by Susan Pedersen Yale University Press 2004 – which contains an account of the settlement.] Maude Royden worked at the settlement for eighteen months, although living at home, and energetically traversed the area despite the discomfort of a congenital his dislocation. Her letters reveal a very non-judgmental view of the poverty-stricken people she met but a frustration at the limitations of the settlement and its lack of a cohesive philosophy.

In the autumn of 1905 she went to work with the Reverend Hudson Shaw, effectively as his curate,  at his parish in South Luffenham, Rutland. She had  first met him at Oxford in 1901, and, in the words of the opening paragraph of her autobiography “loved each other at sight”. Shaw was married and Maud Royden in her letters declared her love for both him and his wife, Effie. They pursued a relationship for nearly forty years and in October 1944, he having been recently widowed, they married. He was then 85 and sadly died just two months after their marriage. Her 1947 autobiographical work A Threefold Cord records their long ‘affair’ and has often been referred to as one of the world’s greatest love stories.

Maude Royden took some time to determine the focus of her efforts as she was charged with passion on many fronts. She was a forceful figure in the campaigns for women’s suffrage and a passionate advocate of a greater role for women in the church. In 1917 she was the first person to refer to the Church of England as “the Conservative Party” at prayer. Her father and family were staunch active Conservatives but she joined the Labour Party, declining however an invitation to stand as a parliamentary candidate. In 1929 she instigated the campaign for the ordination of women, founding the Society for the Ministry of Women. Her prominence as a speaker and activist on religious matters was recognised in the New Year Honours of 1930 when she was appointed to the  Order of the Companions of Honour. In 1931 she became the first woman to become Doctor of Divinity, an honorary degree bestowed by the University of Glasgow.

She was deeply involved with the pacifist movement, having left the mainstream women’s suffrage organisation in 1916 because of their support for the war. She was a founding member of the Peace Pledge Union in 1935 but when war came in 1939 she accepted that the evil of Nazism was so great that there was no alternative to its military defeat.

Maude Royden died in Hampstead on 39th July 1956.

Holmefield, Mossley Hill Road L17

The Royden home at the time of Maude's birth in 1876.

A memorial plaque outside the church of St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, London.


There is a comprehensive entry for Maude Royden in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The Wikipedia entry is somewhat basic. There is some interesting material on a website belonging to a family member, Mike Royden. There is a biography of Maude Royden by Sheila Fletcher entitled Maud Royden A Life [Wiley-Blackwell 1989] but to date I have not found a reasonably priced copy so cannot comment on it.