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date: 29 September 2023

Creighton [née von Glehn], Louise Humefree


Creighton [née von Glehn], Louise Humefree

  • James Thayne Covert

Louise Hume Creighton (1850–1936)

by Glyn Philpot, 1918

© Estate of Glyn Philpot

Creighton [née von Glehn], Louise Hume (1850–1936), social activist and writer of popular history and biography, was born on 7 July 1850 at Peak Hill Lodge, Sydenham, on the outskirts of London, tenth child of Robert William von Glehn (1801–1885) and Agnes Duncan (c.1813–1881). Louise's godmother was Elisa Hume, daughter of radical MP Joseph Hume (1777–1855). Robert von Glehn, of German and Scottish ancestry, was born in Reval, Estonia. He emigrated to England as a young man and established an import–export business in London, soon afterwards marrying Agnes Duncan, the Scottish stepdaughter of a successful London merchant. Louise grew up in a reasonably prosperous but careful middle-class family, liberal in religion and in politics. Her early life was shaped by strict but caring parents, strong-willed brothers and sisters, and a German governess. Educated at home, although she took classes at the Crystal Palace, she entered and passed with honours the first London University higher examination for women. However, she was always to regret having missed formal schooling, and was to become a keen promoter of women's education.

Louise von Glehn grew up in a lively, cultivated, and cosmopolitan atmosphere. There were always visitors at Peak Hill Lodge, the house was full of music, and the family went to concerts and to study the sculpture casts at Crystal Palace. She herself had no musical talent, although she was to develop a certain facility in sketching and watercolour. John Ruskin (1819–1900) was her prophet. Louise claimed that the strongest intellectual influence in her girlhood was her friendship with the historian J. R. Green (1837–1883), who often visited her home and who advised her on reading. Family life was loving but intense: all its members seem to have been critical of one another, over-sensitive, and prone to take themselves rather too seriously. Louise felt that this had reinforced her own self-consciousness, yet as an adult she was equally exacting in her expectations of people.

On a visit to Oxford in February 1871 she met Mandell Creighton (1843–1901), a fellow of Merton College, who had admired her boldness in wearing a yellow scarf to one of Ruskin's lectures. They were engaged the following month, and were married on 8 January 1872 at St Bartholomew's, Sydenham. They were an extremely happy and close couple, always sharing interests and commitments. Their first home was in St Giles', Oxford, a new rented villa which they named Middlemarch after George Eliot's novel. This they took much pride in decorating and furnishing, with a yellow drawing-room and blue china setting off the white Persian cat. A painting of her done shortly after her marriage by her friend Bertha Johnson shows a serious, handsome woman, with deep-set dark eyes and strong eyebrows, standing in a Pre-Raphaelite garden. She was enchanted by Oxford, and she and her husband had a busy and stimulating social life. Nearly every afternoon they went for a walk together. Meanwhile she began to read—principally history—in the Bodleian Library, sharing a desk with William Stubbs (1825–1901), who leaned over to joke with her or to ask her the meaning of a German word. She took over the translation of a volume of Ranke's history of England which Mandell had undertaken with four other tutors. (It none the less still appeared under his name.) He also encouraged her to write a series of historical primers. She became involved in religious work, volunteering as an Anglican district visitor in one of the poorest areas of the city, and was among the founders of a women's committee which encouraged tutors to offer history and literature courses for women. During this period she and Mandell began the custom of taking their holidays in Italy, which they both loved. At Oxford the first two of their seven children were born, Beatrice in 1872 and Lucia in 1874.

In 1875 they moved to Embleton in Northumberland, a Merton College living to which Mandell Creighton had been appointed. Although at first this seemed a social exile, Louise came to see the ten years which they spent there as a major turning point in their lives. They both came to parochial work for the first time, and threw themselves into visiting. Louise started a mothers' meeting and a branch of the Girls' Friendly Society, of which she was elected first diocesan president. She gained much experience of dealing with people and of speaking in public, although she never felt enthusiastic about the Girls' Friendly Society either there or elsewhere. She became interested in Ellice Hopkins's writings, and gave some talks on purity. Four more children were born during this period (Cuthbert in 1876, Walter in 1878, Mary in 1880, and Oswin in 1883), and Louise taught them herself, reading up on modern educational theory. At the same time she established herself as an accomplished writer, producing historical biographies, a very successful Child's First History of England and other historical stories for children, and a novel, The Bloom off the Peach, which she published under the pseudonym Lois Hume.

In 1884 the Creighton family moved to Cambridge, where Mandell took up the Dixie chair of ecclesiastical history. He was appointed a canon of Worcester in the following year. During the Cambridge years (1884–91) Louise emerged as a national figure. Besides her literary and social work, she became caught up in the movement against female suffrage. She helped Mrs Humphry Ward (1851–1920) to organize signatures for a petition against female suffrage which was published in the Nineteenth Century in 1889. Her opposition, she claimed, rested on the belief that there were benefits from having a large body of intelligent and influential opinion outside party politics; she said that she changed her mind when she realized how involved in party politics women were even without the vote, so that it would be better for them to have full responsibility. She publicly announced her change of position in 1906. At Cambridge Louise Creighton also began her long association with the National Union of Women Workers (NUWW), a non-political organization of middle-class women dedicated to improving the lives of working women. She served as its first president in the 1880s and held a number of executive posts thereafter. Her last child, Gemma, was born in 1887.

In 1891 Mandell Creighton was appointed bishop of Peterborough, and in 1897 was promoted to the see of London. It fell to Louise to run the episcopal households and to provide an ever-increasing range of hospitality. She missed the close daily companionship with Mandell, which was no longer possible, but developed her own independent interests and kept up her writing. As well as continuing her work for the NUWW and the Mothers' Union, she addressed women's sessions at church congresses. In London she revitalized the Women's Diocesan Association and initiated the Girls' Diocesan Association, of which her daughter Beatrice was the first president. She maintained her interest in rescue work, and was on the London Council for the Promotion of Morality from its inception.

Louise Creighton was only fifty when her husband died (on 14 January 1901). She was granted a grace-and-favour apartment at Hampton Court, and lived there until 1927. Within months of Mandell's death she embarked on her greatest literary achievement, the two-volume Life and Letters of Mandell Creighton (1904), which received justified acclaim. She also collected and edited nine volumes of his speeches, sermons, lectures, and essays. Of the twenty-four books which she wrote or edited during her life, thirteen were written during her years as a widow. They included biographies, a monograph on missions, lectures on household economy delivered at the London School of Economics, and lectures on the theory of the state given in 1916. She served on two royal commissions—the London University commission (1909) and the venereal disease commission (1913)—and also on the joint committee of insurance commissioners (1912). In 1908 she chaired the women's meetings at the Pan-Anglican Congress. She became increasingly involved in the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and worked hard to get the work of women and men amalgamated. She participated in the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference in 1910. During the First World War she supported the National Mission of Repentance and Hope, and the Life and Liberty Movement, which urged increased self-government and reform of the Church of England. With the passage of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act (1919), which created the first national assembly, Louise became a charter member from 1920 to 1930. By then she was recognized as a moderate voice in the women's movement.

Louise Creighton moved to Oxford in the late 1920s, where she served on the governing board of Lady Margaret Hall. After a period of declining health, she died on 15 April 1936 at 5 South Parks Road, Oxford. Her ashes were buried in her husband's grave in St Paul's Cathedral. As a wife, Louise had been highly protective and supportive of her husband and his career. She exhibited an extraordinary devotion to him, for in her eyes he could say nothing dull, do nothing wrong. As a mother, she loved her children, but found it difficult to express tenderness towards them. She was to wonder whether she had praised them too little; certainly none of them matched up intellectually to her expectations. As an author, she wrote effectively for a wide public, biography proving her most successful genre. As a social activist, she showed consummate skills in organization. In this context her reputation for being alarming, which she herself related to her social awkwardness, could be turned to good effect. She continued to promote women's primary role within the family, seeing church work as an extension of this; she saw women as having a distinctive and influential contribution to make. She increasingly came to feel that more responsibility and freedom should be given to women in church affairs; only then would the most intelligent women be drawn to this sort of work. In her later life she pondered the question of the priesthood of women. She recognized that her opposition to it was rooted in instinct and prejudice, and she could find no logical reason against it.


  • J. Covert, A Victorian marriage: Mandell and Louise Creighton (2000)
  • A Victorian family as seen through the letters of Louise Creighton to her mother, 1872–1880, ed. J. T. Covert (1998)
  • Memoir of a Victorian woman: reflections of Louise Creighton, 1850–1936, ed. J. T. Covert (1994)
  • L. von Glehn Creighton, Life and letters of Mandell Creighton, 2 vols. (1904)
  • The Times (16 April 1936)
  • priv. coll., Louise Creighton MSS [Creighton family]
  • LPL, Louise Creighton corresp.



  • B. Johnson, oils, 1872, repro. in Covert, ed., Memoir of a Victorian woman
  • G. Philpot, oils, 1918, unknown collection; copyprint, NPG [see illus.]
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