Charles Kingsley Biography

Charles Kinsley, an English priest, university professor, novelist, historian, and amateur naturalist, was a multifaceted individual associated with the West Country and northeast Hampshire. Graduating from Magdalene College, he embarked on a career in the church, eventually becoming a Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. As a canon of Chester Cathedral, he founded the Chester Society for Natural Science, Literature, and Art, which played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Grosvenor Museum. Kinsley’s interest in evolution led him to openly praise Charles Darwin’s controversial book “On the Origin of Species.” He was also a passionate advocate for social reform, supporting the working class movement Chartism and co-founding the Christian Socialist movement. Kinsley’s dedication to societal improvement was reflected in his novels, poetry, political articles, and sermons.

Quick Facts

  • British Celebrities Born In June Died At Age: 55
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Frances Eliza Grenfell
    • Father: Reverend Charles Kingsley
    • Mother: Mary Lucas Kingsley
    • Siblings: Charlotte Chanter, George Kingsley, Henry Kingsley
    • Children: Lucas Malet
  • Born Country: England
  • Quotes By Charles Kingsley
  • Priests
  • Died on: January 23, 1875
  • Place of death: Eversley, Hampshire, England
  • City: Devon, England

Childhood & Early Life

Charles Kingsley was born to Reverend Charles Kingsley and his wife Mary Lucas in Devon, England. His father was from a line of country gentlemen, but had turned to priesthood to support his family. His mother was from a family of sugar plantation owners.

He spent his childhood in small towns like Clovelly, Devon and Barnack, and attended Helston Grammar School. Even as a student, he was interested in arts, natural sciences, and poetry.

After school, his family moved to London where he studied at King’s College. He joined Magdalene College, Cambridge in 1838 and graduated in 1842.


Initially he wanted to enter the legal profession, but he changed his mind and decided to pursue a ministry in the church. From 1844, he was rector of Eversley in Hampshire.

He became the chaplain to Queen Victoria in 1859 and in 1860 he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. He also tutored the Prince of Wales in 1861.

Kingsley left Cambridge in 1869 to serve as a canon of Chester Cathedral from 1870 to 1873. He founded the Chester Society for Natural Science, Literature and Art during his stint there.

He became the 19th president of Birmingham and Midland Institute in 1872 and was made the canon of Westminster Abbey in 1873.

Major Works

He was an advocate of Christian Socialism, and in 1848 he joined hands with Frederick Denison Maurice and Thomas Hughes to form the Christian Socialist movement. They published two journals, ‘Politics of the People’ (1848-1849) and ‘The Christian Socialist’ (1850-51).

He published his first novel ‘Alton Locke’ in 1850. In this novel, he exposed the social injustices suffered by labourers and workers in the clothing trade and agriculture. The Chartism movement is also described in the book.

Kingsley’s 1853 novel ‘Hypatia’, based on the life of a philosopher was considered one of his best works for years. It is based on the story of a philosopher who was killed by a fanatical religious group because they were against her religious and political ideas.

His historical novel, ‘Westward Ho!’ published in 1855 is regarded by some as his “liveliest, and most interesting novel” for the vivid descriptions of South American scenery. However, the novel has also been criticized for its anti-catholic and racist attitudes.

Kingsley’s most famous book, ‘The Water Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby’, a novel for children, was published in 1863. The novel addresses several social issues and tells the story of a young chimney-sweep who gets transformed into a water-baby when he accidentally falls into the river while running away from his cruel employer.

Personal Life & Legacy

He met his future wife Frances “Fanny” Grenfell during his college days and married her in 1844. They had four children. His daughter Mary St Leger Kingsley also became a novelist under the pen name “Lucas Malet.”

He suffered from many health problems during his later years and succumbed to poor health in 1875.

Kingsley’s widow wrote his life story titled ‘Charles Kingsley, his Letters and Memories of his Life’ in 1877.


A town in England has been named after his novel ‘Westward ho!’ Thomas Huxley, a noted biologist, used to write to him discussing his ideas on agnosticism.

He coined the term ‘pteridomania’, meaning “Fern Craze” in 1855.

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