Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Bunsen, Ernest de

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BUNSEN, ERNEST DE (1819–1903), theologian, was second son in the family of five sons and five daughters of Christian Charles Josias, Baron von Bunsen, Prussian diplomatist, who was Prussian minister at the court of St. James's from 1841 to 1854, by his wife Frances, daughter of Benjamin Waddington of Dunston Park, Berkshire. Of his brothers, Henry (1818-1855) became a naturalised Englishman and was rector of Donnington, Wolverhampton; George (1824-1896) was an active politician in Germany ; and Karl (1821-1887) and Thcodor (1832-1892) passed their careers in the Prussian and German diplomatic service.

Ernest was born on 11 Aug. 1819 at the Villa Caffarelli, Rome, while his father was the Prussian representative at the Vatican. Educated at home by his parents till 1834, and afterwards at the school for cadets at Berlin, Bunsen in 1837 became an officer in the Kaiser Franz regiment of grenadier guards. He subsequently served in the regiment of the Emperor Alexander at Berlin, and after a severe illness joined his parents in England in 1843 on long leave. He served under his father as secretary of the Prussian legation in London, and in 1848 joined the suite of the Prince of Prussia, afterwards William I, first German Emperor, during his visit to England. In 1849 he returned to Germany and served during the Baden campaign on the staff of the Prince of Prussia, by whom he was decorated for distinguished service at the battle of Sedenburg. He left the German army shortly afterwards. Settling in England, he made his home at Abbey Lodge, Regent's Park, London, a house which he acquired on his marriage in 1845. While his father lived he paid annual visits to Baden, and was also frequently in Italy. During the Franco-German war he helped in the hospitals on the Rhine (1870-1), and in 1871 was made chamberlain at the court of William I. But his main interests lay in literary study. In 1854 he published a free German rendering of Hepworth Dixon's biography as 'William Penn oder die Zustande Englands 1644-1718.' Following his father's example, he made laborious researches into biblical history and comparative religion among Oriental peoples. His chief work, 'Biblical Chronology' (1874), was an attempt to fix the dates of Hebrew history by a comparison with contemporary History of Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria. Later research has questioned his conclusions, but he continued to write much on the same theme in both German and English. His last years were absorbed by a work never finished called ‘The Transmission,’ which he hoped would ultimately unite the catholic churches of east and west and the various branches of the Protestant church.

Bunsen, who had unusual musical talents, died at Abbey Lodge on 13 May 1903, and was buried at Leytonstone churchyard. He married on 5 August 1845, at West Ham church, Elizabeth (d. Jan. 1903), daughter of Samuel Gurney [q. v.] and niece of Elizabeth Fry [q. v.]. His eldest son, Fritz, died in 1870; a second son, Sir Maurice de Bunsen, who became British minister at Lisbon in 1905, survived him with two daughters.

A water-colour drawing of Bunsen as a child by his grandmother is in the possession of his daughter, Baroness Deichmann, and an oil painting of him as a German officer is in the possession of the second daughter, Miss Marie de Bunsen.

Besides the works mentioned, Bunsen published: 1. ‘Hidden Wisdom of Christ,’ 1865. 2. ‘The Keys of St. Peter,’ 1867. 3. ‘Die Einheit der Religionen in Zusammanhange mit den Völkerwanderungen der Urzeit und der Geheimlehre,’ Berlin, 1870. 4. ‘Das Symbol des Kreuzes bei Allen Nationen,’ Berlin, 1876. 5. ‘Die Plejaden und der Thierkreis,’ Berlin, 1879. 6. ‘The Angel-Messiah of the Buddhists, Essenes, and Christians,’ 1880. 7. ‘Die Ueberlieferung. Ihre Entstehung und Entwicklung,’ 2 vols., Leipzig, 1889. 8. ‘Essays on Church History,’ 1889. 9. ‘Dic Rekonstruktion der Kirchlichen Autorität,’ Leipzig, 1892.

[The Times, 15 and 18 May 1903; Hare, Life and Letters of Baroness Bunsen, 1879; Encyc. Brit., 11th ed., s.v. Baron von Bunsen; Brockhaus's Conversations-Lexicon; Meyer's Conversations-Lexicon; unpublished Memoir by the Baroness Deichmann.]

S. E. F.