Annie Besant English Theosophist, Social Reformer
Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2003

Astro-Rayological Interpretation & Charts
Images & Physiognomic Interpretation

to Volume 3 Table of Contents


October 1, 1847, London England. Time given between 5:00-5:45 PM, LMT. As most astrologers conclude (due to her forceful and pioneering life) that Annie Besant had Aries rising, the time would have to have been after 5:21 PM, LMT.  (Source: Sabian Symbols and Notable Nativities). Died, September, 20, 1933, Adyar, India.

(Proposed Ascendant, Aries with Uranus and Pluto also in Aries; MC in Capricorn;  Sun conjunct Venus and loosely conjunct Mercury in Libra; Moon conjunct Jupiter Cancer; Neptune in late Aquarius and Saturn in early Pisces)

Annie Besant was an English social reformer, author of many definitive theosophical books, president of the Theosophical Society from 1907 until her death in 1933, and president of the Indian National Congress in 1917. She was second only to her mentor, H. P. Blavatsky, in her influence upon modern Theosophy and the Theosophical Society.

Annie Besant was avidly involved in a radical and transformative approach (Uranus rising) to the social issues of her day (Libra), such as birth control (Cancerian emphasis) and the place of women in society (Libra emphasis). She usually worked in close partnerships professionally (Sun in Libra conjunct the NN in the seventh house), first secularly in relation to the social issues of her day, and later with C.W. Leadbeater in the field theosophical exposition and psychical research.  She was extraordinarily assertive (even driven) and at the forefront of many social and political controversies—a dynamic approach indicated by her Aries Ascendant and her powerful first ray—presumably the ray of her soul, as she was closely connected with Master Morya (as was H.P.B.)

The strong Cancerian Moon was reflected in her years of motherhood, and in the struggles she experienced as she felt it necessary to divorce and pull herself away from the conventional, traditional domestic sphere. The Moon (in its own sign, exoterically), however, is conjunct Jupiter (in the sign of its exaltation, further dignified by placement in the house of its exaltation), and indicates not only traditionalism, but much karmic benefit from merit generated in previous incarnations. The needs of the form (Moon) had been fulfilled (Cancer). AB’s last incarnation built upon that accumulated merit. These two planets, rather, functioned in a protective manner—not for herself, but for the socially abused, for theosophists hunger from the light of truth, and for the people of India who craved independence from Britain.

First ray Uranus rising in the chart not far from first ray Pluto, is a strong indicator of the power of the first ray of Will and Power. Later in life she became an elected political leader, an avid advocate of Indian home rules and president of the Indian National Congress. It is interesting to realize that the soul sign of India is Aries, the foremost constellational distributor of the first ray. One of the major soul-oriented indicators in Annie Besant’s chart is Aries on the Ascendant; further, Annie Besant, like India, is presumed to have a first ray soul. It would seem that there was a deep karmic/dharmic bond between her and that great country.

As an initiate (one would hypothesize) of the third degree, the esoteric ruler of her Sun Sign and that of her Rising Sign should be compared. Interestingly they are Uranus, esoteric ruler of the Libran Sun, and Mercury, esoteric ruler of her Aries Ascendant. Uranus and Mercury are in almost exact opposition, conferring great mental power (she had a scientific mind, reinforced by the conjunction between fifth ray Venus and Mercury, which planet also has much of ray five, though hypothetically on the monadic level), and must have evidenced a dynamic tension between reason and intuition, between the lower mind and the higher mind, and between manas (Mercury) and the will (Uranus). Her nervous system would have been taut—highly strung, ultra-responsive, made still more sensitive by Neptune in H12. Ultimately, Uranus, although the esoteric ruler of the Sun Sign, is the more powerful planet, because it is also the hierarchical ruler of the Rising Sign, Aries. Hierarchical rulers may be read as relevant in the lives of initiates. As the hierarchical ruler of a powerful first ray sign/constellation, Uranus is a potent conduit of electric fire, of Shamballic Energy, and conferred upon Annie Besant the power to embody Divine Purpose—no matter what might have been the counter-pulls from the lower aspects of attached Cancer and partner-bound Libra.

The sixth ray was also, it would seem, an important aspect of her character, as she changed her vocational orientations drastically a number of times in her life, and pursued each new orientation with great one-pointedness. Mars, the sixth ray, orthodox ruler of the Aries Ascendant, is retrograde and hence strong, though found in Taurus, the sign of its detriment. Her devotion to, belief in and promotion of Jeddu Krishnamurti as the “World Teacher” (overshadowed by Maitreya, the Christ) confirms the presence and importance of the sixth ray. It should be noted that her Mars sits within five degrees of Krishnamurti’s Sun in Taurus. In addition, Taurus is a Shamballic sign, and carries much will (in its own right and through its association with Vulcan). Her unusual intensity seems a combination of R1 and R6, with the probability of a R5 mind, reinforced by the Venus/Mercury conjunction.

The chart demonstrates a tremendous T-Square between the Aries, Cancer and Libra planets. This pattern defined the dynamics of her notable life, generating the conflict to be overcome through great energy and the spirit of synthesis. The tension generated from an indomitable and impersonal will (indicated by the Aries Ascendant and planets), deep social concern and investment in socio-political issues (indicated by the Libra planets) and the profound sense of motherhood (generated karmically and later applied to greater ‘family spheres’, were expressed within the tenth house sphere indicating powerful work on behalf of the planetary power structure—the Spiritual Hierarchy of our planet. Interestingly, the asteroid Juno (of committed partnerships) is placed in Capricorn and forms with the Aries, Cancer and Libra planets a Grand Cross. Much of her work was carried forward in important, professional (Capricorn) partnerships, which furthered her social and spiritual ideals.

Because it can be reasonably proposed the Annie Besant was an initiate of the third degree, the “fixed stars” would be of particular importance. The stars represent the solar dimension of life, and come into greater prominence with the solar part of man (the soul) has taken a dominating position, as it does at the third initiation.

The Cancerian Moon is exactly (to the minute) conjunct a major star of guidance and education, Canopus, the leading star of the constellation Argo (the mythical ship which served the Argonauts on their great quest). Great “path-finders”, pilots and navigators come under the influence of Canopus (and surely AB was that for many aspiring people—whether that aspiration was social, political or more esoterically spiritual). As the Moon is involved, this capacity was for her built-in, instinctive, the result of previous incarnational work.

Significantly, the “star of initiation”, Sirius, also conjunct her Moon within less than a degree. She was one of the leading exponents of the Spiritual Hierarchy of our planet, working in close, conscious cooperation with one or two of Them. Her many theosophical writings helped prepare the mind of humanity for definite steps along the paths of discipleship and initiation.

The brilliant, magnetic star, Vega, is also connected to the Moon by opposition, contributing to her great charisma and oratorical abilities. Vega, in the constellation Lyra, can be associated with gifts of expression through the throat center and is magically magnetic in its influence.

Bellatrix (a star of assertive and even warlike speech) is exactly contraparallel Mercury (planet of thought and verbal expression and esoteric ruler of the assertive Aries Ascendant. This combination increased AB’s willingness and ability to speak out forcefully on unpopular and even dangerous social and spiritual issues (and ensured that there would be adverse consequences). She was once (1877) arrested on charges of immorality for lecturing on birth control. The placement of Mercury in Libra opposed Uranus in Aries is, of course, potent and relevant to this dynamic of outspokenness. In addition, and although it would apply to many born at a similar period, the planet Pluto is also in contraparallel to Bellatrix, conferring the power to speak what might be called the ‘terminating word’—the word of death (exposing and bringing down social, political and spiritual abuses).

We also see benevolent and wise Jupiter closely conjunct the star Castor, which relates to the ability to write and create in a flowing and relatively painless manner. AB’s great literary output is reinforced by this position.

AB’s role as a healing of social ills can be liked to the contraparallel of Neptune to Rasalhague, which is in the head of the “Serpent Holder”. Also, the healing planet Chiron is potently conjunct the brilliant star, Spica, giving the gift of knew knowledge. Chiron is also the mentor and quest guide—a role which AB fulfilled admirably.

There are other star positions of significance but these few will reveal the importance of that particular dimension in AB’s chart.

The hypothesized rays of Annie Besant, discussed in detail in Tapestry of the Gods, Volume. II, are 16-567—first ray soul, sixth ray personality, fifth ray mind, sixth ray astral nature, and seventh ray etheric physical nature. A fuller description of her amazing life (i.e., her last incarnation) is given there and may be read with the above astrological thoughts in mind.

This is just the briefest of expositions of the chart of a truly remarkable server on behalf of humanity and the Spiritual Hierarchy. Clearly, she came as a major promoter of the Divine Wisdom as expressed through the Theosophical Society. Endowed with a significant amount of seventh ray energy (complementing her potent first ray) she was equipped to organize what H.P.B. and Col. Olcott had begun. Her work was to strengthen and institutionalize Theosophy so that it could become a major conditioning force in human civilization. It may be that her own devotion and zeal (sixth ray) were at times counterproductive (as in the case of bringing Jeddu Krishnamurti forward, perhaps too ardently—causing dismay and divisions within the TS), but her tremendous labors for the Society and for the cause of human freedom (Indian Home Rule) must be remembered and honored.

In the last analysis, it would seem that the ray of the monad was active in her case, and that, as a leader/educator, she was responding to it. This ray may be hypothesized as the second ray of love-wisdom. Since the Sun is in Libra (at seven degrees) the “Monadic Point” would be found at seven degrees of Aries and rising in the proposed chart. Not all disciples can refer to the Monadic Point as significant, but AB could probably do so. The placement (in the eighth degree of Aries) again emphasizes the first ray—a generically first ray point in a first ray chart position (rising) and in the strongest first ray sign. This does not mean that she necessarily had/has a first ray monad, but that the way through to monadic expression was through an indomitable, pioneering assertion of the fact of the Ageless Wisdom as promoted through Theosophy. That AB will probably be remembered even more as a theosophical educator than as an organizer and executive (though she was formidable in these respects) may well point to the growing influence of a second ray monad expressing potently in a position in the astrological chart which emphasizes the first ray.

It is impossible for anyone less than a Master to speak of the monadic ray with certainty, but we can recognize that it was probably influential in the case of AB—clearly an initiate. Certainly, the whole question of the spirit/monad was very much on her mind, and she was qualified to speak of it, which she did with illuminating accuracy.


Better remain silent, better not even think, if you are not prepared to act.
(Aries Ascendant. Pluto & Uranus in Aries in 1st house.)

For centuries the leaders of Christian thought spoke of women as a necessary evil, and the greatest saints of the Church are those who despise women the most.

I will suggest that the great aim of our education is to bring out of the child who comes into our hands every faculty that he brings with him, and then to try to win that child to turn all his abilities, his powers, his capacities, to the helping and serving of the community which is a part.

Liberty is a great celestial Goddess, strong, beneficent, and austere, and she can never descend upon a nation by the shouting of crowds, nor by arguments of unbridled passion, nor by the hatred of class against class. (Libra Sun. Stellium in Libra.)

Never forget that life can only be nobly inspired and rightly lived if you take it bravely and gallantly, as a splendid adventure in which you are setting out into an unknown country, to face many a danger, to meet many a joy, to find many a comrade, to win and lose many a battle.

No philosophy, no religion, has ever brought so glad a message to the world as this good news of Atheism.

Refusal to believe until proof is given is a rational position; denial of all outside of our own limited experience is absurd.

Not out of right practice comes right thinking, but out of right thinking comes right practice. It matters enormously what you think. If you think falsely, you will act mistakenly; if you think basely, your conduct will suit your thinking.

... those who can serve best, those who help most, those who sacrifice most, those are the people who will be loved in life and honoured in death, when all questions of colour are swept away and when in a free country free citizens shall meet on equal grounds.

In our relations to the animal kingdom a duty arises which all thoughtful and compassionate minds should recognize - the duty that because we are stronger in mind than the animals, we are or ought to be their guardians and helpers, not their tyrants and oppressors, and we have no right to cause them suffering and terror...

What of our duties to our fellow men? ... No one can eat the flesh of a slaughtered animal without having used the hand of a man as slaughterer. Suppose that we had to kill for ourselves the creatures whose bodies we would fain have upon our table, is there one woman in a hundred who would go to the slaughter-house to slay the bullock, the calf, the sheep or the pig? --- Dare we call ourselves refined, if we purchase our refinement by the brutalization of others, and demand that some should be brutal in order that we may eat the results of their brutality?

We are part of one great life, which knows no failure, no loss of effort or strength, which ‘mightily and sweetly ordering all things’ bears the worlds onwards to their goal.


Annie Wood was born in 1847 in London into a middle-class family of Irish origin. Annie was always proud of being Irish and supported the cause of Irish self-rule throughout her adult life.

Her father died when she was young and left the family almost penniless. Annie’s mother was forced to support the family by running a boarding house for boys at Harrow. She raised the money for a private tutor for Annie in this way.

Annie was educated privately by a female tutor as an Evangelical Christian. She was given a strong sense of duty to society and an equally strong sense of what independent women could achieve.

As a young woman, Annie was also able to travel widely in Europe. There she acquired a taste for Catholic colour and ceremony which never left her.

She was married in 1867 in Hastings, Sussex to 26-year-old, clergyman Frank Besant, younger brother of Walter Besant. He was an Evangelical Anglican clergyman who seemed to share many of her concerns.

Soon Frank became vicar of Sibsey in Lincolnshire. Annie moved to Sibsey with him and within a few years they had two children: Digby and Mabel.

The marriage was, however, a disaster. The first conflict came over money and Annie’s independence. Annie wrote short stories, books for children and articles. Frank took all the money she made: married women did not have the right to own property. Politics further divided the couple. Annie began to support the farm workers, who were fighting to unionise and to win better conditions. Frank was a Tory and sided with the landlords and farmers. The tension came to a head when Frank struck Annie. She left him and returned to London.

Annie began to question her own faith. She turned to leading churchmen for advice. She even went to see Dr. Pusey, leader of the Catholic wing of the Church of England. He simply told her she had read too many books. Annie returned to Frank to make one last effort to repair the marriage. It proved useless. She finally left for London. Divorce was unthinkable for Frank, and was not really within the reach of even middle-class people. Annie was to remain Mrs. Besant for the rest of her life. At first, she was able to keep contact with both children and to have Mabel live with her. She got a small allowance from Frank. Her husband was given sole custody of their two children.

She fought for the causes she thought were right, starting with freedom of thought, women's rights, secularism (she was a leading member of the National Secular Society alongside Charles Bradlaugh), birth control, Fabian socialism and workers' rights.

Once free of Frank Besant and exposed to new currents of thought, Annie began to question not only her long-held religious beliefs but the whole of conventional thinking. She began to write attacks on the Churches and the way they controlled people’s lives. In particular she attacked the status of the Church of England as a state-sponsored faith.

Soon she was earning a small weekly wage by writing a column for the National Reformer, the newspaper of the National Secular Society. The Society stood for a secular state: an end to the special status of Christianity. The Society allowed her to act as one of its public speakers. Public lectures were very popular entertainment in Victorian times. Annie was a brilliant speaker, and was soon in great demand. Using the railway, she criss-crossed the country, speaking on all of the most important issues of the day, always demanding improvement, reform, freedom

For many years Annie was a friend of the Society’s leader Charles Bradlaugh. It seems that they were never lovers, but their friendship was very close indeed. Bradlaugh, a former seaman, had long been separated from his wife. Annie lived with Bradlaugh and his daughters, and they worked together on many issues.

Bradlaugh was an atheist and a republican. He was working to get himself elected as MP for Northampton to gain a better platform for his ideas.

Besant and Bradlaugh became household names in 1877, when they published a book by the American birth-control campaigner Knowlton. It claimed that working class families could never be happy until they were able to decide how many children they wanted. It suggested ways to limit the size of their families. The Knowlton book caused great offence to the Churches but Annie and Bradlaugh proclaimed in the National reformer: “We intend to publish nothing we do not think we can morally defend. All that we publish we shall defend.”

The couple were arrested and put on trial for publishing the Knowlton book. They were found guilty, but released pending appeal. As well as great opposition, Annie and Bradlaugh also received a great deal of support in the Liberal press. Arguments raged back and forth in the letters and comment columns as well as in the courtroom. For a time, it looked as though they would be sent to prison. The case was thrown out finally only on a technical point: the charges had not been properly drawn up.

The scandal lost Annie her children. Frank was able to persuade the court that she was unfit to look after them and they were handed over to him permanently.

Bradlaugh’s political prospects were not damaged by the Knowlton scandal. He got himself into Parliament at last in 1881. Because of his atheism, he refused to swear the oath of loyalty. Although many Christians were shocked by Bradlaugh, others (like the Liberal leader Gladstone) spoke up for freedom of belief. It took more than six years before the whole issue was sorted out, in Bradlaugh’s favour) after a series of by-elections and court appearances.

Meanwhile Besant built close contacts with the Irish Home Rulers and gave them support in her newspaper columns. These were crucial years, in which the Irish nationalists were forming an alliance with Liberals and Radicals. Annie met the leaders of the movement. In particular, she got to know Michael Davitt, who wanted to mobilise the Irish peasantry through a Land War: a direct struggle against the landowners. She spoke and wrote in favour of Davitt and his Land League many times over the coming decades.

However, Bradlaugh's parliamentary work gradually alienated Annie. Women had no part in Parliamentary politics. Annie was searching for a real political outlet: politics where her skills as a speaker writer and organiser could do some real good.

For Annie, politics, friendship and love were always closely intertwined. Her decision in favour of Socialism came about through a close relationship with George Bernard Shaw, a struggling young Irish author living in London, and a leading light of the Fabian Society. Annie was impressed by his work and grew very close to him too in the early 1880’s. It was Annie who made the first move, by inviting Shaw to live with her. This he refused, but it was Shaw who sponsored Annie to join the Fabian Society. In its early days, the Society was a gathering of people exploring spiritual, rather than political, alternatives to the capitalist system.

Annie now began to write for the Fabians. This new commitment - and her relationship with G.B.S. - deepened the split between Annie and Bradlaugh, who was an individualist and opposed to Socialism of any sort. While he would defend free speech at any cost, he was very cautious about encouraging working class militancy.

Unemployment was a central issue of the time and in 1887 some of the London unemployed started to hold protests in Trafalgar Square. Annie agreed to appear as a speaker at a meeting on November 13. The police tried to stop the assembly. Fighting broke out and troops were called. Many were hurt, one man died, and hundreds were arrested. Annie offered herself for arrest, but the police refused to take the bait.

The events created a great sensation and the newspapers dubbed it ‘Bloody Sunday’. Annie was widely blamed or credited for it. She threw herself into organising legal aid for the jailed workers and support for their families. Bradlaugh finally broke with her because he felt she should have asked his advice before going ahead with the meeting.

Socialists saw the trade unions as the first real signs of working people’s ability to organise and fight for themselves. Until now, trade unions had been for skilled workers - men with a craft which might take years to acquire and which gave them at least a little security. The Socialists wanted to bring both unskilled men and women into unions to fight for better pay and conditions.

Her most notable victory in this period was perhaps her involvement in the London matchgirls strike of 1888. Annie was drawn into this first really important battle of the ‘New Unionism’ by Herbert Burrows, a young socialist with whom she was for a time in love. He had made contact with workers at Bryant and May’s match factory in Bow, London, who were mainly young women. They were very poorly-paid. They were also prey to horrendous industrial illnesses, like the bone-rotting Phossy jaw, which were caused by the chemicals used in match manufacture. Some of the match workers asked for help from Burrows and Annie in setting up a union.

Annie met the women and set up a committee which led the women into a strike for better pay and conditions. The action won enormous public support. Annie led demonstrations by ‘match-girls’. They were cheered in the streets and prominent churchmen wrote in their support. In just over a week they forced the firm to improve pay and conditions. Annie then helped them to set up a proper union and a social centre.

At the time, the matchstick industry was an immensely powerful lobby, since electric light was not yet widely available, and matches were essential for lighting candles, oil lamps, gas lights, etc. (Only a few years earlier in 1872, lobbyists from the match industry had mananged to get the British government to change its planned tax policy.) Besant's campaign was the first time anyone had successfully challenged the match manufacturers on a major issue, and was seen as a landmark victory of the early years of British Socialism.

During 1884, Annie had developed a very close friendship with Edward Aveling, a young socialist teacher, who lived in her house for a time. Aveling was a scholarly figure and it was he who translated the important works of Marx into English for the first time. Annie seems to have fallen in love with Aveling, but it is not clear that he felt the same way. He was certainly a great influence on her thinking, and she was a great support to his work. However, Aveling left Annie to live with Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl Marx. This led to permanent ill-feeling between Annie and Eleanor and probably pushed Annie towards the rival Fabians at that time. Aveling and Eleanor joined the Marxist SDF but they distrusted its leader, Henry Hyndman. Soon they left the SDF to join the Socialist League, a small Marxist splinter group which formed around the artist William Morris.

It seems that Morris played a large part in converting Annie to Marxism, but it was to the SDF, not his Socialist League, that she turned in 1888. She remained a member for a number of years and became one of its best speakers. Strangely, she was still a member of the Fabian Society. Neither she nor anyone else seemed to think the two movements completely incompatible at the time.

Soon after joining the Marxists, Annie stood for election to the London School Board. Because women were not able to take part in parliamentary politics, it is often thought that they did not have the vote until 1918. In fact, women householders had been brought into the local electorate in 1881, and soon began to make a mark in local politics.

Annie drove about with a red ribbon in her hair, speaking at noisy meetings. “No more hungry children,” her manifesto proclaimed. She made clear that her Socialism had a feminist side too: “I ask the electors to vote for me, and the non-electors to work for me because women are wanted on the Board and there are too few women candidates.” Astonishingly, Annie came top of the poll in Tower Hamlets, with over 15,000 votes. Annie wrote in the National Reformer: “Ten years ago, under a cruel law, Christian bigotry robbed me of my little child. Now the care of the 763,680 children of London is placed partly in my hands.” Annie was also closely involved in the struggle for the "Dockers’ Tanner". The dockers were poorly paid for hard and dangerous work. They were casual labourers, only taken on for one day at a time. Ben Tillett set up a union for dockers. Annie was crucial in this. She helped Tillett to draw up the union’s rules and played an important part in the meetings and agitation which built up the organisation. Tillett led the dockers in a fight for better wages: sixpence (2½p.) an hour. Annie spoke for the dockers at public meetings and on street corners. Like the match-girls, the dockers won a lot of public support for their struggle. Even Cardinal Manning, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England, came out on their side. After a bitter strike, the ‘dockers’ tanner’ was won.

Besant was a prolific writer and a powerful orator. In 1889, she was asked to write a review on The Secret Doctrine, a book by H.P. Blavatsky. After reading it, she sought an interview with its author, meeting Blavatsky in Paris. In this way she was converted to Theosophy. Annie's intellectual journey had always involved a spiritual dimension, a quest for transformation of the whole person. As her interest in Theosphy deepened, she allowed her membership of the Fabian Society to lapse (1890) and broke her links with the Marxists. When Blavatsky died in 1891, Annie was left as one of the leading figures in Theosophy. Her most important public commitment to the faith came in 1893, when she went to present it at the Chicago World Fair.

Soon after becoming a member of the Theosophical Society she went to India for the first time (in 1893). After a dispute, where William Quan Judge, leader of the American section was accused of falsifying letters from the Masters, the American section split away. The remainder of the Society was then led by Henry Steel Olcott and Besant and is today based in Chennai, India and is known as the Theosophical Society Adyar. Thereafter she devoted much of her energy not only to the Society, but also to India's freedom and progress. Besant Nagar, a neighborhood (near the Theosophical Society) in Chennai is named in her honor.

Together with Charles Webster Leadbeater she investigated the universe, matter and the history of mankind through clairvoyance. The two became embroiled over Leadbeater's advice to young boys to masturbate. At the time such advice was highly controversial. He had to leave the Theosophical Society over this in 1906. In 1908 he was taken back into the fold through the agency of Besant, who had been elected president of the Theosophical Society in 1907 upon the death of the previous president Henry Steel Olcott.

Up until Besant's presidency, the society had as one of its foci Theravada Buddhism and the island of Ceylon, where Henry Olcott did the majority of his useful work. Under Besant's leadership there was a decisive turn away from this and a refocusing of their activities on "The Aryavarta", as she called central India. Besant actively courted Hindu opinion more than former Theosophical leaders. This was a clear reversal of policy from Blavatsky and Olcott's very public conversion to Buddhism in Ceylon, and their promotion of Buddhist revival activities on the subcontinent (see also: Maha Bodhi Society).

Annie set up a new school for boys at Varanasi: the Central Hindu College. Its aim was to build a new leadership for India. The boys lived like monks. They spent 90 minutes a day in prayer and studied the Hindu scriptures, but they also studied modern science. It took 3 years to raise the money for the CHC. Most of the money came from Indian princes.

Soon after Besant's inheritance of the presidency, in 1909, Leadbeater discovered Jiddu Krishnamurti on the private beach that was attached to the societies headquarters at Adyar. Krishnamurti had been living there with his father and brother for a few months prior to this. This discovery started years of upheaval in the Theosophical Society in Adyar, as the boy was proposed as the incarnate vessel for the Christ. Jiddu Krishnamurti and his brother Nitya were brought up by Theosophists from that moment on, with a subsequent lawsuit filed by his father.

Eventually, in 1929, Krishnamurti ended up disbanding the Order of the Star of the East, which had been founded to support him and of which he had been made the leader. [1] This destroyed Besant's spirit, as it went against her ideals.

As well as her religious activities, Annie continued to participate in concrete political struggles. She had joined the Indian National Congress. As the name suggested, this was originally a debating body which met each year to consider resolutions on political issues. Mostly it demanded more of a say for middle-class Indians in their own government. It had not yet developed into a permanent mass movement with local organisation.

In 1914, war broke out in Europe. Britain needed the support of its Empire in the fight against Germany. Annie said: “England’s need is India’s opportunity,” a clear echo of an Irish nationalist slogan. As editor of a newspaper called New India, she attacked the (British) government of India and called for clear and decisive moves towards self-rule. As with Ireland, the government refused to discuss any changes while the war lasted.

In 1916 Annie launched the Home Rule League, once again modelling demands for India on Irish models. For the first time India had a political party to fight for change. Unlike the Congress itself, the League worked all year round. It built a strong structure of local branches, enabling it to mobilise demonstrations, public meetings and agitations. In June 1917 Annie was arrested and interned at a hill station. She flew a red and green flag in the garden to show her defiance. Congress and the Muslim League together threatened to launch protests if she were not set free. Annie’s arrest had created a focus for protest, giving those who wanted lon-term independence for India a chance to work together for a simple, achievable goal.

The government was forced to give way and to make vague but significant concessions. It was announced that the ultimate aim of British rule was Indian self-government and moves in that direction were promised. Annie was freed in September to a tremendous welcome from crowds all over India. In December she took over as President of Congress for a year. It was perhaps the greatest honour she received in her lifetime.

After the War, there could be no going back. A new leadership emerged around Mohandas K. Gandhi - one of those who had written to demand Annie’s release. He was a lawyer who had returned from leading Asians in a peaceful struggle against racism in South Africa. It was Annie who first called him Mahatma, Great Soul, using the vocabulary of Theosophy. Nehru, Gandhi's closest collaborator, had been educated by a Theosphist tutor.

The new leadership too was committed to action that was both militant and non-violent, but there were differences between them and Annie. Despite her past, she was not happy with their socialist leanings. Until the very end of her life though, she continued to campaign for India’s independence, not only in India but on speaking tours of Britain. In her own version of Indian dress, Mrs Besant remained a striking presence on speakers’ platforms. She produced a torrent of letters and articles demanding independence.

She tried to accommodate Krishnamurti's views into her life, but never really succeeded. The two remained friends, though, until the end of her life. Annie Besant died in 1933 and was survived by her daughter, Mabel.

Annie Besant, the daughter of William Wood and Emily Morris, was born in 1847. Annie's father, a doctor, died when she was only five years old. Without any savings, Annie's mother found work looking after boarders at Harrow School. Mrs. Wood was unable to care for Annie and she persuaded a friend, Ellen Marryat, to take responsibility for her upbringing.

In 1866 Annie met the Rev. Frank Besant. Although only nineteen, Annie agreed to marry the young clergyman. By the time she was twenty-three Annie had two children. However, Annie was deeply unhappy because her independent sprit clashed with the traditional views of her husband. Annie also began to question her religious beliefs. When Annie refused to attend communion, Frank Besant ordered her to leave the family home. A legal separation was arranged and Digby, the son, stayed with his father, and Mabel went to live with Annie in London.

After leaving her husband Annie Besant completely rejected Christianity and in 1874 joined the Secular Society. Annie soon developed a close relationship with Charles Bradlaugh, editor of the radical National Reformer and leader of the secular movement in Britain. Bradlaugh gave Annie a job working for the National Reformer and during the next few years wrote many articles on issues such as marriage and women's rights.

In 1877 Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh decided to publish The Fruits of Philosophy, Charles Knowlton's book advocating birth control. Besant and Bradlaugh were charged with publishing material that was "likely to deprave or corrupt those whose minds are open to immoral influences". In court they argued that "we think it more moral to prevent conception of children than, after they are born, to murder them by want of food, air and clothing." Besant and Bradlaugh were both found guilty of publishing an "obscene libel" and sentenced to six months in prison. At the Court of Appeal the sentence was quashed.

After the court-case Besant wrote and published her own book advocating birth control entitled The Laws of Population. The idea of a woman advocating birth-control received wide-publicity. Newspapers like The Times accused Besant of writing "an indecent, lewd, filthy, bawdy and obscene book". Rev. Besant used the publicity of the case to persuade the courts that he, rather than Annie Besant, should have custody of their daughter Mabel.

In 1880 Charles Bradlaugh was elected MP for Northampton, but as he was not a Christian he refused to take the oath, and was expelled from the House of Commons. As well as working with Bradlaugh, Besant also became friends with socialists such as Walter Crane, Edward Aveling and George Bernard Shaw.

After joining the Social Democratic Federation, Annie started her own campaigning newspaper called The Link. Like Catherine Booth of the Salvation Army, Annie was concerned about the health of young women workers at the Bryant & May match factory. On 23rd June, 1888, Annie published an article White Slavery in London where she drew attention to the dangers of phosphorus fumes and complained about the low wages paid to the women who worked at Bryant & May.

Three women who provided information for Annie's article were sacked. Annie responded by helping the women at Bryant & May to form a Matchgirls Union. After a three week strike, the company was forced to make significant concessions including the re-employment the three victimized women.

Besant also join the socialist group, the Fabian Society, and in 1889 contributed to the influencial book, Fabian Essays. As well as Besant, the book included articles by George Bernard Shaw, Sydney Webb, Sydney Olivier, Graham Wallas, William Clarke and Hubert Bland. Edited by Shaw, the book sold 27,000 copies in two years.

In 1889 Annie Besant was elected to the London School Board. After heading the poll with a fifteen thousand majority over the next candidate, Besant argued that she had been given a mandate for large-scale reform of local schools. Some of her many achievements included a programme of free meals for undernourished children and free medical examinations for all those in elementary schools.

In the 1890s Annie Besant became a supporter of Theosophy, a religious movement founded by Madame Blavatsky in 1875. Theosophy was based on Hindu ideas of karma and reincarnation with nirvana as the eventual aim. Annie Besant went to live in India but she remained interested in the subject of women's rights. She continued to write letters to British newspapers arguing the case for women's suffrage and in 1911 was one of the main speakers at an important NUWSS rally in London.

While in India, Annie joined the struggle for Indian Home Rule, and during the First World War was interned by the British authorities. Annie Besant died in India in 1933.

Born in London on October 1, 1847, Annie Besant soon came to be known all over the world as one of the most famous women of her day (West 9). She was an educational and social reformer, an editor, a feminist, and the first woman to speak openly in favor of birth control (Nethercor 1). Arthur H. Nethercor describes these and the many other facets of Besant’s life in two books entitled The First Five Lives of Annie Besant and The Last Four Lives of Annie Besant.

At the age of five, Besant’s father died, and without the financial resources to secure her upbringing, her mother entrusted her to Ellen Marryat, a family friend (Lewis np). Though she was born in England, Besant always resented this part of her heritage, claiming that “three quarters of [her] blood and all [her] heart was Irish” (Taylor 1). Nevertheless, she would come to be known as one of England’s most prominent women.

In 1866, she married a young clergyman, the Reverend Frank Besant. Together they had two children, but when Annie refused to attend communion, she was ordered to leave the family home. After the separation from her husband, Annie rejected Christianity altogether, and in 1874 she joined the Secular Society where she met a man by the name of Charles Bradlaugh (Lewis np).

Bradlaugh was the editor of a newspaper called the National Reformer, and Annie received a job working under him writing articles about women’s rights. Later, the two wrote a book advocating the use of birth control. The work, however, was judged to be “obscene libel” and Besant and Bradlaugh received a six month prison sentence (Lewis np). The sentence was eventually overturned on appeal, and Besant wrote a second book, The Laws of Population, on the subject (Lewis np).

Women’s issues and rights were not, however, the only subjects that Besant addressed. In the later years of the 19th century, she addressed such issues as the unsafe industrial working conditions found throughout London, low wages for employees of factories, and the need to provide for the city’s poorer children (Lewis np)

Annie Besant had turned away from Christianity when she left her husband, the Reverend Frank Besant, but it wasn’t until she met Madame Blavatsky in 1887 that she officially converted to Theosophy and became a powerful speaker for the religion (Lewis np).

In November 1893, Annie Besant left England for India where she planned to study Hindu and the ideas of karma, reincarnation, and nirvana. She ended up living out the last forty years of her life in India trying to bring about an “irreversible shift in India’s political direction” (Taylor 277). She purchased a newspaper that she renamed the New India, and she used it to further advance her political objectives in the country. In 1914, she was chosen to be a delegate to the Indian National Congress, and in the following years she continued her work for India’s freedom (Devi np). Annie Besant also began the Home Rule League on September 1, 1916, and in 1917 she became President of the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress (Devi np).

“I honestly believe,” Besant wrote, “that the future of India, the greatness of India, and the happiness of her people, can never be secured by political methods, but only by the revival of her philosophy and religion. To this, therefore, I must give all of my energies” (Besant qtd. in West).

Besant gave all of her energies to that cause for the last forty years of her life—until she died in India in 1933. Besant’s life was, indeed, a splendid adventure that she lived bravely and gallantly. And it is for those reasons that she is remembered today as the greatest woman speaker and activist of her day


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