Everybody’s mother tells them they are special. Children are doted on by their parents and made to feel they are the most important people in the world. However, for one individual there was a little more this. Henry Coombe-Tennant, born in 1913 was ‘engineered’ by his parents to be a messiah in a bizzarre story of early 20th Century psychic experimentation.
Britain at the turn of the century was a decidedly odd place to be it seems. Having accepted the Darwinian theory of evolution, many were unable to come to terms with the implications of his findings, that humanity is not special from other organisms and that in a Judeao-Christian sense there is no afterlife. As a result some turned to occult like activities claiming them as science in attempts to prove that death is not the end.
One individual who was involved in these psychic experiments was Gerald Balfour (younger brother of Prime Minister Arthur Balfour), an MP who at one point was secretary of state for Ireland, and Winifred Coombe-Tennant (a British Delegate at the League of Nations). They and other spiritualists came up with “The Plan”. Half spiritualism and half eugenics, “The Plan” was to create a child who would be scientifically engineered to change the world. This, however isn’t a tale of designer babies in the modern sense. The child would be altered by those beyond the grave!
Balfour and Coombe-Tennant were believers in the power of “automatic writing”. This is a process in which an individual writes something without any consciousness or thought, and it was believed that long dead individuals were controlling what was being written. Balfour, Coombe-Tennant and others believed, following ‘correspondence’ with these spirits, that the dead would engineer the child to “deliver humanity from chaos”. One spirit in particular they were trusting was Francis Maitland Balfour (another of the Balfour brothers) a Cambridge Biologist who died in 1882 whilst climbing Mont Blanc.
There was one slight thing in the way of their plan, both Balfour and Coombe-Tennant were married to other people. Charles Coombe-Tennant was almost 60 at the time, but despite any potential paternity doubts said nothing. Gerald Balfour took a more direct approach telling his wife, Betty, that he could no longer have sex with her. Upon this news, Betty apparently sank into depression, although the two were reconciled years later when he explained why he made that decision.
From this adulterous relationship was born Augustus Henry Coombe-Tennant in 1913. So did Henry “deliver humanity from chaos” or “bring peace and justice into the world”, in short, no. But, he still led a very interesting life. After attending Eton and Trinity College Cambridge he went off to fight in World War 2 with the Welsh Guard. Unfortunately, he was captured and kept as a prisoner of war for 2 years, before staging an almost miraculous escape. He simply walked out of occupied Europe in British uniform, unable to speak any language other than English.
After this he later worked for MI6 before converting to Catholicism and becoming a monk. It was not until late on in his life that he was told his rather strange origins.
So next time your parents are a bit pushy, just be thankful that they don’t expect you to save humanity!
Roy, Archie E. (2008). The Eager Dead: A Study in Haunting. Brighton: Book Guild Publishing.
Gray, John (2011). The Immortalization Commission. Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death. Allen Lane