Royden was educated at Cheltenham Ladies' College, and at Lady Margaret Hall. As a result of the contacts she made at Oxford University she developed an interest in the plight of the poor. She decided to leave university to take up work in a Victoria Women's Settlement in Liverpool.
In 1902 she went to work with the Reverend Hudson Shaw (1859–1944) in his parish in South Luffenham. Shaw was leading figure in the Oxford University extension movement. As her biographer, Sheila Fletcher, has pointed out: "She grew strongly attached to Shaw and his mentally fragile wife, Effie, helping them revive a sluggish parish. Finding she had gifts of self-expression far beyond the needs of a Sunday school class, Shaw resolved to get her extension work, lecturing on English literature. Though the Oxford delegacy then employed only male lecturers, he insisted that they try her out. This was her start in public speaking."
Maude Royden became increasingly interested in the subject of women's rights and she joined the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. Working under Millicent Fawcett she soon became one of the organisation's main public speakers. In 1909 she helped form the Church League for Women's Suffrage. Two years later she was elected to the executive committee of the NUWSS. Royden also edited its newspaper, The Common Cause, between 1913-1914.
When the First World War was declared two pacifists, Clifford Allen and Fenner Brockway, formed the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF), an organisation that encouraged men to refuse war service. The NCF required its members to "refuse from conscientious motives to bear arms because they consider human life to be sacred." As Martin Ceadel, the author of Pacifism in Britain 1914-1945 (1980) pointed out: "Though limiting itself to campaigning against conscription, the N.C.F.'s basis was explicitly pacifist rather than merely voluntarist.... In particular, it proved an efficient information and welfare service for all objectors; although its unresolved internal division over whether its function was to ensure respect for the pacifist conscience or to combat conscription by any means"
Maude Royden was a strong supporter of the No-Conscription Fellowship. The group received support from public figures such as Bertrand Russell, Philip Snowden, Bruce Glasier, Robert Smillie, C. H. Norman, William Mellor, Arthur Ponsonby, Guy Aldred, Alfred Salter, Duncan Grant, Wilfred Wellock, Maude Royden, Max Plowman and Rev. John Clifford. Other members included Cyril Joad, Alfred Mason, Winnie Mason, Alice Wheeldon, William Wheeldon, John S. Clarke, Arthur McManus, Hettie Wheeldon, Storm Jameson, Duncan Grant, Max Plowman and Rev. John Clifford.
After the outbreak of the First World War, Royden found herself in conflict with many in the NUWSS, which under the leadership of Millicent Fawcett, had support the war effort. At the end of 1914 she became the secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In February 1915 she resigned as editor of Common Cause and gave up her place on the NUWSS executive council. She now joined the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
In 1917 the City Temple, the Congregational church in Holborn, offered her a preaching post. Royden accepted and in 1918 she spoke in Hudson Shaw's church on the League of Nations and Christianity. As a result he was rebuked by the Bishop of London. In 1919 Shaw asked her to preach at the three hours' service on Good Friday. The bishop forbade it, on the grounds that this was an especially ‘sacred’ service. Soon afterwards, the Church League for Women's Suffrage, resolved to campaign not only for the preaching but the priesthood of women.
In 1921 Maude Royden established the Guildhouse, an ecumenical place of worship and a cultural centre. On Sunday afternoons there were talks about politics and the arts. Royden preached at the Sunday evening service to a congregation from all over London. She became famous and was asked to preach all over the world.
Maude Royden joined the Labour Party and in 1922 she was invited to stand as its candidate for the Wirral constituency but declined because she wanted to concentrate on her religious work. The following year she preached in churches and cathedrals in the USA, where she advocated the Christian cause of peace and the need for the League of Nations. She also went on speaking tours in Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand.
In 1928 Radclyffe Hall published the novel, The Well of Loneliness, about the subject of lesbianism. The publisher, Jonathan Cape, argued on the bookjacket that: "In England hitherto the subject has not been treated frankly outside the regions of scientific text-books, but that its social consequences qualify a broader and more general treatment is likely to be the opinion of thoughtful and cultured people."
There was a campaign by the press to get the book banned. The Sunday Express argued: "In order to prevent the contamination and corruption of English fiction it is the duty of the critic to make it impossible for any other novelist to repeat this outrage. I say deliberately that this novel is not fit to be sold by any bookseller or to be borrowed from any library."
Behind the scenes the Home Office put pressure of Jonathan Cape to withdraw the book. One official described the book as "inherently obscene… it supports a depraved practice and is gravely detrimental to the public interest". The chief magistrate, Sir Chartres Biron, ordered that all copies be destroyed, and that literary merit presented no grounds for defence. The publisher agreed to withdraw the novel and proofs intended for a publisher in France were seized in October 1928.
Maude Royden gave passionate support for the book. A sermon on the subject was published in The Guildhall Monthly in April 1929. "I feel bound to say that I find it difficult to understand why an official who permits the publication of books so filthy that it soils the mind to read them, and the production of plays in which everything that is connected with sex is degraded, in which marriage and adultery alike are treated as though they were rather a nasty joke, should have fastened on this particular book as being unfit for us to read. I do not desire that those other books or plays should be suppressed; I have no faith at all in that way of dealing with evil. It is better to concentrate our efforts on trying to be interested in something that is good than to take a short cut to virtue by repressing what is evil."
Radclyffe Hall wrote to Maude Royden explaining her motivation for writing the novel: "May I take this opportunity of telling you how much your support of The Well of Loneliness has meant to its author during the past months of government persecution. I wrote the book in order to help a very much misunderstood and therefore unfortunate section of society, and to feel that a leader of thought like yourself had extended to me your understanding was, and still is, a source of strength and encouragement."
Martin Ceadel, the author of Pacifism in Britain 1914-1945 (1980) has pointed out: "Indeed what was perhaps the most sanguine pacifist initiative of the entire twentieth century occurred in February 1932: the attempt by a trio of leading Christian pacifists to form a Peace Army of unarmed passive resisters to intercede between the combats in the world's military confrontations, starting with the one in Manchuria. The prime mover of this scheme was one of the inter-war period's best-known woman pacifists, Dr Maude Royden, a former suffragist who... had devoted herself to the cause of peace."
In 1934 she visited India with Margery Corbett Ashby and met Ghandi. However, as Sheila Fletcher has pointed out: "But while she was buoyed up by a sense of mission, the Guildhouse suffered from her absences. Later she regretted having turned increasingly to preaching as hopes of the priesthood faded. In 1936 when the Guildhouse closed, her sense of failure was not assuaged by her being by then a Companion of Honour and holder of honorary doctorates."
In July 1935, Richard Sheppard, a canon of St. Paul's Cathedral, formed the Peace Pledge Union (PPU). Maude Royden along with Arthur Ponsonby, George Lansbury, Vera Brittain, Wilfred Wellock, Siegfried Sassoon, Donald Soper, Aldous Huxley, Laurence Housman and Bertrand Russell, joined this new group. Over the next two years the PPU obtained over 100,000 members.
From 1937 the PPU organized alternative Remembrance Day commemorations, including the wearing of white rather than red poppies on 11th November. In 1938 the PPU campaigned against legislation introduced by Parliament for air raid precautions, and the following year against legislation for military conscription.
On the outbreak of the Second World War Maude Royden renounced pacifism as she accepted that it was necessary to fight against the evils of Nazi Germany. In October 1944 she married the recently widowed Hudson Shaw. He was then eighty-five and died two months later. In her autobiography, A Threefold Cord (1947) she revealed that she had a passionate but platonic love for each other from first meeting in 1901.
Maude Royden died in Hampstead on 30th July 1956.
To work for the enfranchisement of women was a tremendous experience, a tremendous education... The struggle both absorbed and widened my life. It gave me a sympathy - and I believe an understanding which linked me to all disfranchised persons and nations.
Internationalism should emphasise the solidarity of human interests as a fact more fundamental than the bitterest national or racial dissensions. Certainly the Budapest meeting of the International Women's Suffrage Alliance brought out the solidarity of women. The wonder is that delegates from countries divided by feelings so bitter - in some cases, by wrongs so deep - should consent to come together on any subject in the world.
I am not going to speak tonight about the book called The Well of Loneliness which was during my absence abroad published here and then banned, but about the subject of that book. I do not suppose Miss Radclyfte-Hall desired the kind of advertisement that has been given to the book, but since it happened, and since the book has, largely in consequence of that advertisement, been very widely read, I feel bound to say that I find it difficult to understand why an official who permits the publication of books so filthy that it soils the mind to read them, and the production of plays in which everything that is connected with sex is degraded, in which marriage and adultery alike are treated as though they were rather a nasty joke, should have fastened on this particular book as being unfit for us to read. I do not desire that those other books or plays should be suppressed; I have no faith at all in that way of dealing with evil. It is better to concentrate our efforts on trying to be interested in something that is good than to take a short cut to virtue by repressing what is evil. But if there is to be censorship, why was this book chosen. I wish publicly to state that I honour the woman who wrote it, alike for her courage and her understanding; that I find her as just as she is merciful and as merciful as she is just; that her book seems to me to be altogether on the side of what is normal and right; and I do not understand how anyone can read that book patiently from start to finish, and not see that that is the conclusion of the matter.
These, however, are not reasons why I should preach about this book or on this subject. My reasons are these. The book is being very widely read. It is being widely read by members of this congregation, and by the younger members, who perhaps of all the people of my congregation are most - I will not say most clear to my heart, for all my congregation are clear - but most near to my conscience. And I have found that the advice frequently given by well-meaning, but almost incredibly ignorant people on this subject, is often tragic in its effect, not only on the lives of the abnormal but in the lives of others, normal or capable of becoming so.
What then is my subject? It is the fact that between people of the same sex friendship sometimes reaches a pitch of intensity which longs for physical contact, and for those intimacies and caresses which are normally only desired and only given between people of opposite sex. I do not say this love is more profound than any other kind of love, for the love of parents for their children, sometimes of brothers and sisters, sometimes of a more normal type of friendship, is sometimes quite as profound as the love of lovers. It may be, even in the life of a perfectly normal person, that the love of children is his - or more commonly her - ruling passion. But, even so, it has a different quality from sex-love; and it is this quality which sometimes exists between men for each other, and women for each other, and which creates the difficulties I speak of to-night.
If to some of you this "passionate friendship" seems quite incomprehensible, I ask you nevertheless to accept the fact that it does exist It is not even a new thing; it is not a consequence of the unnatural excitement and loneliness of the war and post-war periods.
I am going to assume tonight that what I call the "true" invert, the person who cannot be altered either by psychologists or physiologists does actually exist. His abnormality is not due to delayed or even arrested development: it is inherent and incurable. Whence do they come: "God made us," they reply: "what is he going to do with us"...
Consider - the invert can have no children and no home in our sense of the word. His love, which seems to him as sacred as yours and mine, must seem to the world horrible. He creates no new centre of life from which life conies into the world. There is no pull outward again when he turns inwards: the rhythm of creation is broken. When two lovers, a man and a woman, meet in marriage, their love turns into itself but it creates something, which draws them out again. The act of creation creates new life, and the parents' love is drawn out as the lovers' love was drawn in, and there is present the infolding and unfolding, the great and wonderful rhythm which runs through all life. But to the invert's love, this is impossible. The rhythm is broken. Love turns inwards and is locked there. The biological failure to create is paralleled by a spiritual failure. Need it be so, some of you ask? Cannot the love of the invert for his own sex, for her own sex, even though it be expressed physically, result in a spiritual creation? I do not think so. If it is to result in spiritual creation, it must be kept on a spiritual plane. If it yields to the desire for physical expression, it becomes spiritually valueless. Love is sacred - yes, all love is sacred. Let us never forger that. But love is
naturally creative and sterile love is a contradiction in terms. It is the function of love to create, just as it is tile function of hatred to destroy, for love is the very principle of creation, and to ask "Why did God create" is to ask a question without meaning. He creates because it is the nature of love to create. But when the invert argues that his love also may create spiritually, I think he falls into a fallacy; it creates spiritually only by the hard necessity of remaining a spiritual passion. I know the happiness that comes of a loneliness that is broken at last seems a release, and for a time there Is a sense of being satisfied; but that is all. Such love does not turn outwards to the creation of life, and it remains a secret.
I submit that the invert should accept the fact of his own nature and consequent suffering, and not try to escape it. This is the kind of thing I am ashamed to say, knowing how often I have sought and seek to escape pain. Have we not all tried to escape from suffering and loneliness? If I dare to say to the invert, "you must not try to escape, it is because I am certain that in one sense you cannot escape altogether." But it you accept your suffering, you will find that you are one of a great company. The form of your suffering is lonely, but the fact of your suffering is common, for all whose lives are worth living suffer - all of them. You will find yourself not alone in the deepest sense, for this great company of sufferers becomes to you more than a company; it is a communion, a communion of the deepest of human experiences. The experience of a pain that you accept and do not try to escape makes you one of that great host of martyrs, prophets and saints, in whose hearts there is always a cross. In this communion loneliness is transcended.
May I take this opportunity of telling you how much your support of The Well of Loneliness has meant to its author during the past months of government persecution. I wrote the book in order to help a very much misunderstood and therefore unfortunate section of society, and to feel that a leader of thought like yourself had extended to me your understanding was, and still is, a source of strength and encouragement - thank you.
Although few pacifists were prepared to endorse Ponsonby's and Einstein's condemnations of Geneva, some were to take their optimism about non-violence even further. Indeed what was perhaps the most sanguine pacifist initiative of the entire twentieth century occurred in February 1932: the attempt by a trio of leading Christian pacifists to form a Peace Army of unarmed passive resisters to intercede between the combats in the world's military confrontations, starting with the one in Manchuria.
The prime mover of this scheme was one of the inter-war period's best-known woman pacifists, Dr Maude Royden, a former suffragist who... had devoted herself to the cause of peace. The Oxford-educated daughter of a wealthy Liverpool shipowner (and the sister of the Chairman of the Cunard Steamship Company), she had fallen under the influence, while in her early twenties, of the unorthodox Anglican preacher, the Revd Hudson Shaw. She began work as his lay curate and fell in love with him, living for forty years with Shaw and his wife in platonic triangular intimacy, until in 1944 Mrs Shaw died and Dr Royden became his wife for the few remaining weeks of his life.Encouraged by Shaw, she became assistant preacher at the City Temple in 1917, and in 1921 acquired her own church, the Guildhouse (in Eccleston Square, Pimlico), where she preached until her retirement in 1936. Her religious views were a non-denominational form of Christian socialism and their combination of religious and political concerns was reflected, not altogether harmoniously, in her pacifism. Her Christian impulses drew her to the strict pacifism of the F.o.R.; but her equally strong commitment to political relevance made her receptive to any non-military means of preventing war, even if sectarians might consider it a departure from rigorous pacifism. Thus only a few weeks after her Peace Army proposal had been making headlines, she was informing David Davies that she was in full agreement with
his book The Problem of the Twentieth Century - which forthrightly argued the case for all, including military, sanctions as the only guarantee for peace and security. She had, however, as she later acknowledged when she withdrew her support from Davies's New Commonwealth Society, failed to realize that an international police force would have to be armed "with the most terrible of all modern weapons".When Davies remonstrated with her, she disarmingly confessed her difficulty: "I quite see that your reasoning is sound, but then I have really abandoned the attempt to be rigidly logical in my pacifism". For the next five years she sought to stave off the choice between pacifism and pacificism (as did many members of the W.I.L.) by professing to believe that economic sanctions could prevent war. At the time of Munich, as will be seen, she opted for strict pacifism; after the outbreak of war, however, she came to see this as a mistake. Her "much-criticised wartime vacillations" were later attributed by Vera Brittain, herself a thoroughgoing Christian pacifist, to an incomplete understanding of Christianity and an excessively political preoccupation with short-term success: only half-jokingly, she traced Dr Royden's problems back to "the chance that as an Oxford student she read Modern History and not Theology (a school closed to Oxford women until 1935)".