Stephen, James Kenneth (1859 - 1892)


The son of Sir James F. Stephen, a criminal court judge, and Mary Richenda Cunningham, James Kenneth Stephen, known as "Jem" to his friends, was educated at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge. He joined the secret, apparently homosexual society known as the Apostles, and became a Fellow of King's College in 1885, two years after being hired as tutor to Prince Albert Victor Edward, heir to the throne, who studied at Trinity College 1883-85. In 1888, by then a barrister and distanced from the royal family, Stephen founded a weekly journal The Reflector, but it lasted only for 17 numbers, although he had many literary friends (one of his cousins was Virginia Woolf) and had quickly acquired a reputation as a satirical poet. Stephen was committed to St. Andrew's Hospital, Northampton, in November 1891, suffering from mental illness, likely manic depression. He had struck his head in an accident at Felixstowe five years before--a point after which friends, Virginia Woolf included, began to interpret his behaviour as madness. After refusing all nourishment, Stephen died early February 1892, a few weeks after the prince he tutored. Arthur C. Benson's The Leaves of the Tree: Studies in Biography (London: Smith, Elder, 1911; CT 782 B3 Robarts Library) discusses Stephen's life; and David Abrahamson's Murder & Madness: the Secret Life of Jack the Ripper (London: Robson Books, 1992; HV 6535 G73 L653 1992 Robarts Library) transcribes Stephen's medical records. The claim that Stephen and the Prince were Jack the Ripper is based on weak circumstantial evidence and a psychoanalytic reading of his mysogynistic poems.


  • Smith, K. J. M.. "Stephen, Sir James Fitzjames, first baronet (1829–1894)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Jan. 2012.
Given Name: 
James Kenneth
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Birth Date: 
February 25, 1859
Death Date: 
February 3, 1892


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