Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953), poet and author, was born on 27 July 1870 at La Celle St Cloud, near Paris. Belloc was born just before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war; a few weeks later the family retreated to England, having taken the last train out of Paris. When the Bellocs returned to the family home after the war they found that it had been wrecked and pillaged by Prussian soldiers. Belloc would have been too young to remember this episode, but accounts of it would have fuelled his lifelong prejudice against all things German. When he was only two years old his father died, and Bessie Belloc and her two children moved to England. He was educated at the Oratory School, in Birmingham, and after school tried many professions: farmer, French naval officer, draughtsman. In 1891 he traveled across the United States, mostly on foot, supporting himself by making drawings and selling them. In 1892, Belloc served in the French military--where he realized he was now more English than French--and upon his return to England he was admitted to Balliol College, Oxford where in 1895 he took a first degree in Modern History. In 1896, Belloc married Elodie Agnes Hogan, and in 1897 they had their first son, Louis. In 1900 he began his literary career; in 1902 he published The Path to Rome, which remains one of his most attractive and popular books. Most famously, Belloc became known as a polemical apologist for the Roman Catholic church, which he regarded as the only source of sanity and order in the world. He was an important influence on the small Roman Catholic community in England, giving them a new self-confidence, insisting that though they might seem to be a vulnerable minority in an offshore protestant island they were really part of the universal church with its centre in Rome. Although Roman Catholicism was central to Belloc's life and his writings, these reflect little of the serenity and hope of faith. His religion was a disciplined matter of the will and the intelligence, but his subjective stance to the world was a sad, stoic acceptance of the blows of fate.
From 1906-1910, Belloc served as a Liberal MP, but became disillusioned with the British Parliamentary system. In 1914 his wife died, and he never fully recovered. The outbreak of the First World War strengthened Belloc's attachment to France, a Catholic nation at the heart of civilization in conflict with protestant Germany, or ‘Prussia’, as he liked to call it; he regarded the Catholic south Germans and Austrians as at best misguided, at worst renegades. During the war he was much in demand as a commentator on military affairs, and this work temporarily restored his finances. Unfortunately, Belloc's grief over Elodie was extended when his eldest son, Louis, an airman, was reported missing in action during WWI, and was later confirmed as dead; a further blow was the death of his friend Cecil Chesterton in December 1918 from an illness contracted on active service. His son Peter was killed in WWII. In his final years Belloc was a public figure with many friends and admirers, in the Catholic world and outside it; in his personal life, though, he was lonely, and increasingly wearied by having to turn out books for money. After a stroke in 1942 his health declined and he became senile within a few years. Hilaire Belloc died on 16 July 1953 at the Mount Alvernia Nursing Home, Guildford, Surrey, from shock and burns following a fall at King's Land when he was trying to put a log on a fire. He was buried at West Grinstead, Sussex, on 20 July 1953.
[Source: Bernard Bergonzi, ‘Belloc, (Joseph) Hilaire Pierre René (1870–1953)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30699, accessed 12 Dec 2014]