Belloc objected to his adversary's tacitly anti-Christian stance, epitomized by the fact that Wells had devoted more space in his "history" to the Persian campaign against the Greeks than he had given to the figure of Christ.
His mother Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829–1925) was a Writer, Activist, and a major force in efforts to gain greater equality for women, being a co-founder of the English Woman's Journal and the Langham Place Group. Belloc himself campaigned against women's suffrage; he was a member of the Women's National Anti-Suffrage League. Her father was Joseph Parkes (1796–1865), a prosperous solicitor and a liberal with Radical sympathies. Her mother, Elizabeth Rayner Priestley (1797–1877), was born in the United States, a granddaughter of the polymath Joseph Priestley. In 1867, Bessie married attorney Louis Belloc, son of the French Painter Jean-Hilaire Belloc. In 1872, five years after they wed, Louis died, but not before being wiped out financially in a stock market crash. The young widow then brought her children back to England.
He was powerfully built, with great stamina, and walked extensively in Britain and Europe. While courting his Future wife Elodie Hogan, an American whom he first met in 1890, the impecunious Belloc walked a good part of the way from the midwest of the United States to her home in northern California, "paying" for lodging at remote farm houses and ranches by sketching the owners and reciting poetry. The couple married in 1896.
Hilaire Belloc grew up in England, and would spend most of his life there. His boyhood was spent in Slindon, West Sussex, for which he often felt homesick in later life, as evidenced in poems such as "West Sussex Drinking Song", "The South Country", and even the more melancholy, "Ha'nacker Mill". After being educated at John Henry Newman's Oratory School in Edgbaston, Birmingham, Belloc served his term of military Service, as a French citizen, with an artillery regiment near Toul in 1891. Belloc proceeded to Balliol College, Oxford, as a history scholar. He went on to obtain first-class honours, and never lost his love for Balliol, as is illustrated by his verse, "Balliol made me, Balliol fed me/ Whatever I had she gave me again".
An 1895 graduate of Balliol College, Oxford, Belloc was a noted figure within the University, being President of the Oxford Union, the undergraduate debating society. He went into politics after he became a naturalised British subject. A great disappointment in his life was his failure to gain a fellowship of All Souls College, Oxford in 1895. This failure may have been caused in part by his producing a small statue of the Virgin and placing it before him on the table during the interview for the fellowship.
His best travel writing has secured a permanent following. The Path to Rome (1902), an account of a walking pilgrimage he made from central France across the Alps and down to Rome, has remained continuously in print. More than a mere travelogue, The Path to Rome contains descriptions of the people and places he encountered, his drawings in pencil and in ink of the route, humour, poesy, and the reflections of a large mind turned to the events of his time as he marches along his solitary way. His book The Pyrenees, published in 1909, shows a depth of detailed knowledge of that region such as would only be gained from personal experience. At every turn, Belloc shows himself to be profoundly in love with Europe and with the Faith that he claims has produced it.
Belloc grew up in Slindon and spent most of his life in West Sussex. He always wrote of Sussex as if it were the crown of England and the western Sussex Downs the jewel in that crown. He loved Sussex to the point of idolatry as the place where he was brought up and as his spiritual home. Belloc wrote several works about Sussex including Ha'nacker Mill, The South Country, the travel guide Sussex (1906) and The County of Sussex (1936). One of his best-known works relating to Sussex is The Four Men: a Farrago (1911), in which the four characters, each aspects of Belloc's personality, travel on a pilgrimage across the county from Robertsbridge in the far east to Harting in the far west. The work has influenced others including Sussex folk musician Bob Copper, who retraced Belloc's steps in the 1980s. Belloc was also a lover of Sussex songs and wrote lyrics for some songs which have since been put to music. Belloc is remembered in an annual celebration in Sussex, known as Belloc Night, that takes place on the writer's birthday, 27 July, in the manner of Burns Night in Scotland. The celebration includes reading from Belloc's work and partaking of a bread and cheese supper with pickles.
Belloc sent his son Louis to Downside School 1911-1915. Louis's biography and death in August 1918 is recorded in "Downside and the War".
Belloc took a leading role in denouncing the Marconi scandal of 1912, in which government ministers were caught insider trading. Belloc emphasize that key players in both the government and the Marconi corporation had been Jewish. Jewish Historian Todd Edelman identifies Catholic Writers as central critics. In his opinion:
His only period of steady employment was from 1914 to 1920 as Editor of Land and Water, a journal devoted to the progress of the war. Otherwise he lived by his writing and was often impecunious.
His son Louis was killed in 1918 while serving in the Royal Flying Corps in northern France. Belloc placed a memorial tablet at the nearby Cambrai Cathedral. It is in the same side chapel as the noted icon Our Lady of Cambrai.
One of Belloc's most famous statements was "the faith is Europe and Europe is the faith"; this sums up his strongly held, orthodox Catholic views, and the cultural conclusions he drew from them. Those views were expressed at length in many of his works from the period 1920–40. These are still cited as exemplary of Catholic apologetics. They have also been criticised, for instance by comparison with the work of Christopher Dawson during the same period.
In his 1922 book, The Jews, Belloc argued that "the continued presence of the Jewish nation intermixed with other nations alien to it presents a permanent Problem of the gravest character," and that the "Catholic Church is the conservator of an age-long European tradition, and that tradition will never compromise with the fiction that a Jew can be other than a Jew. Wherever the Catholic Church has power, and in proportion to its power, the Jewish Problem will be recognized to the full."
Robert Speaight cited a letter by Belloc in which he pilloried Nesta Webster because of her accusations against "the Jews". In February 1924, Belloc wrote to an American Jewish friend regarding an antisemitic book by Webster. Webster had rejected Christianity, studied Eastern religions, accepted the Hindu concept of the equality of all religions and was fascinated by theories of reincarnation and ancestral memory. Speaight also points out that when faced with antisemitism in practice—as at elitist country clubs in the United States before World War II—he voiced his disapproval. Belloc condemned Nazi antisemitism in The Catholic and the War (1940). Belloc’s concern with Judaism, as with Protestantism and Islam, stemmed from his concern with anything that challenged the hegemony of the Catholic Church.
From an early age Belloc knew Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, who was responsible for the conversion of his mother to Roman Catholicism. In The Cruise of the "Nona" (1925), he mentions a "profound thing" that Manning said to him when he was just twenty years old: "All human conflict is ultimately theological." What Manning meant, Belloc explains, is "that all wars and revolutions, and all decisive struggles between parties of men arise from a difference in moral and transcendental doctrine." Belloc adds that he never met any man, "arguing for what should be among men, but took for granted as he argued that the doctrine he consciously or unconsciously accepted was or should be a similar foundation for all mankind. Hence battle." Manning's involvement in the 1889 London Dock Strike made a major impression on Belloc and his view of politics, according to biographer Robert Speaight. He became a trenchant critic both of capitalism and of many aspects of socialism.
The prolific author of more than 150 books, Belloc wrote on myriad subjects, from warfare to poetry to the many current topics of his day. He has been called one of the Big Four of Edwardian Letters, along with H.G.Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and G. K. Chesterton, all of whom debated with each other into the 1930s. Belloc was closely associated with Chesterton, and Shaw coined the term Chesterbelloc for their partnership. He was co-editor with Cecil Chesterton of the literary periodical the Eye Witness, published until 1912 by Charles Granville's Stephen Swift Ltd. The paper was later called the New Witness, and still later, G. K.'s Weekly.
He wrote also substantial amounts of military history. In alternative history, he contributed to the 1931 collection If It Had Happened Otherwise edited by Sir John Squire.
Belloc's 1937 book The Crusades: the World's Debate, he wrote,
In The Great Heresies (1938), Belloc argues that although "That Mohammedan culture happens to have fallen back in material applications; there is no reason whatever why it should not learn its new lesson and become our equal in all those temporal things which now alone give us our superiority over it—whereas in Faith we have fallen inferior to it."
Belloc suffered a stroke in 1941 and never recovered from its effects. He died on 16 July 1953 at Mount Alvernia Nursing Home in Guildford, Surrey, from burns and shock following a fall he had while placing a log into a fireplace at King's Land. He is buried at the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation of West Grinstead, where he had regularly attended Mass as a parishioner. At his funeral Mass, homilist Monsignor Ronald Knox observed, "No man of his time fought so hard for the good things." Boys from the Choir and Sacristy of Worth Preparatory School sang and served at the Mass.
From his days in politics onwards, Belloc repeatedly demonstrated a belief that Jewish people had significant control over society and the world of Finance. In The Cruise of the Nona, Belloc reflected equivocally on the Dreyfus Affair after thirty years. Norman Rose's book The Cliveden Set (2000) asserts that Belloc 'was moved by a deep vein of hysterical anti-semitism'.
As a young man, Belloc lost his faith. Then came a spiritual event, which he never discussed publicly, that returned him to Catholicism for the remainder of his life. Belloc alludes to this return to the faith in a passage in The Cruise of the Nona. According to his biographer A. N. Wilson (Hilaire Belloc, Hamish Hamilton), Belloc never wholly apostatised from the Faith (ibid p. 105). The momentous event is fully described by Belloc in The Path to Rome (pp. 158–61). It took place in the French village of Undervelier at the time of Vespers. Belloc said of it, "not without tears", "I considered the nature of Belief" and "it is a good thing not to have to return to the faith". (See Hilaire Belloc by Wilson at pp. 105–06.)