Progressive thinker, who devoted her life to a search for an all-embracing truth.
Born Annie Wood, Besant grew up in London. In 1867 she married Frank Besant, an Anglican clergyman. Annie's increasingly irreligious views led to a legal separation in 1873 in which Frank took custody of their two children.
Besant became a member of the National Secular Society, which preached 'free thought', and of the socialist Fabian Society.
In the 1870s she co-edited the weekly National Reformer which had progressive opinions on subjects such as trade unions, national education, female suffrage and birth control.
She later became interested in theosophy, a philosophical system that recognises the existence of God and has affinities with mysticism. As leader of the Theosophical Society she promoted the philosophy around the world, most notably in India. There she devoted much energy to India's freedom and progress, becoming president of the Indian Home Rule League and the Indian National Congress.
In 1909 the theosophists identified a young boy, Jiddu Krishnamurti, whom they hailed as the new Messiah. He eventually rejected these claims, greatly disturbing Besant.
Besant died in India and her ashes were scattered at the seashore.