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Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lady Constance Georgina Bulwer-Lytton
Lady Constance Lytton, 1908.jpg
Born (1869-01-12)12 January 1869
Vienna, Austria
Died 2 May 1923(1923-05-02) (aged 54)
Resting place Lytton Mausoleum, Knebworth Park[2]
Nationality British
Other names Jane Warton
Occupation Suffragette

Lady Constance Georgina Bulwer-Lytton (born 12 January 1869, Vienna, died 2 May 1923, London), usually known as Constance Lytton, was an influential British suffragette activist, writer, speaker and campaigner for prison reform, votes for women, and birth control. She sometimes used the name Jane Warton.[3][4][5][6]

Although born and raised in the privileged ruling class of British society, Lytton rejected this background to join the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), the most militant group of Suffragette activists, campaigning for "Votes for Women".[3][5][6]

She was subsequently imprisoned four times, including once in Walton gaol in Liverpool[6] under the nom de guerre of Jane Warton, where she was force fed while on hunger strike. She chose the alias and disguise of Jane Warton, an 'ugly London seamstress', to avoid receiving special treatment and privileges because of her family connections: she was the daughter of a viceroy and the sister of a member of the House of Lords.[7] She wrote pamphlets on women's rights, articles in The Times newspaper,[6] and a book on her experiences Prisons and Prisoners which was published in 1914.[3][5][6][8]

While imprisoned in Holloway during March 1909, Lytton used a piece of broken enamel from a hairpin to carve the letter "V" into the flesh of her breast, placed exactly over the heart. "V" for Votes for Women.[9][10]

Lytton remained unmarried, because her mother refused her permission to marry a man from a "lower social order", while she refused to contemplate marrying anyone else.

Her heart attack, stroke, and early death at the age of 54 have been attributed in part to the trauma of her hunger strike and force feeding by the prison authorities.[5][6]


 Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton. Father of Constance Lytton
Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton. Father of Constance Lytton
 Edith Villiers, Countess Lytton, mother of Constance Lytton
Edith Villiers, Countess Lytton, mother of Constance Lytton

Constance Lytton was the second daughter and third child of Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton and Edith Villiers. Lytton was the Viceroy of India where his daughter spent the first eleven years of her life; it was he who made the proclamation that Queen Victoria was the Empress of India.[11]

Constance Lytton's maternal grandparents were Edward Ernest Villiers (1806–1843) and Elizabeth Charlotte Liddell. Edward Ernest Villiers was a son of George Villiers and Theresa Parker. Elizabeth Charlotte Liddell was a daughter of Thomas Liddell, 1st Baron Ravensworth and his wife Maria Susannah Simpson. George Villiers was a son of Thomas Villiers, 1st Earl of Clarendon and Charlotte Capell. Theresa Parker was a daughter of John Parker, 1st Baron Boringdon and his second wife Theresa Robinson. Maria Susannah Simpson was a daughter of John Simpson and Anne Lyon. Charlotte Capell was a daughter of William Capell, 3rd Earl of Essex and Lady Jane Hyde. Theresa Robinson was a daughter of Thomas Robinson, 1st Baron Grantham and Frances Worsley. Anne Lyon was a daughter of Thomas Lyon, 8th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and Jean Nicholsen. Lady Jane Hyde was a daughter of Henry Hyde, 4th Earl of Clarendon and Jane Leveson-Gower.

Constance Lytton's paternal grandparents were the novelists Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton and Rosina Doyle Wheeler. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, confidant of Mary Shelley,[12] was a florid, popular writer of his day, coining such phrases as "the great unwashed", "pursuit of the almighty dollar", "the pen is mightier than the sword", and the infamous incipit "It was a dark and stormy night". Constance Lytton's great-grandmother was the author and women's rights campaigner Anna Wheeler.

Constance Lytton's six siblings were :

In the early years in India Lytton was educated by a series of governesses and reportedly had a lonely childhood. Although she matured in England surrounded by many of the great artistic, political and literary names of the day, she tended to reject the aristocratic way of life,[3] and after her father died she retired from view to care for her mother,[3] rejecting attempts to interest her in the outside world.[3]

Lytton remained unmarried until her death, having been refused permission in 1892 to marry a man from a "lower social order". For several years she waited in vain for her mother to change her mind, whilst refusing to contemplate marrying anyone else.

Women's suffrage

The reclusive phase of Lytton's life started to change in 1905 when she was left £1,000 in her great-aunt/godmother, Lady Bloomfield's estate.[3][14] She donated this to the revival of Morris dancing[3] and her family records state that "Her brother Neville suggested that she gave it to the Esperance Club, a small singing and dancing group for working class girls",[6] where part of their remit was teaching Morris dancing. The Esperance club was founded by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Mary Neal in response to distressing conditions for girls in the London dress trade.

1908 – Conversion to suffragette

 A British suffragette handbill
A British suffragette handbill

Between September 1908 and October 1909 Constance Lytton's conversion to the militant suffragette cause was complete. On 10 September 1908 she wrote to Adela Smith:

She subsequently met other suffragettes, including Annie Kenney and Pethick-Lawrence, at the 'Green Lady Hostel' and on a tour of Holloway prison.[3][6]

On 14 October 1908, Constance Lytton wrote a letter to her mother:

In Prison and Prisoners she stated,

Working for the WSPU she made speeches throughout the country, and used her family connections to campaign in Parliament.[3] She wrote to the Home Secretary Herbert Gladstone asking for Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst to be released from prison.[5]

1909 – Imprisonment and self-mutilation in Holloway

 Manuscript of 'Prisons and Prisoners' annotated by Constance Lytton. I am aiming at a book of about 300 pages, to cost 2/6d. Sylvia's description of prison gates opening to a prisoner on outer cover. Portrait of me as Con. Another as Jane Warton on frontispiece.
Manuscript of 'Prisons and Prisoners' annotated by Constance Lytton.
I am aiming at a book of about 300 pages, to cost 2/6d. Sylvia's description of prison gates opening to a prisoner on outer cover. Portrait of me as Con. Another as Jane Warton on frontispiece.

Constance Lytton was imprisoned in Holloway prison[3] twice during 1909, after demonstrating at the House of Commons, but her ill health (a weak heart) meant that she spent most of her sentence in the infirmary.[5] When the authorities discovered her identity, the daughter of Lord Lytton, they ordered her release. The British government were also aware that her health problems and hunger striking could lead to martyrdom. Infuriated by such inequality of justice she wrote to the Liverpool Daily Post in October 1909 to complain about the favourable treatment she had received.[5]

On 24 February 1909, Lytton wrote to her mother about prison and reform in Prisons and Prisoners (Chapter III-"A Deputation to the Prime Minister"):

While she was imprisoned in Holloway Prison during March 1909 she started to mutilate her body. Her plan was to carve 'Votes for Women' from her breast to her cheek, so that it would always be visible. But after completing the "V" on her breast and ribs she requested sterile dressings to avoid blood poisoning, and her plan was aborted by the authorities.[9][10]

Lytton wrote of the self-mutilation action in Prisons and Prisoners (Chapter VIII-"A Track to the Water's Edge"):

1909 – Imprisonment in Newcastle

In October 1909 Constance Lytton was arrested for a second time in Newcastle. She had thrown a stone wrapped in paper bearing the message ‘To Lloyd George – Rebellion against tyranny is obedience to God – Deeds, not words’. Her message was in response to the government’s new policy of force-feeding imprisoned suffragettes who were on hunger strike.[7]

1910 – Jane Warton in Liverpool, Walton gaol

 Lady Constance Lytton posing as Jane Warton – a London seamstress at a protest in Liverpool (1910)
Lady Constance Lytton posing as Jane Warton – a London seamstress at a protest in Liverpool (1910)

In January 1910, convinced that poorer prisoners were treated badly, Lytton travelled to Liverpool disguised as a working-class London seamstress named Jane Warton.[5] She was arrested after an incident of rocks being thrown at an MP's car,[3] imprisoned in Walton gaol for 14 days 'hard labour' and force-fed 8 times.[3] After her release, although desperately weak, she wrote accounts of her experience for The Times and Votes for Women (the monthly journal of the WSPU, launched in 1907).[5] She went on to lecture on the subject of her experience of the conditions which suffragette prisoners endured.[3] It's thought that her speeches and letters helped to end the practice of force-feeding.[3][5][17]

Constance Lytton wrote of the Jane Warton episode in Prisons and Prisoners, (Chapter XII-Jane Warton) and (Chapter XIII-Walton Gaol, Liverpool: My Third Imprisonment).

 Walton Gaol, Liverpool (1910)[7]
Walton Gaol, Liverpool (1910)[7]
 She was invited to Eagle House in Batheaston in 1910 where the leading suffragettes planted trees to commemorate their work. Here pictured with Annie Kenney
She was invited to Eagle House in Batheaston in 1910 where the leading suffragettes planted trees to commemorate their work. Here pictured with Annie Kenney

Lytton's health continued to deteriorate and she suffered a heart attack in August 1910,[3] and a series of strokes which paralysed the right side of her body.[5] Undaunted, she used her left hand to write Prisons and Prisoners (1914), which became influential in prison reform.[3][5][8]

1911 onwards

In November 1911 Constance Lytton was imprisoned in Holloway for the fourth time, after breaking windows in the Houses of Parliament, or of a Post Office in Victoria Street, London.[7] However, conditions had improved, "all was civility; it was unrecognisable from the first time I had been there"[8] and suffragettes were treated as political prisoners.[5][8]

After the WSPU ended its militant campaign at the outbreak of war in 1914, Lytton gave her support to Marie Stopes' campaign to establish birth control clinics.

In January 1918 parliament passed a bill giving women over 30 the vote if they were married to a property owner or were one themselves.[3][5]

Death and commemoration

"Endowed with a celestial sense of humour, boundless sympathy, and rare musical talent, she devoted the later years of her life to the political enfranchisement of women and sacrificed her health and talents in helping to bring victory to this cause."
Epitaph to Lady Constance Lytton in the family mausoleum in Knebworth Park[5]

Constance Lytton never fully recovered from her prison treatment, heart attack and strokes, and was nursed at Knebworth by her mother. They lived at Homewood, a house designed by Constance's brother-in-law, Edwin Lutyens. She died in 1923, aged 54,[5] only days after moving out of Homewood to a flat in Paddington, London, in an attempt to restart an active life.[18] She was buried with the purple, white and green Suffragette colours laid on her coffin.[19] Her remains lie in the family mausoleum.

Mausoleum at Knebworth House Herts - - 476189.jpg

Winston Churchill

Constance Lytton first met Winston Churchill while living in India, where he was a rival to her brother Victor for the hand of Pamela Chichele-Plowden.[13]


Edited extract from the Knebworth House memorial[5][6]

  • 1869 – Lady Constance Georgina Lytton born.
  • 1880 – Family leaves India.
  • 1887 – Sister Betty marries Gerald Balfour (Arthur's brother).
  • 1897 – Sister Emily marries Edwin Lutyens, the architect.
  • 1908 – Godmother Lady Bloomfield dies, leaving her £1000. Lytton subsequently meets Annie Kenny and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence.
  • 1909 – Becomes an official member of the WSPU.
  • 1909 – Imprisoned for the first time in February 1909.
  • 1909 – Her pamphlet 'No Votes for Women: A Reply to Some Recent Anti-Suffrage Publications' is published.
  • 1909 – Imprisoned for 2nd time in Holloway in October 1909.
  • 1910 – Disguises herself as Jane Warton and imprisoned for 3rd time in Walton Gaol, Liverpool, in terrible conditions. Force fed several times.
  • 1910 – Writes about her experiences in The Times.
  • 1911 – Imprisoned for the 4th time, in Holloway in November 1911
  • 1912 – Suffers a stroke from which she never fully recovers, but continues to write Prisons and Prisoners:[8] an account of her time in custody.
  • 1914 – Prisons and Prisoners is published.[8]
  • 1918 – Representation of the People Act 1918 gives the vote to all men, and to women over the age of 30.
  • 1923 – Lytton dies aged 54.
  • 1928 – Representation of the People Act 1928 gives the vote to women on the same grounds as men.

See also


Letter of Constance Lytton are held at The Women's Library at London Metropolitan University, ref 9/21


  • Jenkins, Lyndsey (2015). Lady Constance Lytton: Aristocrat, Suffragette, Martyr. London: Biteback Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84954-795-6. 
  • Thomas, Sue. 'Scenes in the writing of "Constance Lytton and Jane Warton, spinster" : contextualising a cross-class dresser'. Women's History Review, 12:1 (2003), 51–71. Publisher: Triangle Journals; Routledge. ISSN 0961-2025.


  1. ^ "Lytton, Lady Constance Bulwer-". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. OUP. Retrieved 15 May 2014. 
  2. ^ "Lytton Mausoleum". Mausolea and Monuments Trust. Retrieved 15 May 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r BBC History, Profile of Lady Constance Lytton
  4. ^ New York Times, 24 January 1910, Monday, "JANE WARTON" RELEASED.; Home Office Acts on Learning She Is Lady Constance Lytton.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Knebworth House, Lytton Family archives and History – Lady Constance Lytton and the Suffragettes Archived 18 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Knebworth House – Lady Constance Lytton Timeline, The Principal Events of Lady Constance's Life Archived 2 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ a b c d e E. Chambré Hardman Archive (PortCities Liverpool) National Trust, Lady Constance Lytton and the Campaign for Women's Suffrage on Merseyside, Force feeding suffragettes in prison Archived 1 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Constance Lytton and Jane Warton, Spinster, Prisons and Prisoners, Some personal Experiences, in A Celebration of Women Writers (London: William Heinemann, 1914)
  9. ^ a b Schama, Simon (4 June 2002). "Victoria and Her Sisters". BBC Press Office. Retrieved 26 November 2017. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Lytton (1914), chapter 8
  11. ^ Votes for Women By June Purvis, Sandra Stanley Holton
  12. ^ Tartarus Press, Profile of Edward Bulwer-Lytton Archived 1 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ a b The Guardian, Sunday 9 November 2003, by David Smith. Letters reveal heartbreak of young Winston
  14. ^ New York Times, 23 May 1905, Tuesday, Lady Bloomfield Dies, A Friend of Queen Victoria and a Well-Known Author.
  15. ^ Google Books, The Women's Suffrage Movement By Elizabeth Crawford
  16. ^ Votes for Women By June Purvis, Sandra Stanley Holton. at Google Books.
  17. ^ Jorgensen-Earp, Cheryl R (1999). ""The Waning of the Light": The Forcible-Feeding of Jane Warton, Spinster". Women's Studies in Communication. Taylor & Francis. 22 (2). Retrieved 21 September 2014. 
  18. ^ Jenkins (2015), pp. 228–30.
  19. ^ Hertfordshire Life, Feature on Lady Constance Lytton, The Lady and the vote Archived 2 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ Lady Lytton, in Christopher Hassall, Edward Marsh.
  21. ^ Hudson Review, The, Summer 2002 by Allen, Brooke, – More than the sum of his parts: The enigma of Winston Churchill Archived 5 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  22. ^ WikiQuote – Lady Constance Lytton

External links

This page was last edited on 30 January 2018, at 00:18.
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