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Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton

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Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton

Lady Constance Georgina Bulwer-Lytton
Born (1869-01-12)12 January 1869
Vienna Austria
Died 2 May 1923(1923-05-02) (aged 54)
Homewood, Knebworth
Nationality British
Other names Jane Warton
Occupation Suffragette
Spouse(s) None

Lady Constance Georgina Bulwer-Lytton (Jane Warton,[1][2][3][4] Jane Wharton) (born 12 January 1869, Vienna, died 2 May 1923, Knebworth House) was an influential British suffragette activist, writer, speaker and campaigner for prison reform, votes for women, and birth control.

Although she was raised as member of the privileged, ruling class elite within British Society, she 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".[1][3][4]

She was subsequently imprisoned four times including once in Walton gaol in Liverpool[4] under the nom de guerre Jane Warton, where she was force fed whilst 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 title . (Her brother was a member of the House of Lords.[5]) She wrote pamphlets on women's rights, articles in The Times newspaper,[4] and a book on her experiences Prisons and Prisoners which was published in 1914.[1][3][4][6]

While imprisoned in Holloway during March 1909 she 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.[7][8]

She remained unmarried because her mother refused permission to wed a man from a "lower social order" and 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 hunger strike and force feeding by the prison authorities.[3][4]

Family


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.[9] Edith Villiers was Queen Victoria's Lady-in-Waiting (Lady of the Bedchamber) and rode with the Queen's body on the funeral journey from London to Windsor.[7][9] Edith was decorated with the honorific Lady, Royal Order of Victoria and Albert, was invested in the Imperial Order of the Crown of India and held the office of "Lady of the Bedchamber" to Her Majesty Queen Alexandra.

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,[10] 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 Doyle 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,[1] and after her father died she retired from view to care for her mother,[1] rejecting attempts to interest her in the outside world.[1]

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.[1][12] She reportedly donated this to the revival of Morris dancing,[1] and her family records state that "Her brother Neville suggests she gives it to the Esperance Club, a small singing and dancing group for working class girls",[4] where part of the remit was to teach 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

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.[1][4]

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.[1] She wrote to the Home Secretary Herbert Gladstone asking for Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst to be released from prison.[3]

1909 – Imprisonment and self-mutilation in Holloway

Constance Lytton was imprisoned in Holloway prison[1] 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.[3] 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.[3]

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.[7][8]

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.[5]

1910 – Jane Warton in Liverpool, Walton gaol

In January 1910, convinced that poorer prisoners were treated badly, Lytton travelled to Liverpool disguised as a working-class London seamstress named Jane Warton.[3] She was arrested after an incident of rocks being thrown at an MP's car,[1] imprisoned in Walton gaol for 14 days 'hard labour' and force-fed 8 times.[1] 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).[3] She went on to lecture on the subject of her experience of the conditions which suffragette prisoners endured.[1] It's thought that her speeches and letters helped to end the practice of force-feeding.[1][3][13]

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).


Lytton's health continued to deteriorate and she suffered a heart attack in August 1910,[1] and a series of strokes which paralysed the right side of her body.[3] Undaunted, she used her left hand to write Prisons and Prisoners (1914), which became influential in prison reform.[1][3][6]

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.[5] However conditions had improved "all was civility; it was unrecognisable from the first time I had been there"[6] and suffragettes were treated as political prisoners.[3][6]

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.[1][3]

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 inscribed on Lady Constance Lytton's mausoleum in Knebworth Park[3]

Constance Lytton never fully recovered from her prison treatment, heart attack and strokes, and was nursed at Knebworth by her mother until her death in 1923, aged 54.[3] She was buried with the purple, white and green Suffragette colours laid on her coffin.[14]

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.[11]

Timeline

Edited extract from the Knebworth House memorial[3][4]

  • 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:[6] an account of her time in custody.
  • 1914 – Prisons and Prisoners is published.[6]
  • 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

Archives

Letter of Constance Lytton are held at 9/21

Bibliography

  • 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 09612025.

References

External links

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