The Earl of Lytton
Earl of Lytton, c. 1890s (photograph by Nadar).
British Ambassador to France
In office
MonarchQueen Victoria
Preceded byThe Viscount Lyons
Succeeded byThe Marquess of Dufferin and Ava
Viceroy and Governor-General of India
In office
12 April 1876 – 8 June 1880
MonarchQueen Victoria
Preceded byThe Earl of Northbrook
Succeeded byThe Marquess of Ripon
Personal details
Born8 November 1831 (1831-11-08)
Died24 November 1891(1891-11-24) (aged 60)
Political partyConservative
SpouseEdith Villiers
Parent(s)Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton
Rosina Doyle Wheeler
EducationHarrow School
Alma materUniversity of Bonn

Edward Robert Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton, GCB, GCSI, GCIE, PC (8 November 1831 – 24 November 1891) was an English statesman, Conservative politician and poet who used the pseudonym Owen Meredith. During his tenure as Viceroy of India between 1876 and 1880, Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India. He served as British Ambassador to France from 1887 to 1891.

His tenure as Viceroy was controversial for its ruthlessness in both domestic and foreign affairs, especially for his handling of the Great Famine of 1876–78 and the Second Anglo-Afghan War. His policies were alleged to be informed by his Social Darwinism. His son Victor Bulwer-Lytton, 2nd Earl of Lytton, who was born in India, later served as Governor of Bengal and briefly as acting Viceroy. The senior earl was also the father-in-law of the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, who designed New Delhi.

Lytton was a protégé of Benjamin Disraeli in domestic affairs, and of Richard Lyons, 1st Viscount Lyons, who was his predecessor as Ambassador to France, in foreign affairs. His tenure as Ambassador to Paris was successful, and Lytton was afforded the rare tribute – especially for an Englishman – of a French state funeral in Paris.

Childhood and education

Harrow School

Lytton was the son of the novelists Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton and Rosina Doyle Wheeler (who was the daughter of the early women's rights advocate Anna Wheeler). His uncle was Sir Henry Bulwer. His childhood was spoiled by the altercations of his parents,[1] who separated acrimoniously when he was a boy. However, Lytton received the patronage of John Forster – an influential friend of Leigh Hunt, Charles Lamb, Walter Savage Landor, and Charles Dickens – who was generally considered to be the first professional biographer of 19th century England.[2]

Lytton's mother, who lost access to her children, satirised his father in her 1839 novel Cheveley, or the Man of Honour. His father subsequently had his mother placed under restraint, as a consequence of an assertion of her insanity, which provoked public outcry and her liberation a few weeks later. His mother chronicled this episode in her memoirs.[3][4]

After being taught at home for a while, he was educated in schools in Twickenham and Brighton and thence Harrow,[5] and at the University of Bonn.[1]

Diplomatic career

Lytton entered the Diplomatic Service in 1849, when aged 18, when he was appointed as attaché to his uncle, Sir Henry Bulwer, who was Minister at Washington, DC.[6] It was at this time he met Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.[6] He began his salaried diplomatic career in 1852 as an attaché to Florence, and subsequently served in Paris, in 1854, and in The Hague, in 1856 .[6] In 1858, he served in St Petersburg, Constantinople, and Vienna.[6] In 1860, he was appointed British Consul General at Belgrade.[6]

In 1862, Lytton was promoted to Second Secretary in Vienna, but his success in Belgrade made Lord Russell appoint him, in 1863, as Secretary of the Legation at Copenhagen, during his tenure as which he twice acted as Chargé d'Affaires in the Schleswig-Holstein conflict.[6] In 1864, Lytton was transferred to the Greek

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court to advise the young Danish Prince. In 1865, he served in Lisbon, where he concluded a major commercial treaty with Portugal,[6] and subsequently in Madrid. He subsequently became Secretary to the Embassy at Vienna and, in 1872, to Richard Lyons, 1st Viscount Lyons, who was Ambassador to Paris.[6] By 1874, Lytton was appointed British Minister Plenipotentiary at Lisbon where he remained until being appointed Governor General and Viceroy of India in 1876.[6]

Viceroy of India (1876–1880)

Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton
The Delhi Durbar of 1877 at Coronation Park. The Viceroy of India, Lord Lytton is seated on the dais to the left

Midway on his journey [to India] he met, by prearrangement, in Egypt, the Prince of Wales, then returning from his tour through India. Immediately on his arrival in Calcutta he was sworn in as Governor General and Viceroy, and on 1 January 1877, surrounded by all the Princes of Hindustan, he presided at a spectacular ceremony on the plains of Delhi, which marked the Proclamation of her Majesty, Queen Victoria, as Empress of India. After this the Queen conferred upon him the honor of the Grand Cross of the civil division of the Order of the Bath. In 1879 an attempt was made to assassinate Lord Lytton, but he escaped uninjured. The principal event of his viceroyalty was the Afghan war. (The New York Times, 1891)[6]

After turning down an appointment as governor of Madras,[5] Lytton was appointed Viceroy of India in 1875 and served from 1876 to 1880.[1] His tenure was controversial for its ruthlessness in both domestic and foreign affairs.[1] In 1877, Lord Lytton convened a durbar (imperial assembly) in Delhi that was attended by around 84,000 people, including Indian princes and noblemen. In 1878, he implemented the Vernacular Press Act, which enabled the Viceroy to confiscate the press and paper of any Indian Vernacular newspaper that published content that the Government deemed to be "seditious", in response to which there was a public protest in Calcutta that was led by the Indian Association and Surendranath Banerjee.

Lytton's son-in-law, Sir Edwin Lutyens, planned and designed New Delhi.

Indian famine

Main article: Great Famine of 1876–78

Lord Lytton began serving Viceroy of India in 1876. The rains had been failing in parts of the Madras Presidency since 1875, and the colonial administration's poor response to the famine has been held by some as having contributed to the overall death toll of between 6.1 million and 10.3 million.[7]

Lord Lytton's implementation of the relief efforts of the colonial administration has been blamed for increasing the severity of the famine.

Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1878–1880

Main article: European influence in Afghanistan

Britain was deeply concerned throughout the 1870s about Russian attempts to increase its influence in Afghanistan, which provided a Central Asian buffer state between the Russian Empire and British India. Lytton had been given express instructions to recover the friendship of the Amir of Afghanistan, Sher Ali Khan, who was perceived at this point to have sided with Russia against Britain, and made every effort to do so for eighteen months.[5] In September 1878, Lytton sent General Sir Neville Bowles Chamberlain as an emissary to Afghanistan, but he was refused entry. Considering himself left with no real alternative, in November 1878, Lytton ordered an invasion which sparked the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The British won virtually all the major battles of this war, and in the final settlement, the Treaty of Gandamak, saw a government installed under a new amir which was both by personality and law receptive to British demands; however, the human and material costs of the conflict provoked extensive controversy, particularly among the nascent Indian press, which questioned why Lytton spent so much money prosecuting the conflict with Afghanistan instead of focusing on famine relief.[1] This, along with the massacre of British diplomat Sir Louis Cavagnari and his staff by mutinying Afghan soldiers,[5] contributed to the defeat of Disraeli's Conservative government by Gladstone's Liberals in 1880.[8]

The war was seen at the time as an ignominious but barely acceptable end to the "Great Game", closing a long chapter of conflict with the Russian Empire without even a proxy engagement. The pyrrhic victory of British arms in India was a quiet embarrassment which played a small but critical role in the nascent scramble for Africa; in this way, Lytton and his war helped shape the contours of the 20th century in dramatic and unexpected ways. Lytton resigned at the same time as the Conservative government. He was the last Viceroy of India to govern an open frontier.


A permanent exhibition in Knebworth House, Hertfordshire, is dedicated to his diplomatic service in India. There is a monument dedicated in his name at Nahan, Himachal Pradesh, India, domestically called Delhi Gate.[9]

Domestic politics

In 1880, Lytton resigned his Viceroyalty at the same time that Benjamin Disraeli resigned the premiership. Lytton was created Earl of Lytton, in the County of Derby, and Viscount Knebworth, of Knebworth in the County of Hertford.[6] On 10 January 1881, Lytton made his maiden speech in the House of Lords, in which he censured in Gladstone's devolutionist Afghan policy. In the summer session of 1881, Lytton joined others in opposing Gladstone's second Irish Land Bill.[10] As soon as the summer session was over, he undertook "a solitary ramble about the country". He visited Oxford for the first time, went for a trip on the Thames, and then revisited the hydropathic establishment at Malvern, where he had been with his father as a boy".[11] He saw this as an antidote to the otherwise indulgent lifestyle that came with his career, and used his sojourn there to undertake a critique of a new volume of poetry by his friend Wilfrid Blunt.[12]

Ambassador to Paris: 1887–1891

Lytton was Ambassador to France from 1887 to 1891. During the second half of the 1880s, before his appointment as Ambassador in 1887, Lytton served as Secretary to the Ambassador to Paris, Lord Lyons.[13] He succeeded Lyons, as Ambassador, subsequent to the resignation of Lyons in 1887.[13][6] Lytton had previously expressed an interest in the post and enjoyed himself "once more back in his old profession".[14]

Lord Lytton died in Paris on 24 November 1891, where he was given the rare honour of a state funeral. His body was then brought back for interment in the private family mausoleum in Knebworth Park.

There is also a memorial to him in St Paul's Cathedral, London.[15]

Writings as "Owen Meredith"

The Right Honourable The Lord Lytton

When Lytton was twenty-five years old, he published in London a volume of poems under the name of Owen Meredith.[1] He went on to publish several other volumes under the same name. The most popular is Lucile, a story in verse published in 1860. His poetry was extremely popular and critically commended in his own day. He was a great experimenter with form. His best work is beautiful, and much of it is of a melancholy nature, as this short extract from a poem called "A Soul's Loss" shows, where the poet bids farewell to a lover who has betrayed him:

Child, I have no lips to chide thee.
Take the blessing of a heart
(Never more to beat beside thee!)
Which in blessing breaks. Depart.
Farewell! I that deified thee
Dare not question what thou art.

Lytton underesteemed his poetic ability: in his Chronicles and Characters (1868), the poor response to which distressed him, Lytton states, 'Talk not of genius baffled. Genius is master of man./Genius does what it must, and Talent does what it can'.[1] However, Lytton's poetic ability was highly esteemed by other literary personalities of the day, and Oscar Wilde dedicated his play Lady Windermere's Fan to him.

Lytton's publications included:[6]

Based on the French translation, in 1868 he published a drama titled Orval, or the Fool of Time which has been inspired by Krasiński's The Undivine Comedy to the point it has been discussed in scholarly literature as an example of a "rough translation",[20] paraphrase[21] or even plagiarism.[22]

Further reading

There is a detailed biography of Lytton by A. B. Harlan (1946).[1]

Marriage and children

Edith Villiers, Countess of Lytton

On 4 October 1864 Lytton married Edith Villiers. She was the daughter of Edward Ernest Villiers (1806–1843) and Elizabeth Charlotte Liddell and the granddaughter of George Villiers.[23]

They had at least seven children:


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Birch, Dinah (2009). The Oxford Companion to English Literature; Seventh Edition. OUP. p. 614.
  2. ^ Birch, Dinah (2009). The Oxford Companion to English Literature; Seventh Edition. OUP. p. 385.
  3. ^ Lady Lytton (1880). A Blighted Life. London: The London Publishing Office. Retrieved 28 November 2009. Online text at
  4. ^ Devey, Louisa (1887). Life of Rosina, Lady Lytton, with Numerous Extracts from her Ms. Autobiography and Other Original Documents, published in vindication of her memory. London: Swan Sonnenschein, Lowrey & Co. Retrieved 28 November 2009. Full text at Internet Archive (
  5. ^ a b c d Stephen, Herbert (1911). "Lytton, Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 186–187.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m The New York Times, 25 November 1891, Wednesday, Death of Lord Lytton – A Sudden Attack of Heart Disease in Paris – No Time for Assistance – His Long Career as a Diplomat in England's Service – His Literary Work as Owen Meredith
  7. ^ Davis, Mike. Late Victorian Holocausts. 1. Verso, 2000. ISBN 1-85984-739-0 p. 7
  8. ^ David Washbrook, 'Lytton, Edward Robert Bulwer-, first earl of Lytton (1831–1891)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 29 September 2008
  9. ^ Negi, Dhir (July 2019). "Lytton Memorial". Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  10. ^ Balfour, Lady Betty, ed. (1906). Personal & Literary Letters of Robert First Earl of Lytton. Vol. 2 of 2 (2nd ed.). London: Longmans, Green & Co. pp. 225–226. Retrieved 27 November 2009. Full text at Internet Archive (
  11. ^ Balfour, Lady Betty (1906) p.234
  12. ^ Balfour, Lady Betty (1906) pp.236–238
  13. ^ a b Jenkins, Brian. Lord Lyons: A Diplomat in an Age of Nationalism and War. McGill-Queen’s Press, 2014.
  14. ^ Balfour, Lady Betty (1906) pp. 329–320
  15. ^ "Memorials of St Paul's Cathedral" Sinclair, W. p. 462: London; Chapman & Hall, Ltd; 1909.
  16. ^ Bulwer-Lytton, V.A.G.R. (1913). The Life of Edward Bulwer: First Lord Lytton. Vol. 2. Macmillan and Company. p. 392.
  17. ^ "Mr. Owen Meredith's "Lucile"". The Literary Gazette. New Series. London. 140 (2300): 201–204. 2 March 1861.
  18. ^ "Owen Meredith". The Illustrated American. 9: 165. 12 December 1891.
  19. ^ "Robert Bulwer Lytton". The Brownings' Correspondence.
  20. ^ Monica M. Gardner (29 January 2015). The Anonymous Poet of Poland. Cambridge University Press. p. 134. ISBN 978-1-107-46104-8.
  21. ^ O. Classe, ed. (2000). Encyclopedia of Literary Translation Into English: A-L. Taylor & Francis. p. 775. ISBN 978-1-884964-36-7.
  22. ^ Budrewicz, Aleksandra (2014). "Przekład, parafraza czy plagiat? "Nie-Boska komedia" Zygmunta Krasińskiego po angielsku". Wiek XIX. Rocznik Towarzystwa Literackiego Im. Adama Mickiewicza (in Polish). XLIX (1): 23–44. ISSN 2080-0851.
  23. ^ a b c d e David Washbrook, 'Lytton, Edward Robert Bulwer-, first earl of Lytton (1831–1891)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 2 Nov 2015
Government offices Preceded byThe Lord Northbrook Viceroy of India 1876–1880 Succeeded byThe Marquess of Ripon Diplomatic posts Preceded byThe Viscount Lyons British Ambassador to France 1887–1891 Succeeded byThe Marquess of Dufferin and Ava Academic offices Preceded byEdmund Law Lushington Rector of the University of Glasgow 1887–1890 Succeeded byArthur Balfour Peerage of the United Kingdom New creation Earl of Lytton 1880–1891 Succeeded byVictor Bulwer-Lytton Preceded byEdward Bulwer-Lytton Baron Lytton 1873–1891