Lady Constance Lytton: Aristocrat, Suffragette, Martyr, by Lyndsey Jenkins
Lady Constance Lytton (1869 – 1923) was the most unlikely of suffragettes. She was one of the elite, the daughter of a Viceroy of India and a lady in waiting to the Queen, and the granddaughter of Bulwer-Lytton of ‘dark and stormy night’ fame. She grew up in the family home of Knebworth and in embassies around the world. For forty years, she did nothing but devote herself to her family, denying herself the love of her life and possible careers as a musician or a reviewer. Then came a chance encounter with a suffragette and she was intrigued; witnessing Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst on trial converted her and she went to prison for the cause as gleefully as any child going on a school trip.
But, once jailed, Constance soon found that her name and her connections singled her out for unwelcome special treatment. By now the suffragettes were hunger striking and the government retaliated with force-feeding. The stories which began to leak out – of bungled operations, of dirty tubes, of screams half-heard through brick walls, of straitjackets and handcuffs – outraged the suffragettes. Constance therefore decided on her most radical step yet: to go to prison in disguise. Taking the name Jane Warton, she cut her hair, put on glasses and ugly clothes and got herself arrested in Liverpool. Once in prison, she was force-fed eight times before her identity was discovered and she was released. Her case became a cause celebre, with debate raging in The Times and questions being asked in the House of Commons. She became an inspiration and, in the end, a martyr. She never recovered from the trauma of force-feeding and died in 1923, all but forgotten. Her extraordinary life-story has never been told.
Lady Constance Lytton: Aristocrat, Suffragette, Martyr is a captivating true story from the history of the women’s suffrage movement, where women risked their lives every time where they were arrested but sometimes unexpectedly found freedom behind bars.
Lyndsey Jenkins is a graduate student in history at Wolfson College, Oxford. She was previously a speechwriter for some of the UKs most influential politicians.
Publication Date: 12th March 2015. Available from the Knebworth House Gift Shop and other outlets. Price: £20.00