19th Century writer and politician
By Lindsey Ranson
Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) was an extremely popular, prolific writer and politician of the 19th century. His links with Hertfordshire rest primarily on his mother’s side, whose family owned Knebworth House. In 1858, Bulwer-Lytton stood for parliamentary candidate for Hertfordshire.
The youngest of three boys, Edward and his family moved to London when he was four, following his father’s death. Whilst he was not a great success academically, Edward Bulwer-Lytton was a voracious reader, and as a result, his mother ensured that he received a good education to support his preparation for university at Cambridge. By 1820, his collection of poetry, Ismael: An Oriental Tale, with Other Poems was released, and though not a great financial success, it was respected by the likes of Sir Walter Scott. Two years later, in 1822, Bulwer-Lytton joined Cambridge; a time which would see him win the Chancellor’s Gold Medal for English verse. Bulwer-Lytton was still pursuing his literary career, when in 1827 he met his future wife, Rosina Doyle Wheeler. Whilst she was considered a famous Irish beauty with intelligence and wit, Edward’s mother was staunchly against the union, and subsequent to the marriage, cancelled his allowance. In spite of their low income, the couple lived extravagantly, forcing Bulwer-Lytton to write a vast amount of work in order to earn a living. In fact, during the first eight years of Edward and Rosina’s marriage, he wrote thirteen novels, two poems, four plays, a history of England and Athens, edited New Monthly Magazine (1831-1832) and published a large amount of essays. However, with his writing taking precedence, the marriage became strained and the embittered couple legally separated under acrimonious circumstances in 1836. The split would continue to cause problems for both parties: in 1858 when Edward stood as parliamentary candidate for Hertfordshire, Rosina publicly humiliated him, and in retaliation, Edward had Rosina committed to an asylum. The attacks between the two would continue for the rest of their lives.
Back to Hertfordshire
Upon the death of his mother in 1843, Edward Bulwer-Lytton would return to the county of his birth, taking up residency at Knebworth House. Out of respect for his mother, he also changed his surname from just Bulwer, to Bulwer-Lytton. He lived at Knebworth House until his death in 1873. During this time, he was visited by a wide variety of notable figures, including his close friends Benjamin Disraeli and Charles Dickens. Knebworth House still contains many of his relics and manuscripts.
Ismael: An Oriental Tale, with Other Poems (1820) Paul Clifford (1830) The Last Days of Pompeii (1834) Rienzi, the Last of the Roman Tribunes (1835) Ernest Maltravers (1837) The Last of the Barons (1843) Lucretia (1846) The Coming Race (1871)