BULWER, William Henry Lytton Earle (1801-1872), of 36 Hertford Street, Mdx.
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Education
b. 13 Feb. 1801, 2nd s. of Gen. William Earle Bulwer (d. 1807) of Heydon Hall and Wood Dalling, Norf. and Elizabeth Barbara Lytton, da. and h. of Richard Warburton Lytton of Knebworth Park, Herts.; bro. of Edward George Lytton Earle Bulwer*. educ. by Dr. Curtis at Sunbury, Mdx.; Harrow 1814-19;1 Trinity Coll. Camb. 1819, migrated to Downing 1820; continental tour 1822-5. m. 9 Dec. 1848, Hon. Georgiana Charlotte Mary Wellesley, da. of Henry Wellesley†, 1st Bar. Cowley, s.p. KCB 28 Apr. 1848; GCB 1 Mar. 1851; cr. Bar. Dalling and Bulwer 23 Mar. 1871. d. 23 May 1872.
Cornet 2 Life Gds. 1825; cornet 58 Ft. June 1826, half-pay July 1826, res. 1829.
Attaché to embassy at Berlin 1827, Vienna 1829, The Hague Apr. 1830, Brussels Aug.-Nov. 1830, Paris Aug.-Dec. 1832; sec. of legation to Belgium 1835-7 and chargé d’affaires 1835-6; sec. of embassy to Turkey 1837-8, Russia 1838-9, France 1839-43 (minister plenip. 1839-41); envoy extraordinary and minister plenip. to Spain 1843-8, United States 1849-52, Tuscany 1852-5; minister plenip. to Modena 1852-5; commr. to Danubian Principalities 1856-8; ambassador extraordinary to Turkey 1858-65.
Bulwer, a ‘middle child’, whose unpublished accounts of his early life recorded his pride in the Norman lineage of the Bulwers and Lyttons and the loneliness that pervaded his childhood, grew up to become one of the best known diplomats and conversationists of his age and the author of biographies of the major political figures with whom he worked.2 Lady Granville described him in 1839 as ‘extremely agreeable and efficient ... a great addition in society and a very useful one in business’, while Lady Holland noted his trustworthiness and how ‘remarkably conversant he was with France, its politics and intrigues’.3 According to a mémoire he drafted in 1832, he was brought up in London from the age of six months by his maternal grandmother Elizabeth Warburton Lytton (d. 1818), who lived in Upper Seymour Street, Portman Square. His father, an army general he ‘rarely’ saw, died when he was six, and the awe and black pomp of his funeral was one of his earliest memories. His mother, whom he saw ‘only occasionally’, was preoccupied with his sickly younger brother Edward, her eventual heir, two years his junior, and in securing her jointure and safeguarding her sons’ inheritances under their father’s will. He had entrusted their guardianship and his entailed estates, which his eldest son William was to inherit, to his executors, his fellow Norfolk landowners Sir Jacob Astley† of Melton, James Coldham of Amner, Henry Styleman of Snettisham, and Edward Coke of Longton, Derbyshire; but they were also to provide for his illegitimate son William Warren, a daughter, and his Bulwer relations. A codicil dated 9 June 1803 directed that his widow, as heiress to the Lytton estate of Knebworth, near Hertford, should pay half the cost of their children’s upbringing. Her meticulous accounts survive and were used in evidence in chancery proceedings (1808-25) against Astley, whom she suspected of exploiting his position to promote his own interests. Probate was adjusted, 22 Aug. 1832.4 Henry was the main beneficiary under his grandmother’s will and inherited £28,000 at the age of 25 but, like the £200 a year he received from his father’s estate, it soon vanished. Between 1823 and 1841 his mother, who held the purse strings, advanced him £17,496, mainly to cover debts.5
At his grandmother’s insistence, Bulwer endured Harrow and its fagging system with William, probably until he was 16, when his mother took charge, and detesting public schools, she withdrew them. It was through her that he now became acquainted with the Lambs and Cowpers who helped to determine his future. At Cambridge his tutor the Rev. John Brown’s first favourable report was not repeated.6 For, as he later recalled, he hated mathematics and loved womanising, travel and gambling.7 It was said that he never let his face reflect his losses.8 As with Edward, to whom he dedicated his Ode on the Death of Napoleon (1822), speculative writing became an economic necessity for Bulwer following his continental tour, which began with a dash to Greece to assist the Patriots and ended in the salons of Paris and Lady Blessington.9 He joined Brooks’s, 7 May 1824, but, still restless and seeking adventure, that autumn he accompanied a former official of the Ionian government James Hamilton Browne on a mission to the Morea to deliver the first instalment of the Greek loan (£80,000) to Prince Mavrocordato. (He described his experiences in Winter in Greece (1825) and An Autumn in Greece (1826).)10 He next tried but soon tired of the army, finding ‘garrison life ... tedious and monotonous’.11 He probably offered unsuccessfully for Northampton before the general election of 1826;12 and when William Lamb*, whom their relations assisted at Hertford, looked set to fail, Bulwer, to Edward’s indignation, was substituted for him as the ‘independent’.13 Though defeated, his performance was creditable enough to rile the anti-Catholic Lord Salisbury, one of the borough’s patrons, with whom he became connected through William’s marriage in 1827 to General Isaac Gascoyne’s* daughter Emily.14 That year Lamb and their Canningite friends secured an unpaid diplomatic posting for Bulwer to Berlin, where he learnt German and sent back reports on the reliability of the Prussian army in the event of war and on Prussia’s Catholic policy. Praise for the former, which the Military Review reprinted, led to temporary appointments to Vienna that year and the Netherlands in 1830.15
Professing opposition to slavery and support for tax reductions, moderate reform and retrenchment, Bulwer declared early for Hertford at the 1830 general election, but it had been evident for over a year that without a coalition he was unlikely to succeed and also that his mother would not finance him if he was defeated. His precipitate withdrawal between the nomination and the poll sparked speculation of collusion with Salisbury, with whom he and Lamb and their agents had been negotiating.16 Writing in the Hertford Mercury, 6 Sept. 1830, Bulwer denied reports that he had been bought off for £1,000 and a £500 deposit for Wilton, where Lord Pembroke had returned him in absentia. On 25 Aug. 1830 he set out on a successful secret mission to Belgium to report on the insurrection there and the overthrow of Charles X of France, which enraged Bulwer and Hortense Allart de Meritens (1801-79), the mistress he had recently ‘poached’ from the writer Chateaubriand.17 His mother forbade the match, but the liaison endured, with lapses on both sides, until 1835, and Bulwer became the inspiration for Allart’s character Henry Warwick in Les Enchantements de Prudence (1861, 1872).18 In October 1832, he wrote of her:
She has told me so often that no one else before had her beauty and talents united, that though she is past thirty, and her books are neither saleable nor readable, I am almost beginning to believe her.19
Bulwer was abroad when the Wellington ministry, who listed him among the ‘doubtful doubtfuls’, was brought down on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. In his maiden speech, 23 Dec. 1830, he opposed the Ultra Hill Trevor’s call for William Cobbett’s† prosecution for seditious libel for defending the ‘Swing’ rioters in the Political Register of 11 Dec., a motion potentially embarrassing to Melbourne (Lamb) as home secretary in Lord Grey’s administration. Bulwer denigrated the Register, but commended Cobbett’s recent support for Grey and, warning that ‘persecutions make proselytes’, suggested that the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge’s ‘cheap publications’ were ‘more likely to put down disturbance than expensive prosecutions’. Having spent the previous two months in France,20 he was initially taken aback by the ‘magnitude’ of the ministerial reform bill, which he recalled speculating over with the radical Henry Hunt at a chance meeting in the Commons tea room, minutes before it was announced, 1 Mar. 1831. He later observed that ‘weakness was in reality its strength. It roused the whole country’.21 Wilton was scheduled to lose a Member, and by 5 Mar. rumours circulated that Bulwer, being beholden to its Tory patron, had ‘deserted’ to opposition.22 He did not vote on the bill’s second reading, 22 Mar., but he intended speaking on Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment and had been called when the House adjourned, 18 Apr. Overnight, he received a letter from Melbourne soliciting support, but promising continued friendship regardless.23 Before dividing in the ministerial minority against the amendment, 19 Apr., he stated:
Both from the wording of that motion and the line of argument by which ... [Gascoyne] supported it, I should feel that my support would be given to the principle that England, Ireland and Scotland are so many distinct and different kingdoms; whereas I have always considered and still hope them to be permanently consolidated and united into one kingdom.
He castigated the opposition of Hunt and the Poor Man’s Guardian to the bill, but welcomed Hunt’s decision to vote for it, and, drawing the first of many parallels with France, warned of the danger of revolution and the growing power of the middle classes. Condemning again the subterfuge of Gascoyne’s wording, he gave weight to his endorsement of the bill with a personal statement:
It is at some at some expense of private feeling that I have come to this decision. My immediate constituents are affected by the measure, and there are those whose influence has contributed to my return, whose opinions and mine may not perfectly coincide on this subject.
Lady Clanwilliam informed Sidney Herbert†, 21 Apr., that ‘Lytton Bulwer turned to the right about at the last moment’.24 His search for an alternative seat at the ensuing general election brought him to the attention of the patronage secretary Edward Ellice, his supporters in Coventry and the local Political Union. After a five-day poll, they contrived to defeat the sitting Ultra Fyler, who had supported the reform bill in both divisions.25 Bulwer, who received £1,000 from his mother in May, and a further £2,000 in November 1831 to clear debts, had appealed to John Hobhouse* for assistance with Coventry’s London voters and projected himself as a ‘perfectly independent’ and ‘zealous’ reformer.26
Edward came in for St. Ives, and when present together they took the same line in the House. In 1837 a commentator described them as ‘ardently attached’ and noted of Bulwer, whose voice was ‘pleasant’ but ‘not powerful’ and speeches short ‘unless ... previously prepared’:
In person he is rather tall and handsome. His complexion is fair, and his hair of a dark shade, without being strictly speaking black. His features are regular, and the expression of his countenance, intelligent, and, on the whole, pleasing. He has a good deal of conceit about him. He is vain both of his person and intellect ... foppish in his dress, and has too much of an aristocratic air in his manners. He is a man of fair talents, but nothing more ... His utterance is rapid, and an affected pronunciation sometimes makes it difficult to hear him distinctly. He is not a man of weight in the House; whatever distinction he possesses, he owes in a great measure to his relationship to [Edward].27
Assessing his own performance in 1831-3, Bulwer remarked: ‘During this time I did not speak often, but my speeches were not deficient in point of argument and, though they wanted the forms of oratory and the knack of delivery, attracted some little attention’.28 Both brothers were contending with awkward domestic lives, financial uncertainty and poor health, and while Edward had a successful writer’s prestige and responsibilities, Henry had the drudgery of assisting Ellice by attending to most of Coventry’s substantial constituency business. He was expected to liaise with the political unionists, who monitored his conduct, and to secure the full inquiry into the depressed silk trade which Fyler had failed to obtain.29
Bulwer brought up a favourable petition, 24 June, and prefaced his vote for the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July 1831, with a speech criticizing ‘pretended reformers’. Being unwell, he paired for its committal, 12 July,30 and except for his votes for the total disfranchisement of Saltash, which ministers no longer pressed, 26 July, and to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. (when Edward chose not to vote), he divided consistently for its details. He uttered a few non-committal remarks on presenting Coventry’s petition protesting at the denial of votes to tenants paying rent oftener than six-monthly, 15 July, expressed unequivocal support for the schedule B disfranchisements, 21 July, and drew on the Coventry Political Union’s petition for expediting the bill (which the Speaker refused to accept), 26 July, to refute Hunt’s claims of a ‘reaction’ against reform, 29 July. He denied the anti-reformers’ assertions of venality at Hertford, 27 July, 14 Sept. He divided for the reform bill’s third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831. When asked by the Political Union, who distrusted Hunt, to verify reports of Hunt’s speech that day, he had to admit that he had not heard it, but he confirmed that it had been misreported and criticized Hunt’s ‘injudicious’ policy of supporting reform while opposing the government.31 A crisis in his relationship with Hortense, who resented his long hours in the House, took its toll on his health after she returned to France in November 1831 (her London salon was a dismal failure).32 He divided for the revised reform bill at its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, but barely supported its details.33 Pressed by William Hickling, the secretary of Coventry Political Union, he explained he had been ‘seriously indisposed for a long time and not able to attend’, 14 Mar. 1832:
As to the reform bill, I hear that it is not the intention of ministers to create any peers until the report on the third reading of the bill in the House of Lords, which I think a weak and foolish delay. I dare not venture down tonight to vote ... without imminent danger ... I am assured that with care I shall shortly be recovered sufficiently to be as active as up to this unfortunate illness.34
The union ‘authorized’ his absence from the division on the third reading, 22 Mar., but he divided for it and for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. Next day he warned Hickling that there were errors in the printed lists.35 He paired for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May,36 but voted in the minorities for extending the Irish county franchise to £5 freeholders, 18 June, and for altering the boundaries of Whitehaven to neutralize Lord Lonsdale’s influence there, 22 June 1832.
He voted in the minority for appointing 11 of its original members to the reconstituted Dublin election committee, 29 July, but with ministers against censuring the Irish government for electoral interference, 23 Aug. 1831. He presented a petition against the settlement bill from Coventry’s directors of the poor, 11 Aug., and cast a hostile vote that day for printing the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry. He later acknowledged that constituency factors were influencing his conduct, drawing him ‘gradually nearer and nearer to what was considered the radical party’.37 Acting with them on New South Wales (a ploy to revive the complaints against the former governor Charles Darling), he announced on 24 June 1831 that he would seek inquiry, but he repeatedly deferred doing so. He seconded Dixon’s abortive motion for inquiry into the alienation of crown lands in New South Wales and New Zealand, 7 June 1832. His proposal for jury trial and a legislative assembly for New South Wales was rejected by 65-26, 28 June, but he exposed weaknesses in the colonial under-secretary Lord Howick’s statements, which he raised again, 23 July 1832. To his constituents’ annoyance, he resisted their demands to endorse Hunt’s pleas for corn law repeal.38 He wrote expressing support for the union’s campaign for repeal of the taxes on books and periodicals and agreed to present their petitions, 27 Jan., but, pleading ill health, he contributed £2 to their fund and referred the petitions and his promised motion to Edward.39 He divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 16, 20 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., but with Hunt to suspend military flogging, 19 June. As requested by the mayor Richard Marriott, he raised the case of Private Alexander Somerville of the Scots Greys (flogged for publicly denouncing the use of military force to put down peaceful demonstrations) with the secretary at war Hobhouse, and presented and endorsed Coventry’s petition on Somerville’s behalf, 8 Aug.40 He voted to make coroners’ inquests public, 20 June. On 8 Aug. he was a minority teller for receiving a petition for the repeal of Irish tithes, which he had first been asked to support in September 1831.41 He voted against the government’s temporizing amendment to Buxton’s motion for a select committee on colonial slavery, 24 May 1832, and was piqued by his initial omission from the Anti-Slavery Society’s list of approved candidates at the general election that year.42
Bulwer was named to the select committees on the East India Company, 27 Jan., and the silk trade, 5 Mar. 1832. He had ordered returns on the latter, 17 Dec. 1831, preparatory to seeking inquiry on his constituents’ behalf.43 He explained when the Spitalfields petition was brought up, 21 Feb. 1832, that he had delayed doing so on Robinson’s advice because the issue was of national concern, and suggested further delay until reform was secure and his health had improved. However, perceiving Lord Grosvenor’s impatience, and with local pressure mounting, he played on his own indecision and ill health and seconded Grosvenor’s inquiry motion at length, 1 Mar., having first presented favourable petitions from Coventry and Nuneaton. Berated by the Coventry Herald for deferring to Ellice, he pressed publicly for greater concessions, and when inquiry was conceded that day he resisted ministers’ attempts to pack the committee, but his bids to exclude the political economist and silk merchant James Morrison and include Wynn Ellis failed.44 In several interventions when the report was brought up, 7 Aug., he criticized the evidence selected for publication, which favoured free trade, and spoke of the cruelty of reducing labour costs while maintaining commodity prices. He conceded that little had been achieved that session and helped to select and edit the report for publication in the Coventry Observer to improve his prospects against Fyler at the general election.45 Bulwer’s most compelling speech in the House in this period was on diplomacy, 2 Aug. 1832, and a direct response to the furore generated by the passage in the German Diet, of which Hanover was a member, of six resolutions authorizing Austria to censor the press and prevent an extension of the franchise in the south German states. The king, as elector of Hanover, had ratified the resolutions, although the foreign secretary Palmerston had opposed them, and Bulwer moved an address requesting William IV to ‘exercise his influence [as king of England] with the Germanic Diet, in opposition to the course it has pursued’. Hume seconded. With only 11 Members present, the House could have been counted out, but the debate proceeded, enabling Palmerston’s speech, in which he carefully criticized the Diet and denied the Commons the right to dictate foreign policy, to be widely publicized, and with it Bulwer’s, drawing on his diplomatic experience since 1827.46
Bulwer returned to Paris and Hortense in August 1832 and Palmerston suggested regularizing his appointment to the French embassy, but the ambassador Lord Granville was against doing so and asked, 26 Nov:
May there not be some inconvenience in Mr. Bulwer (an author as well as an orator) having the privilege of coming over from London to Paris when it suits his fancy, to rummage the archives of the embassy and then return to his parliamentary duties as soon as he has gratified his curiosity?47
Replying, 30 Nov., Palmerston persisted:
So you do not fancy Bulwer. He will annoy you but little and it was a cheap way of satisfying a young gentleman of high pretensions and some little talent. If he does speak, it may as well be for us as against us, and the attaché must do the former. He really made a very good speech on the Diet, put together with great industry and some cleverness.48
Arrangements to return Bulwer and Ellice jointly in the event of a dissolution had been in place since a ministry headed by Wellington was contemplated in May 1832, and standing as Liberals, they outpolled Fyler and a Conservative in a violent contest at the general election in December.49 Bulwer was returned for Marylebone as a ‘radical reformer’ in 1835, but after two chaotic years travelling between Parliament and the Brussels embassy, where he was in charge, he stood down to concentrate on his diplomatic career: he counted the 1837 commercial treaty with Turkey, the 1849 Clayton-Bulwer treaty and his final posting as ambassador to Turkey in 1858 among its highlights. In 1848 he was expelled from Spain for manipulating the press, having previously failed (1846) to prevent the ‘Spanish marriages’ treaty.50 He returned to the Commons as Liberal Member for Tamworth in 1868 and joined his brothers in the Lords as Lord Dalling and Bulwer in 1871.51 His biographies of Peel and Palmerston were in the course of publication when he died suddenly without issue at Naples in May 1872, worth less than £5,000.52 He was depicted as Tremaine Bertie in Benjamin Disraeli’s† Endymion.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
As Bulwer directed, his papers were sealed following his death and delivered to his brothers at Knebworth and Heydon, to give them the right to decide what to keep or destroy (The Times, 6 Aug. 1872). Some remain in private hands. Currently deposited are Herts. Archives, Lytton mss D/EK and Lytton (Knebworth) mss D/K; and Norf. RO, Bulwer (Heydon) mss BUL 1. Bulwer died before completing his autobiography, ‘A short sketch of my life’ (Lytton mss D/EK W125). A typescript account of his life from 1843 by H.E. Gascoyne Bulwer and E.A. Bulwer (D/EK W128) has not been used here. The only published biography, E.B. D’Auvergne, Envoys Extraordinary (1937), is inadequate. J. Decreus, Henry Bulwer-Lytton et Hortense Allart d’après des documents inedits (1961) covers 1825-35.
- 1. Oxford DNB.
- 2. Ibid.; Lytton mss W124/1, 2.
- 3. Countess Granville Letters, ii. 293; Lady Holland to Son, 177.
- 4. PROB 11/1469/867; Lytton (Knebworth) mss 287-93, 565-9, 612-28; Lytton mss F18, 65/1-13.
- 5. PROB 11/1617/283; IR26/790/453; Lytton mss F19.
- 6. Lytton (Knebworth) mss 612-28; Lytton mss W124/1, 2.
- 7. Bulwer, ‘Short sketch’, 1-2.
- 8. L.A. Uffenbeck, Life and Writings of H. Allart, 441.
- 9. Decreus, 20-23.
- 10. Oxford DNB.
- 11. Bulwer, ‘Short sketch’, 4.
- 12. Add. 40385, ff. 240, 242.
- 13. Lady Palmerston Letters, 145-7; Add. 45551, f. 24; Life of Lord Lytton, ii. 121; Hertford Mercury, 6, 20 May 1826.
- 14. Hertford Mercury, 10 June; Hatfield House mss 2M/Gen. Salisbury to Gilbertson, 17 June, reply, 18 June 1826.
- 15. Bulwer, ‘Short sketch’, 5-7; Bulwer mss 1/1/1-37.
- 16. Hertford Mercury, 3, 17 July; J.C. Pettman, ‘Reform Bill and Hertford Elections’, Herts. P and P, xiii (1973), 30-40; Hatfield House mss 2M/Nicholson, Nicholson to Salisbury 7 Aug. 1829, 25, 27, 29 Apr., 16, 21 June, 15 July, Salisbury to Bulwer, 24 Apr.; 2M/Gen. Bulwer to Salisbury, 25 June, 4 Aug., replies 5, 10 Aug., Byron to Salisbury, 26 June, Talbot to same [4 Aug.], Bulwer to Talbot, 2 Aug. 1830.
- 17. Oxford DNB.; Decreus, 3-21, 36.
- 18. Decreus, 22, 58-59.
- 19. Bulwer mss 1/2/1, partly cited in Decreus, 43-44.
- 20. Decreus, 38.
- 21. Bulwer, Sir Robert Peel (1874), 87-89.
- 22. Three Diaries, 64.
- 23. Bulwer mss 1/3/35.
- 24. Wilts. RO, Pembroke mss 2057/F4/50.
- 25. Coventry Archives PA14/10/21, 23; Coventry Herald, 29 Apr.; Coventry Mercury, 8 May 1831.
- 26. Add. 36466, f. 410; Lytton mss F19; Coventry Mercury, 1 May 1831.
- 27. [J. Grant] Random Recollections of Commons (1837), 259-60.
- 28. Bulwer, ‘Short sketch’, 12.
- 29. For differing interpretations of Bulwer’s role in Coventry politics in this period see T.W. Whitley, Parl. Rep. Coventry, 286-98; P. Searby, ‘Paternalism, Disturbance and Parliamentary Reform’, International Rev. of Social Hist. xxii (1977), 198-225; N. LoPatin, ‘Popular Politics in the Midlands’, Midland Hist. xx (1995), 103-18.
- 30. The Times, 16 July 1831.
- 31. Bulwer mss 1/5/57; Coventry Archives PA323/1.
- 32. Decreus, 40-43.
- 33. Coventry Herald, 27 Jan. 1832.
- 34. Coventry Archives PA323/3.
- 35. Ibid. PA323/8.
- 36. The Times, 29 May 1832.
- 37. Bulwer, ‘Short sketch’, 12, 15.
- 38. Coventry Herald, 16, 30 Sept. 1831.
- 39. Coventry Archives PA323/2-4; Bulwer mss BUL 1/5/58.
- 40. Bulwer mss 1/5/80; Birmingham Jnl. 9 June 1832.
- 41. Bulwer mss 1/3/19.
- 42. Ibid. 1/5/27.
- 43. Coventry Herald, 9, 16 Dec. 1831.
- 44. Ibid. 4, 11 Mar. 1832.
- 45. Bulwer mss 1/5/92.
- 46. C. Webster, Foreign Policy of Palmerston, i. 229-30; Southampton. Univ. Lib. Broadlands mss PP/GC/AB/6.
- 47. Webster, i. 70.
- 48. Bulwer mss 1/3/55.
- 49. Ibid. 5/39-44, 60-62.
- 50. Greville Mems. iv. 311; vi. 8, 103; vii. 145-6.
- 51. Lytton mss F70.
- 52. The Times, 27, 28 May, 3, 6 June 1872; Oxford DNB.