Elizabeth Balfour, Countess of Balfour

The Countess of Balfour
Woking Borough Councilwoman from St John's Ward
In office
President of the Conservative and Unionist Women's Franchise Association Edinburgh Chapter
Dame President of the Primrose League's Woking Habitation
Personal details
Elizabeth Edith Bulwer-Lytton

(1867-06-12)12 June 1867
Hyde Park Gate, London
Died28 March 1942(1942-03-28) (aged 74)
Fisher's Hill, Woking, Surrey
Political partyConservative
SpouseGerald Balfour, 2nd Earl of Balfour
Children6 (including Lady Eve Balfour and Robert Balfour, 3rd Earl of Balfour)
Parent(s)Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton
Edith Villiers
Occupationpolitician, writer, suffragette

Elizabeth Edith Balfour, Countess of Balfour (née Lady Elizabeth Bulwer-Lytton; 12 June 1867 – 28 March 1942) was a British suffragette, politician, and writer. A staunch Conservative, she served as Dame President of the Woking Habitation of the Primrose League and was a founding member of the Conservative and Unionist Women's Franchise Association, serving as president of the association's chapter in Edinburgh. After the 1910 Conciliation Bill failed to pass in the House of Commons, she went on a speaking tour across the United Kingdom to rally support for women's suffrage. In 1919, Lady Balfour became the first woman to sit on the Woking Borough Council.

Early life and family

Lady Balfour was born Elizabeth Edith Bulwer-Lytton on at Hyde Park Gate 12 June 1867 to The Honourable Robert Bulwer-Lytton, a poet and diplomat, and Edith Villiers, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria. She was a granddaughter of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton and Rosina Bulwer Lytton, Lady Lytton and a great-granddaughter of women's rights advocate Anna Wheeler. Lady Balfour was one of seven children. Her siblings included Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton, Lady Emily Lutyens, Victor Bulwer-Lytton, 2nd Earl of Lytton, and Neville Bulwer-Lytton, 3rd Earl of Lytton.

During Lady Balfour's childhood, her father was posted to Lisbon, Madrid, and Vienna. She and her sisters were educated by governesses. In 1876, her parents were appointed as the Viceroy and Vicereine of India and the family moved into the Viceroy's Palace. Her father resigned from the position in 1880 and was created Earl of Lytton, at which time she became entitled to the style Lady Edith Bulwer-Lytton. The family returned from India that same year, and took us residence at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire. Her father later served as the British Ambassador to France. As her father's travel companion, she took on many of her mother's duties as a society hostess.


Lady Balfour was very politically active, and was a member of the Primrose League, which supported Conservative causes. A supporter for women's rights, she joined the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. She believed in women's education, and encouraged all of her daughters to attend institutions of higher education, supporting her eldest daughter to train as a doctor and a younger daughter to study agriculture at Reading University.

In 1908, along with the Countess of Selborne, Alice Blanche Balfour, Lady Rayleigh, Lady Robert Cecil, Lady Edward Spencer-Churchill, Lady Lockyear, the Countess of Meath, Viscountess Midleton, Lady Strachey, Constance Jones, Dame Margaret Tuke, and Louisa Twining, Lady Balfour helped establish the Conservative and Unionist Women's Franchise Association. She later became president of the association's chapter in Edinburgh. She also served as the vice president of the International Women's Franchise Club.

She served as the Dame President of the Woking Habitation of the Primrose League, but resigned in 1910 after Conservative MP Donald Macmaster opposed the Conciliation Bill. After the failure of the 1910 Conciliation Bill, Lady Balfour spoke on the Conservative and Unionist Women's Franchise Association's platform across Britain. She gave speeches in Kendal, Penzance, Gloucester, and Ulster. In 1913, she gave speeches in Worcestershire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Gloucestershire. Her sister-in-law, Lady Frances Balfour, said that Balfour's action to challenge Conservative leaders to support women's rights was one of the most difficult tasks of the suffrage campaign.

Lady Balfour was on good terms with members of the Women's Social and Political Union and, in 1911, she chaired a meeting in Nairn where Emmeline Pankhurst was the speaker. She opposed violent actions taken by the Women's Social and Political Union, however, and when a medieval church in East Lothian was burned down by suffragettes, she raised funds for its reconstruction.

In April 1919, Lady Balfour became the first woman elected to the Woking Borough Council, representing St John's Ward.


Lady Balfour wrote a history of her father's administration in India, titled The History of Lord Lytton's Indian Administration, 1876 to 1880, before his death in 1891. She also published a selection of her father's poems in 1894 and edited The Personal and Literary Letters of Robert, First Earl of Lytton in 1906.

In 1910, the Conservative and Unionist Women's Franchise Association published Lady Balfour's analysis of a debate in the House of Commons on the Women's Franchise Bill. In 1925, she edited Letters of Constance Lytton, written by her sister Lady Constance.

Personal life

In 1887, she married Gerald Balfour of Whittingehame House, a Scottish aristocrat and Conservative Member of Parliament. Her husband was the brother of the future Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour and a nephew of Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury. Her husband served as the Chief Secretary of Ireland and as President of the Board of Trade.

They had five daughters and one son:

In 1900, they moved to Woking, Surrey. They commissioned Lady Balfour's brother-in-law, Edwin Lutyens, to design a country house in Hook Heath, Woking. They hired Gertrude Jekyll to design the gardens. The Balfours moved in to the house, Fisher Hill, in 1901. They hosted many social and musical gatherings and parties at the house.

Through her husband's social connections, she became associated with the elite social and intellectual group The Souls. She was a talented musician and became a close friend of the composer and suffragist Dame Ethel Smyth, who was also her neighbor.

Her husband succeeded his brother as Earl of Balfour in 1930, at which time she became the Countess of Balfour.

Death and legacy

Lady Balfour died of a perforated duodenal ulcer on 28 March 1942 at Fisher's Hill's cottage in Woking. Balfour road in Westfield is named after her.

This page was last updated at 2023-12-25 03:21 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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