Lytton, Rosina Anne Doyle Bulwer (‘Lady Lytton’) (1802–82), novelist, was born 2 November 1802 at Ballywhire, Co. Limerick, the youngest of two surviving daughters of Francis Massy Wheeler (d. 1820), a landlord, and the feminist philosopher Anna Wheeler (qv) (née Doyle). Her early years in Ireland appear to have been unhappy, largely owing to her parents’ incompatibility, her father's alcoholism, and her own indifference to her mother's intellectual pursuits. Following her parents’ separation in August 1812 she, her sister, and her mother moved to Guernsey to live with her great-uncle General Sir John Doyle (qv), then governor of the island. Educated there by a governess and a series of masters, she was brought to London after Doyle gave up his office c.1816, and installed in a fashionable boarding school in Kensington. She subsequently spent some time with her mother, who had established a salon in Caen, Normandy, and with relatives in Ireland, before returning to London to live with her uncle, then resident in Somerset Street.
Lively, impetuous, and attractive, Rosina soon became a familiar figure at London's bohemian literary gatherings, particularly those attended by her friends Lady Caroline Lamb and Laetitia Landon, and her future husband Edward Bulwer (from 1843 Bulwer Lytton and from 1866 Baron Lytton), whom she met in December 1825. After a brief courtship they became engaged, but owing to his mother's hostility the marriage was delayed until August 1827. As his wife she undoubtedly enjoyed their extravagant lifestyle and her role as a society hostess, but she was quickly disillusioned with their marriage, which was marred by her husband's violent temper and infidelities. On a visit to Italy in 1833 their relationship deteriorated rapidly, and by their return in early 1834 the marriage was over. After a legal separation in April 1836 she initially settled in Ireland with her daughter, Emily (b. 1828), and son, Edward (b. 1831), returning to England only after she lost control of the children in 1838. She did not see her daughter again until shortly before she died, from typhoid fever, in 1848, and saw her son again only at the time of her own death in 1882.
The notoriously acrimonious nature of the Bulwers’ separation was further fuelled by the publication of Rosina's first novel, Cheveley, or, The man of honour (1839), whose protagonist, an aggressive, bullying philanderer, was a thinly disguised portrait of her husband, and by the first in a series of legal disputes, which took place in Paris, where she had gone to live in 1839. Basing herself on the continent, in France, Italy, and Switzerland, she was unable to live within her £400 annual allowance, and supplemented her income through further writing. Despite Bulwer's efforts to prevent her securing publication, she produced a string of novels, among them The budget of the Bubble family (1840), Bianca Capello (1842), Miriam Sedley (1851), Behind the scenes (1854), and Very successful (1856), which included a short appeal to the public, outlining her grievances; yet none of these ever attracted the same degree of attention as her first work.
After her return to Britain in 1847, she lived at various addresses in London and subsequently at Llangollen in Wales (1853), before settling in Taunton, Somerset (1855). Increasingly frustrated by her financial difficulties, in June 1858 she travelled to Hereford and on the day of her husband's election as a local MP denounced him at a public meeting. His immediate response was to have her declared insane and forcibly incarcerated in an asylum. Released some three weeks later, due to public outcry, she continued to attack him until his death in January 1873. On inheriting his father's estate, her son increased her allowance. Lytton's later years were spent as a recluse at Upper Sydenham, where she died 12 March 1882. Her portrait was painted by A. E. Chalon in 1832.