Malleson (Annesley), Lady Constance Mary (‘Colette O'Niel’) (1895–1975), actress and writer, was born 24 October 1895 at Castlewellan, Co. Down, the second daughter of the marriage of Hugh, fifth earl of Annesley (qv) and Priscilla Cecilia Annesley (née Moore) of Arnmore, Co. Cavan. Brought up at the family seat in Ireland, where she received her initial education from a series of governesses, she subsequently spent a brief and unhappy period at Downe House boarding school in Kent, before attending a finishing school in Dresden. It was during her stay in Germany that she first became interested in acting, and following a year of great freedom in Paris she determined on an acting career, despite opposition from her family. She made an unenthusiastic debutante (1913), cutting short the season to travel to Norway and Denmark before beginning her training for the stage at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where she first adopted the stage name ‘Colette O'Niel’.
Rejecting the social and political values of her class, she embraced the lifestyle of London's bohemia with great enthusiasm, and in May 1916 entered into a secret marriage with fellow actor, later also director and playwright, (William) Miles Malleson (1888–1969). Although they were constantly short of money, she recalled their early years together with great fondness, remembering them as being ‘filled with so many events and so many people they were like five or six different lives lived all at once and all at top pressure’ (After ten years, 91). Politically active, decidedly unconventional, and a flamboyant dresser, like many of her Bloomsbury associates she opposed the first world war. She joined the Independent Labour Party, and, as a dedicated pacifist, became an associate member of the No-Conscription Fellowship, through which she met Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) in July 1916. By the following September they had begun a love affair, which continued until his marriage in 1921 and was rekindled in 1930, though Russell found her tendency to engage in other liaisons unbearable. Both strong supporters of the Russian revolution, at controversial meetings in Leeds and Hackney (April and July 1917) they promoted the establishment of workers' councils modelled on the Russian example. Constance and Malleson maintained a friendly though largely platonic relationship, and in 1923 they agreed to divorce.
While she spent much of her time during the war working at the fellowship's information bureau, Constance remained committed to her acting career, though she found it difficult to secure engagements. She took the leads in London productions of Carré's ‘L'enfant prodigue’ (Kingsland Theatre, 1916), ‘Orphans of the storm by Cormon’ (Lyceum), ‘The faithful’ (Stage Society, 1919), and the film version of ‘Hindle wakes’ (1917), and was engaged by Lewis Casson to play the part of Helen, to Sybil Thorndike's Hecuba, in Euripedes' ‘The Trojan women’ (Oxford and Old Vic, 1919). While her own performance received good notices, the brilliance of Thorndike's acting left her confidence shattered. Thereafter she worked for the most part in provincial repertory companies, notably the Plymouth Repertory Company (1922) and Little Theatre, Hull (1925).
During these unsettled, nomadic years Malleson's growing frustration with her acting career led her to turn to writing. Her early efforts proved unsuccessful: her first play was unequivocally rejected by St John Ervine (qv), and she experienced a further setback when another (‘The way’) was poorly received at the Arts Theatre, London (1927). After this failure she accepted an offer to tour with Casson and Thorndike in South Africa and Rhodesia (1928) and subsequently took part, as the leading lady, in Sir Frank Benson's farewell tour, playing Portia, Olivia, Kate Hardcastle, Lady Teazle, and Lydia Languish. After retiring from the stage she continued to write, producing an autobiography, After ten years (1931), a fictionalised account of her relationship with Russell, The coming back (1933), and a second novel Fear in the heart (1936). Following a period of residence in Sweden (1936–7) she volunteered for service in Finland during the Russian invasion (1939) and spent the remainder of the war years there. Among her later publications are an account of her years in Scandinavia, In the north (1947), and Queen Margaret of Norway (1954). She also edited As the sight is bent (1964), the unfinished autobiography of her eldest sister Mabel Annesley (qv). She suffered for years from partial deafness, which in her later years became total, and died 5 October 1975 in a nursing home in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.