Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 29 September 2023

Talbot [née Lyttelton], Laviniafree


Talbot [née Lyttelton], Laviniafree

  • Sheila Fletcher

Talbot [née Lyttelton], Lavinia (1849–1939), promoter of women's education, was born on 4 January 1849 in London, the seventh of the twelve children of George William Lyttelton, fourth Baron Lyttelton (1817–1876), and his first wife, Mary (1813–1857), daughter of Sir Stephen Glynne, bt, of Hawarden and his wife, Mary.

Lavinia Lyttelton grew up at Hagley Hall, the family seat in Worcestershire, governess-taught, but more deeply formed by her parents' Anglo-Catholic faith, and the happy family life that was threatened, but not broken, by her mother's death when she was eight. In 1864, aged fifteen, she succeeded her elder sisters in taking charge of the household at Hagley for her father, younger sister, and eight brothers. Lord Lyttelton remarried five years later; and in 1870, aged twenty-one, Lavinia married Edward Stuart Talbot (1844–1934), a friend from childhood, who had just been appointed warden of the new Keble College, Oxford.

Lavinia Talbot plunged into a challenging married life. Edward's role as head of a college built in memory of John Keble made him at once a standard-bearer for the Anglo-Catholic wing of the church; the new college's religious bias was one reason why the old university snubbed it at every turn (though W. E. Gladstone frequently visited his niece by marriage in the warden's lodgings). But Edward went to war with a light heart, as he wrote later, and so did Lavinia. She identified thoroughly with his views and made the best of their cramped quarters, while her good looks, gaiety, and sympathetic interest softened the rawness of the place. She herself revelled in Oxford's beauty and took advantage of the ladies' lectures organized by a small committee on which she served with Louise Creighton, Mrs Humphry Ward, and other young dons' wives. (The university played no part.) Conscious of the defects of her own education, she took great pleasure in these lectures given by eminent Oxford men, and in writing such essays for their appraisal as 'The state of the papacy before Gregory VIII'.

Over the next years Lavinia and Edward were prominent among Oxford progressives who took the women's education question further. In 1878 an Association for the Promotion of the Education of Women was formed, to organize lectures for girls preparing for the Oxford local examinations. The Talbots saw a chance for the church to lead in providing a hall of residence for them, but other reformers were opposed to an overweening Anglican influence. Eventually the progressives split, the non-sectarian element laying down the non-denominational roots of Somerville, while the Talbot party launched Lady Margaret Hall. Edward took charge of its main committee, appointing a suitably high-church principal, while Lavinia worked on subcommittees to find and furnish a useful house and advise on domestic matters from gifts of furniture to servants' wages.

Both Edward and Lavinia served for many years on the council of Lady Margaret Hall, but they left Oxford in 1888 when Edward was appointed vicar of Leeds. In 1895 they moved to south London on his appointment as bishop of Rochester; in 1911 his translation to Winchester established them grandly in Farnham Castle. In all these places Lavinia displayed the poise and competence she had shown as the fifteen-year-old ‘housewife’ at Hagley and the bride who, after a five-year courtship, had accepted the role of 'Mother Keble'. 'What cannot be endured must be cured' (apparently one of her favourite sayings) seems appropriate to Edward's work; and it was certainly with her backing that in 1913 he invited the Anglican feminist Maude Royden to address a male audience at the church congress on the subject of the white slave traffic. The initiative was characteristic. In the episcopate as at Keble he was one of those leading men who carried Anglo-Catholicism forward to develop a social gospel from its strong liturgical base.

The Talbots had three sons (including Edward Keble Talbot and Neville Stuart Talbot) and two daughters, but their youngest son was killed in the First World War. In 1932 Edward consecrated the rising chapel at Lady Margaret Hall. He died in January 1934. Lavinia survived him, still good-looking but by then suffering from profound deafness. She died at The Blenheim, Wantage, Berkshire, on 10 October 1939, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral.


  • L. Talbot, diary and letters, Hagley Hall, Worcestershire
  • G. Stephenson, Edward Stuart Talbot (1936)
  • E. Talbot, Memories of early life (1924)
  • Council minutes, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford
  • The Times (16 Oct 1939)
  • A. M. A. H. Rogers, Degrees by degrees (1938)
  • S. Fletcher, Victorian girls: Lord Lyttelton's daughters (1997)


  • Hagley Hall, Worcestershire, diary and letters


  • F. Dicksee, crayon, 1920, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford
  • photographs, priv. coll.

Wealth at Death

£1892 17s. 8d.: probate, 6 Dec 1939, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Page of
, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
Page of
J. Burke, A general [later edns A genealogical] and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the United Kingdom [later edns the British empire] (1829–)
Page of
Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]
Page of
private collection
Page of
W. E. Gladstone , ed. M. R. D. Foot & H. C. G. Matthew, 14 vols. (1968–94)