The son of the distinguished soldier and Indian administrator Sir Richard Strachey, Lytton Strachey took after his mother in his artistic leanings. He was educated at Abbotsholme School, Derbyshire, and Leamington College, before going to Liverpool University (1897–99). After this he moved to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he made many of the friends who later formed part of the Bloomsbury set. On leaving Cambridge, Strachey supported himself by journalism in London, working for the Spectator and other journals. While he found this uncongenial, it enabled him to remain in the intellectual circles that he admired. After his first book, Landmarks in French Literature (1912), appeared, his friends combined to free him from financial problems and provide him with accommodation in their country houses so that he could devote himself to writing. He was a conscientious objector during World War I.
Eminent Victorians (1918) caused a considerable stir because Strachey's incisive portraits of his four subjects seemed disrespectful in the opinion of those who believed that biography should be adulatory. His subsequent studies, Queen Victoria (1921), Books and Characters, French and English (1922), Elizabeth and Essex (1928), and Portraits in Miniature (1931), enhanced his reputation and established a new school of biographical writing. He died of cancer after prolonged ill health. His devoted friend, the painter Dora Carrington (Mrs Ralph Partridge), who had nursed him in his last illness, committed suicide shortly afterwards.