I am really excited, because today I am beginning a new true story that I will share weekly in the same way I’ve shared Harriette Wilson’s memoirs. This story is not from memoirs though, but from the letters of Lady Caroline Lamb! Another of the Regency period’s most scandalous women, but not from the perspective of the demimonde, Caroline was a Lady and a member of the highest elite level of society, known as the ton, and the beaumonde.
I began researching Caroline Lamb, because Harriette mentions the Ponsonby and Lamb family so much in her memoirs and the story of Caroline’s affair with Lord Byron captured my imagination. It was about four years ago probably that I read her letters, while staying in a hotel in Ashford for three days, as we explored Kent. I was in the process of researching and writing The Scandalous Love of a Duke 😉 then.
And after I read her letters, I was pulled into reading her life story and then one of the novels she wrote. Doing so has taught me a lot about the real life of the aristocracy in the Regency era, and now I will share it all with you… 😀
So meet Caroline Lamb…
People have said now, that perhaps Caroline’s bizarre behaviour was due to a mental health condition we now call bipolar, but there is obviously no way anyone can know that today. So that implies much of Caroline’s behaviour was abnormal, but in fact many elements of Caroline’s life were typical of the Regency era, as you will see.
Lady Caroline Lamb was born Caroline Ponsonby, on the 13th November 1785. She was the daughter of Frederick Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon, and Henrietta, the sister of the now famous Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire. Of course, Georgina was also pretty famous in her day, and so was Caroline’s mother who was known more frequently as Harriet. The sisters in their day were renowned beauties, who held considerable power in the political set.
Lady Spencer, Caroline’s grandmother, and the formidable matron of the family – who organizes and watches over Georgianna’s marriage to the Duke of Devonshire in the film The Duchess – wrote of Caroline’s birth, ‘a lovely little girl – who seems very lively and in perfect health.’
Caroline became an official lady when her grandfather died, and her father became Earl of Bessborough, earning her the honorific title ‘Lady’.
So Caroline grew up in a world of luxury, even Marie Antoinette was a family friend. But Caroline’s ‘liveliness’ earned her a reputation as a troublesome child and she was deemed a ‘brat’ by her family at an early age. One of the instances which earned her the title was when she told her aunt Georgiana, that Edward Gibbon’s (the author of The Decline and fall of the Roman Empire) face was ‘so ugly it had frightened her puppy’.
When the brat grew up, Byron once described Caroline as “the cleverest most agreeable, absurd, amiable, perplexing, dangerous fascinating little being that lives now or ought to have lived 2000 years ago.” I think that gives you a measure of Caroline even from her youth, she had a temper, and yet her brat-ishness equally charmed the sisters who had charmed the world… and her grandmother.
Perhaps surprisingly Lady Spencer spent a lot of time with her grandchildren, she records staying with Harriet and the new born Caroline for a little while after the birth, and taking Caroline into her own bed on the third day to quieten her cries. She left after ten days, but she frequently visited both Caroline and her older brothers, Frederick and John (the John the poor courtesan, Harriette Wilson, fell hopelessly in love with and was let down by). When asked to take care of Caroline when she caught her first cold at six months old, Lady Spencer wrote. ‘I shall be delighted to be entrusted with Caroline.’
And so her grandmother became a key defining character in Caroline’s early life. Caroline loved the bible because her grandmother did, and saw her grandmother with a demigoddess like view. She wrote this poem for her, in later life…
‘May no sad dream disturb thy rest.
No anxious care thy peace molest,
But angels’ whisper’d blessings shed.
For tho’ so glorious high their state.
Proud they will be to guard that head
Where all is noble, good and great.’
And her grandmother also obviously had a significant physical influence on Caroline’s upbringing, for instance Harriet was told by her mother to cut Caroline’s hair every day to keep it thin.
Caroline also had a nomadic childhood, aristocratic households moved around a lot, and Georgiana and Harriet mostly travelled together with Caroline, her bothers, her cousins, and a group of children who were named ‘the mist’ those who had been adopted into the family who had been born of adulterous affairs, or were charitably taken in. This pack of children gave the famous beauties an air of mystique, and an observer of them wrote at the time ‘There were such countless illegitimates among them, such a tribe of Children of the Mist’.
They regularly visited all the Duncannon and Devonshire residences, including Chatsworth, and they visited Brocket Hall, the home of Lord and Lady Melbourne, and stayed abroad with friends in Belgium, Italy, France, Switzerland, and Germany.
But despite all the travelling, Caroline was educated by governesses from an early age, and when she was six her father wrote that she could speak French, “very tolerably” and play a tune on the harpsichored. By the time she was seven she had also begun to read in French and Italian.
So we can see already that Caroline was set for an elitist, and unusual life in the heart of the scandalous elements of high society.
I’ll leave her there for now… But she will be back next week 😀
The Lost Love of Soldier
The prequel to The Illicit Love of a Courtesan
is available to pre-order just click on the cover in the side bar
Go to the index
- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
- another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
- the prequel excerpts for book #3 The Scandalous Love of a Duke
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.
Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark
Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback