Caroline was called a brat by her family when she was young, but I am not really surprised she did not behave well when I researched her childhood. But before I tell you some of the stories I’ve discovered, here’s the short intro for anyone discovering this series of posts today… If you’ve read it before, then read on from the short section of bold type.
I was drawn to Lady Caroline Lamb, who lived in the Regency era, because Harriette Wilson the courtesan who wrote her memoirs in 1825, mentions the Ponsonby and the Lamb family frequently. Also the story of Caroline’s affair with Lord Byron captured my imagination. Caroline was also a writer, she wrote poems, and novels in her later life. I have read Glenarvon.
Her life story and her letters sucked me further into the reality of the Regency world which is rarely found in modern-day books. Jane Austen wrote fictional, ‘country’ life as she called it, and I want to write fictional ‘Regency’ life rather than simply romance. But what I love when I discover gems in my research like Caroline’s story is sharing the real story behind my fiction here too.
Lady Caroline Lamb was born Caroline Ponsonby, on the 13th November 1785. She was the daughter of Frederick Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon, and Henrietta (known as Harriet), the sister of the infamous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
Caroline became an official lady when her grandfather died, and her father became Earl of Bessborough earning her the honorific title ‘Lady’ and she grew up in a world of luxury, even Marie Antoinette was a family friend. Caroline was always renowned as being lively, and now it is suspected she had a condition called bipolar. As a child she earned herself a title as a ‘brat’, by such things as telling 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’.
And when she 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.”
A letter from Caroline’s grandmother (mother of Georgiana, the Duchess, as well as Harriet, Caroline’s mother) sums up her family’s frustration with her behaviour…
‘We had a sad day again with Caroline. The irritation of this Dear Child’s temper must be from illness – doctor Drew persists that it is only Obstinacy and that harsh means must be used – but from all I can observe they only irritate and make more obstinate while the perpetual Crying they occasion shakes her delicate little frame and makes her pale as Death – at least while this extreme hot weather continues – which I am sure disagrees with her, I must try what encouragement and indulgence will do but her perverseness is beyond what can be described or conceived.’
They were living in Italy, as I said last week they had traveled abroad when Georgiana became pregnant with Grey’s child, banished by the Duke, but now Georgiana had been forgiven, and both she and Bess had returned to England, but due to Harriet’s poor health, left Harriet and Caroline in Italy, with Lady Spencer. Harriet had cried on their departure and been comforted by seven year old Caroline. So Caroline’s world would have changed dramatically once more as half their family group left them behind.
Before they had left, Caroline’s life may have been erratic, but according to a letter written by her mother to Caroline’s brothers who were back in England, Caroline captured moments of pleasure. ‘Your sister complains bitterly of being made to lie down and go to bed in broad sunshine, but luckily it does not disagree with her. She is growing quite a little Italian. I have drawn you the picture of her little fox which she is very fond of and hopes one day to show you.’ She had found the fox during a long walk, when she had gone off rambling on her own, and rescued it.
But then Harriet became more poorly, and where previously her mother had managed Caroline’s education, now Harriet was too ill Caroline’s education was left to Tutors including Dr Drew, who believed in harsh punishment.
Caroline is recorded as craving attention. Caroline’s grandmother wrote… ‘She asked me the other day if her doll did no look very droll today, to which for the sake of peace I answered Yes and then changed the conversation to something that I thought would interest her. I took her out and walking we called upon some little girls she likes to play with, we read together, I told her one or two stories, but at the end of every occupation and every change of place, she asked me with a fretful tone. “Why won’t you answer me Grandmama, I say my Doll looks very droll today.”
And then her precious grandmother lost patience with her tempers too. One record of Caroline fretting, is noted as ending with her being sent away from her ill mother to Lady Spencer, ‘I was obliged to whip her severely, by which I mean three smart strokes with my hand, for more than that can never I think be necessary.’
And so the records go on… Caroline ‘outrageously Naughty…’ ‘so excessively naughty all day as to make both Harriet and me uneasy from the fear she was not well.’ ‘excessively obstinate perverse and ungovernable.’
In the end her grandmother bought a book called ‘The Happy Family‘ to teach Caroline that rewards came to those who behaved.
But then we hit a crux of the issue perhaps, when its recorded that if her mother or someone, ‘give up our whole day to her, she is well contented, but if she sees us employed or in conversation it is then she begins.‘
Caroline’s grandmother once records the tutor, Dr Drew insisting on Caroline being carried away from the dinner table, while she screamed and shouted, and her Italian Master Nandini (whose name appears as a baddy in one of the novels she wrote as an adult) was of the same opinion that Caroline should be severely disciplined.
Then finally in September, Caroline’s father returned with her youngest brother, and took the family to Naples, but then Caroline fell ill, and so her father took her brother away with him to see Rome.
It was while they were separated that Harriet and Caroline received the news that Harriet’s friend, Marie Antionette, had been guillotined, and then another person to steal her mother’s attention came into Caroline’s life. An officer who was 12 years younger than Harriet, met her and fell for her instantly, Granville Leveson-Gower. He was constantly with Harriet, taking her time from Caroline.
Then Caroline fell severely ill and nearly died with a fever but was nursed all through the winter and spring by her grandmother.
The family finally returned to England in August 1794, when Caroline was still only eight, but it was with Granville Leveson-Gower still in tow and taking her mother’s attention. He would travel to London to meet Harriet in her town house, for illicit moments, and then when the family moved to Teignmouth to spend the winter, then he would travel from where he was stationed in Plymouth to visit Harriet.
Caroline was now also recorded as a good rider, although she rode astride and ignored the sidesaddle, but she could saddle and bridle her own horse.
But then came a moment in Caroline’s upbringing that really did surprise me, bearing in mind the family were at the top of society and titled – Harriet sent Caroline to a girls’ school.
I really didn’t know the Georgians sent girls to school, and yet Harriette Wilson’s middle (tradesman’s) class family had sent Harriette too a girl’s school in France, and now I discover even the best families sent their girls off to school. I knew they sent boys. But girls? And yet Jane Austen and her sister were sent away to school too. So it must have been extremely common I think.
More about the girl’s school Caroline went to next week 😉 But in the mean time The Lost Love of a Soldier is out this Thursday!! Very excited!!
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
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