In May 1799 Caroline took her first communion in Westminster Abbey, along with her cousin Harryo, daughter of the Duchess of Devonshire, and Caroline St Jules, the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and his long-term mistress, Bess… I have said in the previous tales about Caroline’s life it was riddled by an existence among debauchery, and that did not end as she became a young woman, but before I tell you more, here is the background to this series of posts, if you have read this before just skip to the section of bold text below.
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.”
When the girls took their first communion they wore white gloves and headbands, and to the world outside the Devonshire and Bessborough set the lives of their families would have appeared just as they should. That was the way the Georgians, and even the Victorian’s lived, like swans, all above water correct, but behind closed doors…
Within in months of Caroline taking her first public communion, her mother fell pregnant by her young lover, Granville.
Caroline’s mother retired to the country to hide her condition fr0m her husband, claiming illness and sending Caroline off to stay with her grandmother, Lady Spencer.
Harriet missed her niece’s, little G’s, debut ball, claiming to have had a severe fall, so she could not return to town. Although no doctors were called to attend her, but her sister, Georgiana, did visit her regularly.
When she returned to Cavendish square after the birth then the doctors were called and her head shaven to show she had been ill, but no other treatment occurred, and meanwhile her illegitimate daughter was taken in by a home for fallen women, which Harriet had set up two years before.
She did not invite Caro back to the family home then however, as she continued her affair with Granville, and entertained other fashionable men, including William Lamb on several occasions.
Caroline’s coming-out ball took place at Devonshire House in May 1801, and in the same summer her cousin, Little G, was married at the age of 17 to Lord Morpeth.
It seems Caroline had lost the wildness at this point of her life, every word written about her in letters is positive, and the family recorded their Christmas at Chatsworth, which was wintery, a layer of snow allowed them to skate and sled. But Lord Bessborough, Caroline’s father, was injured and suffered with a bout of gout when his eldest son, John, (the future heart-breaker :P) pushed his father across the ice in a chair, only to then tip him out. This however only made life more blissful for Lady Bessborough, Caroline’s mother, who tended her husband in the day, and then could easily slip away to Granville’s bed at night…
Is it any wonder that Lady Caroline Lamb grew up so confused…
We will leave her story here for now, and join Caroline again at the point she meets her future husband next week.
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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