“On one side I have a boarding house, where various instruments and voices are playing so loud that it makes perfect discord, on the other side Harryo is practicing the harp with… Corisande on the piano forte, Caroline St Jules on the guitar, and my Caro upstairs on the Piano forte, all different music, all loud and all discordant.’ These are some wonderful words which Lady Caroline Lamb’s mother wrote from a place the Bessboroughs and Devonshires were staying in Ramsgate to her young love Granville, in 1802. Little gems like this are a great insight into what life was really like…
It was in this same year that Caroline met her first love, and her future husband, but before I tell you about how and where they met, let me give you a quick background to this series of posts, for anyone joining us today, and for those of you who follow my blog, just skip to where I have marked the text in 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.”
In August 1802 Caroline visited Brocket Hall, the home of the Melbournes (William Lamb’s mother and father), with her mother, aunt and cousins and met William Lamb there. William at the time was twenty years old and just finishing his education at Trinity Hall. Caroline’s particularly large eyes, and her soft, low voice, charmed him. While his dark hair and blue eyes, charmed the sixteen year old Caroline.
Her cousin Harryo noted the mutual interest in letters written that summer. ‘There was an extraordinary flirtation between William Lamb and Caro Ponsonby… and they seem, I hear, mutually captivated. When the rest were at games etc. William was in a corner, reading and explaining poetry to Car… and in the morning, reading tales of wonder together tithertother. When she played hunt the squirrel, hunt the slipper etc. he did; always sat by her..’
The problem was that William’s family were not suitable. They were newly rich, rather than a historically recognized family. William’s grandfather was the son of a tradesman, who inherited a fortune and wisely made more money from it. He bought Brocket Hall in 1746 and received a baronetcy in 1755. His son, William’s official father, then inherited and married Elizabeth Milbanke.
William’s parents’ marriage was as equally unconventional as Caroline’s parents’, and wider family (although who knows how conventional it was in their day). William was one of six, and potentially they were all born of different fathers. Only the eldest brother was Lord Melbourne’s actual offspring. William was second born and in fact the son of the Earl of Egremont, who did know William was his, and actually had William’s portrait hung at his family home.
William’s younger brother George Lamb was sired by a much more influential father though, the Prince of Wales, and for the favour of his wife it earned her husband a position as a Viscount and a place in the House of Lords.
But the family’s manners were considered very poor, the Devonshire click condemned their ‘wisecracks, raucous laughter, rude noises and snoring in the parlour during in daytime naps‘ all recorded by Harryo (although not in that particular order). Caroline also speaks later of William’s brothers slouching in chairs and swearing in her company.
Of course if you have followed my blog for a while, you will have heard a lot about the Lamb men, from the memoirs of a courtesan. The courtesans found the Lambs equally outrageous. One of them hid in a courtesan’s bedroom to sleep while she was downstairs and then woke while she was going to the toilet in her chamber and laughed at her. Another of them tried to strangle Harriet Wilson when she would not comply to his wishes…
There was no way then that William stood a chance of winning Caro following the summer of 1802, although William did say ‘Of all the Devonshire House girls, that is the one for me.’
Next week I’ll tell you about Caro’s second coming out ball in Paris, which I was very surprised to read about considering it was the time of Napleon…
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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