Lady Caroline Lamb’s whole disgraceful truth… Part nine ~ The Bessborough’s life in France in the time of Napoleon

In my last post I told you about the ball the young Lady Caroline attended for  her coming out in Paris,which I was surprised to read, was still a really important event for her family even after the revolution, when Napoleon was in power… but it was also interesting to read how they still felt a pull toward the french society and yet did not accept the new social structure and avoided that as much as they could. But before I tell you the story here’s the history to this series of posts if you are new to my page, and if you are not and if you’ve read it before then skip to the end of the italics where I have marked the text in bold.

CarolinelambI 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.”

Before the revolution, to be an officer in the French army, men had to be able to prove they were descendants of nobility and that this stretched back at least three generations, and so the days when Lady Bessborough and her sister the Duchess of Devonshire were brought up, and would have traveled to France to mingle with society there, were very different. As the family were so strongly linked to the political set I wonder if that is partly why Harriet and Georgina took their daughters to France once the treaty was signed, to make some political point, but I do not know that.

However I do know that Lady Caroline’s mother Harriet went to great lengths to avoid an introduction to the Empress Josephine and she openly stated that she thought the lady’s heritage too doubtful to want any association with her, especially as she had been close friends with Marie Antionette,

Harriet complained bitterly about having to sit among ‘common people’ in the theatre too, and refused to sit with the ‘rabble’.

They did record in letters watching a military parade on January 5, 1803, but again Harriette succeeded in avoiding an introduction to Napoleon.

Napoleon suspected the Duchess of Devonshire, and Lady Bessborough of encouraging other’s in English high society to avoid and snub him , which was true, hence why I wonder if there was some political statement going on by their being there as well as perhaps an element of sentimentality and a desire for their girls to experience life as they had…

But potentially it was not really the balls and grandeur of Paris that touched Caroline most and had the greatest impact upon her choices in later life, it was two notorious women. If you have been following this series of blogs you will know from my earlier posts that Caroline’s younger life was touched by numerous scandals due to the trend for promiscuity in her family, but while they were in Paris they met two very strong female characters, who simply did what they wished and let the world think what it liked.

The first was Germaine de Staël, who had divorced Baron Staël-Holstein only recently, and been exiled by Napoleon on more than one occasion for being too outspoken, and then she had only recently published a feminist novel, Delphine. Both Harriet and Caroline loved Delphine, which some thought immoral, but Lady Bessborough wrote to her lover ‘My eyes are swell’d out of my head with crying over Delphine, and I have but just got through the first Vol. Pray read it if you have time and mark.

The other lady who came into the Bessborough’s sphere was Juliette Récamier, the wife of a banker, another lady who had a presence and character that drew people into her circles, like Germaine de Staël she held ‘at homes,’ that were more like courtly sessions for her admirers, and she is described like this ‘beautiful white Shoulders expos’d perfectly uncover’d to view – in short completely undress’d and in bed.’

Lady Bessborough, and the Duchess of Devonshire, being women of the highest fashion, in fact leaders of fashion, saw immediately the intrigue and fascination of both women and so extended invitations to both to visit them in England…

Lady Bessborough returned to England on February 15 1803 with Caroline, saying farewell to France, having successfully avoided an introduction to Napoleon and the Empress Josephine the entire time.

Next week,  I shall tell you about more scandals which surrounded the family on their return to England, and would have affected Caroline’s view of life, not that it ever seemed far away from the sisters.



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 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 amazon by clicking on the covers in the sidebar,  and are available from most booksellers.




About janelarkhttps://janelark.wordpress.coma writer of compelling, passionate and emotionally charged fiction

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