It may surprise you, and I know it would surprise some people who think themselves knowledgeable about history as I have had people comment to me that it would be ridiculous for a young lady in the Regency period to be truly innocent and know nothing about sex. You would probably think it doubly ridiculous if you know Caroline’s Lambs upbringing, and the fact that she lived in the Devonshire household which was full of both women and men having clandestine physical relationships and numerous illegitimate children. Yet every element of the letters by Caroline and her female cousins, and those communicating with them, all indicate that the young women, brought up in the Devonshire household and the company around them, really did have no idea what was going on behind the closed doors in the houses where they lived (even though Caroline had once actually walked in on her mother). So Georgiana, the Duke, and Caroline’s mother and father, and her brothers and uncles, and cousins, had all successfully managed to disguise their activities before the girls.
Before I tell you more about how Caroline’s innocence impacted on her marriage, though, here is the history behind this series of posts for anyone joining today, but if you usually read these posts then just skip to where I have marked the text in bold.
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 Caroline married William she was nineteen and he was six years her senior, from her letters and their recorded communication, it’s very apparent that Caroline was shocked by the goings on in her marriage bed. I read in one book that the couple knew their duty, implying that was why Caro fell pregnant quickly. But everything about their recorded relationship, a marriage declared as a love match, that describes both of them being desperate to be with one another, and sharing a bed every night after their marriage, implies that there was no duty involved in their marriage bed, and as I said the episode before last William was from an open family, who had a reputation for being lustful. I think their marital relationship would have been very active in the bedroom, and I think William did not hesitate in educating Caro on what to do and how to respond. Certainly a couple of years later Caroline records a conversation where she advises William’s brother’s new wife on how to accept the Lamb brothers’ lustful behavior, and the conversation implies the amount by which Caroline’s eyes had been opened.
William’s response to Caroline’s naivety, and belief in religion, and the finer behaviours and attitudes, is impatience. He is an atheist, he has no need to feel guilt or wait to be judged, and he mocks Caro for her sensibility, sense of righteousness and her conscience. In William’s view such things were childish and part of her naivety – he may have been wishing he had not mocked her when she was older.
Imagine it though… Caroline was brought up a strong Christian, by her grandmother, she had never questioned or doubted that God was real and that all the bible said was true, so to then marry a man you loved who believed it all nonsense and took great pleasure in telling you it was all nonsense, it must have had quite an impact on Caro. It must have felt like having your feet knocked out from under you to suddenly have all your morals and standards questioned; why you were alive, and what would happen to you when you died.
William called her beliefs ‘superstitions‘ and so while the couple were one minute, as I said last week, bedding down together on sofas after dinner, being very overly affectionate with one another in public, they were at other times recorded as arguing to the point Caroline threw the china at William to silence him, in her anger and frustration.
I laughed when I heard about one of their recorded arguments – this is a trait I have put into a couple of my characters – before I read this – because I believe personalities in 2014 are the same as those forever, and I know someone who would do this now. But here is more evidence of what I believe.
So on this occasion the argument was abruptly silenced by William simply walking out. He left the house and then contacted Caro to say he had gone out ‘on business‘ and would not be home until late.
One thing, though, Caroline may have been riding a roller coaster of emotions while she settled into her marriage, but she was not the quiet simpering Miss, playing to her husbands’ greater intelligence and domineering nature. Not to be out done, Caro went out too, (funnily enough that was my reaction when the same was done to me) she called for a carriage and rode over to the her aunt’s, The Duchess of Devonshire’s, for dinner with her aunt and with Caro’s cousin Harryo. She did not cease her retaliation at that either. She actually sent her wedding ring home to William and put some rouge on her cheeks, and some gaudy jewelry, and then went to the theater with Harryo.
It is the little things like her applying rouge that imply to me there were many potentially shocking comments made between her and William when William was educating her in the marriage bed, and about the truth of life.
When Caro admitted to Harryo that she had had a ‘tiff‘ with William, Harryo wrote to G, which is how we know the facts 😉 Thank you Harryo!
But soon after this Caroline’s mother recorded finding the two of them sitting in one chair reading… They were literally the same sorts of spats any couple might have today 😀
Here, though, is an interesting poem Caro wrote at the time, about a bewildered young woman who cannot protect her heart from the assault of a friend, which seems to express her own confusion, and her internal tug of war, to be so attracted and in love with William and yet to hate so many of the things he was saying…
Winged with Hope & hushed with joy,
See you wanton blue-eyed boy
Arch his smile, & keen his dart
Aim at Laura’s youthful heart!
How could he his wiles disguise
How deceive such watchful eyes?
How so pure a breast inspire,
Set so you a Mind on fire?
Now I know there tyrant boy
Who can worlds of bliss destroy
Yet oh speak tho’ all in vain
Speak and bless me once again
Better twice a dupe to prove
Then view the alter’d looks of love.
All being well more of Caro’s story next week
If you would like to read my historical romance story that was inspired by Caroline’s life… it is available for pre-order The Dangerous Love of a Rogue, will be out in ebook in January and can be pre-ordered for Paperback release in March and don’t forget you can see images of my inspirations on my Jane Lark Facebook page, just click ‘Like‘ in the link on the sidebar to follow.
But if you can’t wait for Regency stories, then grab one of my books many of them are currently on offer in the UK from 69p and in the USA from $1.99 and there are couple of little extras for free…
Go to the index
- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
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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