Read the history to this series of posts if you are new to my blog, but if you’ve read it before as always skip to the end of the italics where I have marked the font 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.”
Caroline loved her new son Augustus, and from her letters she took an active part in his life. She often mentions things that imply she did not simply leave Augustus in the hands of servants. She wrote a letter to William on one occasion stating ‘After Dear boy was gone to bed‘ and to her mother she wrote, ‘My little boy has had the Cow pocks very effectively I hope for it has pitted him sadly and made him look thin & pale. He really is a beautiful Baby but feverish as he has been these four days past. William is growing very fond of him- but of course is less so than I in outward demonstrations.‘
But when Augustus was nine months old something happened to distress her, Augustus had a convulsive fit. Yet fits are common in small children and there was no reason to assume it might be anything more than a response to a high temperature. Doctors at the time also said it might be due to Caro’s regular fainting spells when she was pregnant.
Caroline fell pregnant again and she continued to write to her family both of Augustus and of her own condition. ‘my little boy is really grown as blooming stout and lively as your little Georgiana which is saying everything he has more colour in his lips than he did when quite a baby…’ ‘Augutus continues well while I am roundelete…’ ‘I have a little pain in my chest, they think from taking too much exercise & carrying the dear heavy boy, who improves a vue d oeil… ‘
But Caroline had given birth at the same time as others in her family and in William’s family and comparisons were constantly made. I found that mothers at the school gate could be very gloating about a child who had achieved something yours had not, and I used to fight like hell not to care because I didn’t want to put any pressure on my child, and I can hear in Caro’s words above a mother who is trying to ensure her cousin that her child is just as good, but then she goes on to say, ‘though a year and a month old tomorrow he can neither walk alone nor speak a word – but laughs like a Lamb and grows very like me...’ 13 months would be young to walk and talk so she could not have been worried too much, and yet some children can walk at nine months, and perhaps she was comparing her son to her cousin’s child, or perhaps simply trying to brag that Augustus laughed.
Yet by the time Augustus was seventeen months old he was still neither walking nor saying and words, and Caro then lost another child, she gave birth to a premature little girl on the 29th January 1809, the child lived for a day, then died on her grandmother’s lap, and after this, Caroline’s and Williams marriage endured still more trials when Augustus began to have regular fits. It could not then be swept a way as something unusual and minor, it was clear that all was not well with Caro’s and William’s child, and in that era, in a family in high society, that was an embarrassment.
While William’s parents called Caro ‘the beast‘ behind her back, Caroline’s and William’s marriage began to develop cracks. He had the power to leave the house and travel, while she was left at home to mourn the loss of another child whom she had carried for months seen into the world and then lost, and to try to understand and support the only child she did have with an illness which in those days would have parents choosing to lock a child away out of sight and out of mind, and yet Caro loved him.
Caro wrote to William on the 14th September 1809, ‘I have been playing all day with that pretty little Augustus of yours, he is the dearest child I ever saw & shows where you are gone by pointing to the sea… God Bless you love, your own faithful Wiffins.’
But I think beneath her bright words and her hopefulness, she was beginning to feel distance because at this time, she started writing numerous letters to her cousin Hart, the heir to the Duke of Devonshire, though he did not often write back, and considering he had thought of himself as Caro’s future husband for most of his life, her letters were very flirtatious. ‘Caroline George is the delight of Brocket Hall give her 3 kisses for me & mind I never will give you another while you live – you are a bad good for nothing boy..’
Caro’s and William’s marriage splits into infidelity in my next post – follow my blog to make sure you don’t miss it and if you would like to read my historical romance story that’s inspired by Caroline’s life it’s available now The Dangerous Love of a Rogue.
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- 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’.
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