Lady Caroline Lamb’s whole disgraceful truth… Part eight ~ coming out in France in the time of Napoleon

CarolinelambDoes the title surprise you? Well this story surprised me when I read it some time ago… Who would have thought that the British aristocracy were bringing their daughters out in Paris during the time of Napoleon. But that is what happened.

Before I go on to tell you the tale though here is the background to this series of posts for anyone one joining us today, and for those who have been following my blog for a while, well as always just skip to the bold type at the end of the italics.

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.”

This is purely my guess – but I suppose the Cavendishs and Ponsonbys gravitated more towards France because they were from an old family, and when Harriette and Georgiana were in their youth the French court was seen as the most eloquent, and Marie Antionette had been their close friend. In the early period of the Georgian era people traveled all the time, many people know of the London seasons but in reality there was a Paris season, a Bath season and a Brussels season, and many more, the aristocracy moved around to socialize and to find marriage partners. I am stating the obvious now, but people didn’t have telephones, and the majority lived on country estates, how else were the young men and women to meet each other unless families came together, and as they did not want them marrying beneath them then travelling to meet others of the same standing was the only way to match make. Especially in the days of know pictures either (look what happened to Henry VIII when he chose a wife from a portrait). It was not the only reason for gathering, but it played a large part in why whole families traveled.

But why on earth did they travel to Paris to bring Caro out into French society? Well a treaty had been signed between France and Britain in March 1802 so they were no longer at war, so perhaps it was not so extraordinary, but Caro’s grandmother did not agree with the idea, and yet to Caro and her mother in the letters which were shared, this seemed a much bigger event than coming out among high society in London.

They sailed in December 1802 and Caro recorded her feelings in a poem.

 

‘Farewell to England and farewell to frocks. 

Now France I hail thee with a sweeping train.

Subdued I’ll bed my stubborn locks

And enter on a life of art and pain. 

Farewell to childhood and perhaps to peace

Now life I shall upon thy dangerous stream. 

And oh may wisdom with each year encrease 

And prove my follies but an infant’s dream.’

 

What Caro wore to her first Parisian ball, the Duchess of Gordon’s, on the 22nd December 1802, is recorded too. It was a fashionable white gown, with rows of bows, made from blue ribbon, along with shoulder length white doeskin gloves, and her white slippers were satin. Her hair had also been more significantly decorated in a ‘Whig bouffant’ and adorned with pearls and a diamond diadem, while pearls and diamonds were also about her neck.

The Duchess of Gordon was as much of a high society socialite as Harriette and Georgiana, all her daughters had married dukes, and so obviously the decision to take Caro to Paris was not without forethought, they knew the circuit they were taking Caro into.

Caro would have danced until daylight at the ball. Society then engaged through the night parted in the early morning and then reconvened calling upon each other after two in the afternoon, and then their evenings began again.

Caro and her mother record attending many balls, the Duchess of Luyens, Princess Dolgorouk’s and Lady Melbourne, the mother of Caro’s future husband, William Lamb, gave a party on 13th January (implying therefore that many people from British high society had traveled over to Paris for the period).

Harryo, Georgiana’s daughter, who was with the family too, had obviously taken a dislike to William Lamb and his brother Frederick; she wrote in a letter that they were drunk at their mother’s ball, and quotes William discussing ‘the danger of a young woman believing in weligion and pwacticing mowality

Oh those Lambs 😉 sorry that is pinching phrase Caro used later in her life.

However if Harriette had taken Caro there with the hope of attaching her to some suitable Frenchman, Caroline was having none of it. She wrote to a friend in England while she was there…

Frenchman, smile not thus on me;

I hate your race. I hate your nation. 

In vain you bend your supple knee.,

I care not for your adulation. 

I love a man of English race

Who never learned to fawn or dance. 

He has an English heart and face.

Oh there is no such man in France.

 

Next time I will share Harriett’s opinion of the French and how she carefully maneuvered through society there with an aim to honour her memory of Marie Antoinette.

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Lady Caroline Lamb’s whole disgraceful truth… Part four ~ a Georgian girl’s education ~ life at Jane Austen’s school

CarolinelambI said at the end of my post last week that Lady Caroline Lamb went to a girls’ school. In fact  the school she went to in Knightsbridge, in 1795 at the age of ten, was the same school which Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra had attended. The school at 22 Hans Place, was run by Frances Rowden a former governess in Lady Caroline Lamb’s father’s family. But before I tell you more, here is a quick recap of the background of this series of posts, if you’ve read it before just skip to where I start again with 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.”

By 1795 Caroline received regular doses of laudanum to make her temper more manageable for her grandmother (who records mixing drops of laudanum disguised with drops of lavender to keep Caroline calm) and ill mother and aunt found Caroline unmanageable. The Devonshire’s would ensure they only entertained when Caroline was not there, and they hired nurses to take her away from the family. While her mother’s energy was focused on her young military lover.

Numerous letters are still in existence shared between the two of them, which describe not only their love affair, but Harriet’s, and therefore Caroline’s, daily life.

From these letters, and others, we know the family desperately wished to be rid of Caro and place her into the care of others, and so it was that in 1795 at the age of ten she was sent to school.

As a pupil, just as Jane Austen and Cassandra would have done, Lady Caroline Lamb was required to wear a uniform. A white muslin dress with a black apron. At the school they practiced their writing, French and Italian, and were given dance lessons. After lunch there were made to lay on boards for half-an-hour and taught to walk back and forth in a certain way to develop their deportment.

But the school did not particularly calm Caroline’s natural exuberance and wildness.

In January 1797 Caroline writes about herself, to her older cousin (Little G) Lady Georgiana Cavendish – expressing perhaps what she must have been told many times in her life… and then ends her diatribe with an odd riddle.

I’m mad

That’s bad

I’m sad

That’s bad

I’m bad

That’s mad

A riddle

The damson tree

Damn the trees on

You know damson tree

Well put

Damn tree son

That makes treason

Though ’tis good to say

Damn tree son

Ah little, little, little me

Writes to devel, devel G’…

In the same letter Caroline mentions the addictive sins of both her mother and aunt, in words that ring with a note of repetition, perhaps, her mother and/or aunt often said this?  ‘Oh Lord what troubles in this be and naught but gambling wine and glee.

In 1797 Caroline was integrated back into the family, although still dosed with laudanum. She was allowed to spend the summer visiting with her mother, and Caroline wrote to her cousin G in this period, expressing a little of her family life, ‘We played at Pope jone every night almost for money till nine or a little past, my brothers went yesterday to Harrow before they went they hunted some rats and John threw me a dead one which blooded me. Last night I looked at Jupiter the star through the telescope it looked like a full moon’ – I love the excerpts of normal Georgian life which you find in  letters it feels to me like I can touch the past.

In January 1798 Caroline, caught chicken pox, and passed them on to her brother William, as recorded by her mother in a letter to her young lover, Granville, ‘I have never seen anything so pretty as Caroline nursing him.’

But then we have another glimpse of the sort of life which defined Caroline’s childhood, and perhaps influenced who she became. After the bout of chicken pox, the family moved back to London, to Cavendish square. Approaching thirteen, Caroline’s mother and father would now be considering an appropriate marriage, and looking at who they may pair there daughter with when she was of age. But an incident occurred in the family’s London home, when at the age of twelve Caroline walked in to her mother’s dressing room and found her being indelicate with the young officer she had begun an affair with in Naples years before.

The letters between Granville and Harriet give us a window into this experience, Granville made no excuses and simply left. Caroline said to Harriet, she believed he had left because she was ugly, and Harriet wrote to him saying she said, ‘I suppose Lord Granville would not deign to look at me if I am all pitted with chicken pox.’ When her mother asked why she thought this, Harriet recorded Caroline’s answer, ‘he seems too fine a gentlemen to like ugly people‘  Hariet herself then adds, ‘why Caroline supposes you are so govern’d by looks’ 

You can only wonder at the type of conversations and behaviors that carried on before young Caroline’s eyes…

Just one more set of tales to tell about Lady Caroline Lamb’s childhood next week, and the we will have reached her ‘Coming out‘ 🙂

~

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  • 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

Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback

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