Lord Byron’s influence on the new books

In 2016, I had the pleasure of visiting Newstead Abbey, the property that Lord George Byron inherited from his great uncle in 1978, when George became the sixth Baron Byron.  Byron was a colourful man, and led a life full of intrigue. I had read his work and read letters and stories about his life, but I went to his home to seek more inspiration. He is of course the perfect draw for storytellers, when you are seeking ideas for captivating characters. That is why I went to his home, because I wanted to be able to touch on his life and discover what it was really like rather than just read about him in books. And oh my gosh, I am so glad I went there, because I walked into room after room of inspiration.

As most people know, Byron was a lover of the macabre and Newstead oozes that in a way that made me wonder what came first, the house he inherited or his love of gothic style games. Of course, you can tell from the name, that the property was previously a medieval abbey. What Byron inherited was a tumbled down medieval ruin that had been rebuilt into a Tudor manor. This is probably easier for me to imagine than it is for others to see  because Newstead Abbey has had many later amendments to its layout. But Lacock Abbey, which is just up the road from me, was also converted from an abbey into a stately Tudor home, and that is still very much as it was in the Tudor period.

However at Lacock some of the ruins have been kept in place underneath the Tudor house, so you can still walk about the nuns’ cloister in the middle of the property and in and out of great arched rooms that were once kitchens, storage rooms and the chapter house with its wallpainting and medieval tiles still in situ. At Newstead some of the outer ruins have been preserved . Below you can see the magnificent arch of an old abbey window, that was kept as nothing else but a piece of artwork in the gardens. The arch is not even the entrance to the garden; that is through a very small door to the left.

cropped-img_3758.jpgIn Byron’s day, the stairs were at the front here, though, and the steps went up to the first floor, so the door opened in to what was once the Abbey’s great hall, where the monks would have dined with any travelling pilgrims as guests. Lacock does still have it’s steps that lead directly to the great hall.

The other abbey that has stuck in my mind, as another property sold off by Henry VIII to his nobility from them to turn into a house, is the home that belonged to Jane Austen’s family – Stoneleigh Abbey. At Stoneleigh the entrance directly to the first floor has also been removed, but it’s Jacobean wing gives another context to help you imagine how Newstead would have looked in Byron’s day. Byron’s house also had a newer wing, which he used for guests.

Byron did not inherit much money to accompany his title, and so he could not repair and redecorate the house to any great extent. But he did choose a few small rooms to make a bit more luxurious. Today the other rooms have been changed and completed by the owners who have lived in the property since Byron’s day, but the rooms Byron had decorated are still very much as they were.

The dining room.

 

The study. Where he wrote when he was at home.

The library, where the goblet he had made from a skull he had found in the gardens was kept. It is only a replica on the table, though. The wife of the man who bought the property from him had it destroyed.

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A cellar in the undercroft of the Abbey, beneath the great hall, where he had a table and chairs put out to host small parties, for his friends and female guests.

Lastly his bedroom, which contains the bed he had brought to the Abbey from Cambridge.

The room Byron decorated for himself was in the medieval area of the house, on the opposite side of the house from the Jacobean wing that his guests used (and am I guessing where his mother lived as she shared the house with him and looked after it when he was not there).

To reach his rooms the passages are narrow, climbing up spiralling stone medieval staircases with leaded, small windows cut through the stone, that leave passages cold and shadowy.

There is one example of what the rooms that Byron was unable to renovate would have looked like at the time, (and felt and smelt like – which is why I like going places because pictures only let you experience one sense). This room was Byron’s dressing room. Image the large hall below in the same state then…

If you have already read The Thread of Destiny I am sure you can now see whose house this is in the book. The great hall had its roof replaced and the room was redecorated by a later resident, but in Byron’s day it was where he used to fence and shoot.

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Byron used his house as a playground, but he also used the vast grounds that surrounded the Abbey to play in. He kept a pet bear and entertained the bear (without a leash) in the grounds, even playing blind man’s buff. On one side of the grounds is a large lake, where his Great Uncle (who I think was just as eccentric as Byron) used to have mock naval battles with real boats. Byron loved his dogs, and he swam in the lake everyday when he was at home. One game he used to play in the lake with one of his favourite dogs, was to throw himself into the lake instead of a stick to get the dog to drag him out. (My George’s follies are ideas from elsewhere, though, Byron’s uncle was not much of a folly man).

At the back of the house are beautiful formal gardens.

 

Many other inspirations for the stories in The Thread of Destiny and The Lure of a Poet come from Newstead Abbey, because there is a fabulous area there that has been set up as a museum of Byron’s possessions. In the pictures below are just a few of things that made me think of elements of the stories that have become the first books in The Wickedly Romantic Poets series.

The story in the first of my new books, The Thread of Destiny,  begins at the home of my George, Bridge, Lord Bridges, The Duke of Stonemoor, and as his home is very much as Byron’s was, his character is also very Byronesque. – and how wonderful to be such an exceptional character during your lifetime that a word is created to describe the essence of the personality shown by your life and your work. 

There will be lots more reality based behaviours from my poets in the rest of the series that will be out in 2019.  

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The rule of the red thread of destiny says that everything that is unresolved will be resolved.

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The Thread of Destiny

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The Lure of a Poet

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Lady Caroline Lamb’s whole disgraceful truth… Part Twenty-three ~ A passionate love affair with Lord Byron

CarolinelambCaro and Byron were known to write to each other daily when their affair began and in the beginning they were equally enchanted by each other. Caro said in letters she wrote after the end of their affair, ‘Never while life beats in this heart shall I forget you or that moment when first you said you lov’d me – when my heart did not meet yours but flew before it‘  and Byron’s friend Robert Dallas wrote of Byron, ‘so enraptured, so intoxicated, that his time and thoughts were almost entirely devoted to reading her letters and answering them.’ On occasions they wrote four times a day to each other and Byron rarely attended the House of Lords at the beginning of their affair. But with a relationship of such high emotions there are frequently ups and downs, and Caroline, the lover of controversy worked hard to provoke Byron’s emotions. But before I tell you more, as usual, here is the background to this series of posts for anyone joining the blog today, for all those who’ve read it before just skip to the end of the italics 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.” 

ByronI think it is fairly common knowledge for people who know of Lord Byron that he was bisexual, and whether he spoke of his sexual preferences to Caroline, we do not know. But we do know that she divined that he approved of her dressing in men’s clothing which gave her a boyish appearance because both her letters and the records of others mention it. But then Byron did say in his poem Childe Harold, ‘Come hither, hither, my little page!‘ And Caro did, as I have said earlier in this series of posts, she had previously dressed in breeches and disguised herself as a young man, she did it for William remember, to hear his first speech to Parliament, and so she now used the disguise to visit Byron at his rooms in the Albany.

This is a letter she wrote to Byron’s valet. ‘Fletcher-Will you come and see me here some evening at 9, and no one will know of it. You may say you bring a letter and wait the answer. I will send for you in. But I will let you know first, for I wish to speak with you. I also want you to take the little foreign page I shall send in to see Lord Byron. Do not tell him before-hand but, when he comes with flowers, shew him in. I shall not come myself, unless just before he goes away; so do not think it is me. Besides, you will see this is quite a child, only I wish him to see my Lord if you can contrive it, which, if you tell me what hour is convenient, will be very easy. I go out of Town to-morrow for a day or two, and I am now quite well – at least much better.’

Robert Dallas recorded seeing her dressed as a page. ‘He was a fair-faced delicate boy of thirteen or fourteen years old, whom one might have taken for the lady herself. He was dressed in scarlet hussar jacket and pantaloons… He had light hair curling about his face, and held a feathered fancy hat in his hand. which completed the scenic appearance of this urchin Pandarus. I could not suspect at the time that it was a disguise; if so Byron never disclosed it to me…’ Dallas added at the end of the letter, though, that he could not, ‘precisely recollect the mode of the page’s exit.

Rumour’s must have been spreading too because Caro’s mother-in-law (who also slept with Byron) wrote to Caroline, and she recounted it to Byron ‘Yesterday I received a letter from Lady M saying these words – Caroline is there no end to your strange adventures, will nothing cure you – I hear but I do not believe that you have a female Page – if so do not hope to make me laugh at yr follies but these are crimes’  

That did not deter Caro, she was in love, completely and utterly fallen. She may have loved William when she married him but the love she had for Byron was the sort of love I like writing in my stories, the love that sweeps in like a bush fire and just takes over, and nothing will smother it. Byron was equally infatuated in the beginning, but I do not think it was ever love – for him it was lust. He was still writing to, and sleeping with, other women during their affair. So Caroline’s actions grew more and more desperate.

At the beginning of their affair she sent him a lock of her hair which had been cut when she was fourteen, ‘as you like curiosities I send you a relic of Lady Caroline Ponsonby aged 14 – & I request you keep it for her sake.’  By the 9th August 1812 she was cutting her pubic hair for him and sending him that with this letter.

Next to Thyrza Dearest

& most faithful – God bless you

own love – ricordati di Biondetta

From you wild Antelope

I asked you not to send blood but yet do – because if it means love I like to have it – I cut the hair too close & bled much more than you need – do not you the same o pray put no scizzors points near where quei capelli grow – sooner take it from the arm or wrist – pray be careful.’

Byron’s friend Rogers wrote of Caroline’s bold behaviour. ‘She absolutely besieged him after a great party at Devonshire House, to which Lady Caroline had not been invited,I saw her, – yes, saw her, – talking to Byron, with half of her body thrust into the carriage which he had just entered’ (I have loved this account of her body language for ages, it’s a beautiful reflection to apply to romance stories 😀 )

But as with her last affair Caroline’s inability to be discrete was making her the subject of scandal. Harryo wrote ‘Lord Byron is still upon a pedestal and Caroline William doing hommage.’

But Byron in his lust for Caro was willing to declare his equal adoration. He wrote in April 1812, ‘Every word you utter, ever line you write proves you to be either sincere or a fool, now as I know you are not the one I must believe you the other. I never knew a woman with greater or more pleasing talents. general as in a woman they should be. something of everything & too much of nothing, but these are unfortunately coupled with total want of common conduct – For instance the note to your page, do you suppose I delivered it? or did you mean that I should? I did not of course – Then your heart – my poor Caro, what a little volcano! that pours lava through your veins, & yet I cannot wish it to be a bit colder, to make a marble slab of. as you sometimes see (to understand my foolish metaphor) brought in vases tables &c from Vesuvius when hardened after an eruption – I have always thought you the cleverest most agreeable, absurd, amiable, perplexing, dangerous fascinating little being that lives now or ought to have lived 2000 years ago – I wont talk to you of beauty, I am no judge, but our beauties cease to be so when near you, and therefore you have either some or something better… All that you so often say, I feel, can more be said or felt? ( can more be said or felt – I love that last line)

Another way she tried to bind Byron to her was with gifts, she encouraged him to swap rings with her in a mock marriage ceremony and when she gave him a gold chain to induce more promises and allegiance, he wrote this to her…

 

Yet fain would I resist the spell

That would my captive heart retain,

For tell me dearest, is this well?

Ah Caro! do I need the chain

Nor dare I struggle to be free.

Since gifts returned but pain the giver.

And the soft band put on by thee,

The slightest chain, will last forever!’

 

Caro had kept these words from Byron, writing beside them. ‘These are the first lines Ld Byron wrote to me – I had made him a present of a gold neck chain and these lines were written at the moment

So for now I will leave them in their happiest moment and the next time I post on Caro I will come back to her affair with Byron and cover some of their less happier times. You can catch up on all the earlier parts of Caro’s story on the index .

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.  

Dangerous Love of a rogue from Zoe

The next story about sub-characters in The Dangerous Love of a Rogue is now also available preorder. The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel is Peter’s story. See below to order. 

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Peter’s Story can be found in the Magical Weddings, summer boxset, you can preorder on Amazon here, it is also available from other eBook suppliers. 

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Or grab any one of my books, with free novellas and full novels in the UK from £1.20 and in the USA from $1.99 

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Go to the index

For

  • 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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