Lady Caroline Lamb’s whole disgraceful truth… Part three – a wild life abroad

CarolinelambCaroline was called a brat by her family when she was young, but I am not really surprised she did not behave well when I researched her childhood. But before I tell you some of the stories I’ve discovered, here’s the short intro for anyone discovering this series of posts today… If you’ve read it before, then read on from the short section of 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.”

A letter from Caroline’s grandmother (mother of Georgiana, the Duchess, as well as Harriet, Caroline’s mother) sums up her family’s frustration with her behaviour

We had a sad day again with Caroline. The irritation of this Dear Child’s temper must be from illness – doctor Drew persists that it is only Obstinacy and that harsh means must be used – but from all I can observe they only irritate and make more obstinate while the perpetual Crying they occasion shakes her delicate little frame and makes her pale as Death – at least while this extreme hot weather continues – which I am sure disagrees with her, I must try what encouragement and indulgence will do but her perverseness is beyond what can be described or conceived.’

They were living in Italy, as I said last week they had traveled abroad when Georgiana became pregnant with Grey’s child, banished by the Duke, but now Georgiana had been forgiven, and both she and Bess had returned to England, but due to Harriet’s poor health, left Harriet and Caroline in Italy, with Lady Spencer. Harriet had cried on their departure and been comforted by seven year old Caroline. So Caroline’s world would have changed dramatically once  more as half their family group left them behind.

Before they had left, Caroline’s life may have been erratic, but according to a letter written by her mother to Caroline’s brothers who were back in England, Caroline captured moments of pleasure. ‘Your sister complains bitterly of being made to lie down and go to bed in broad sunshine, but luckily it does not disagree with her. She is growing quite a little Italian. I have drawn you the picture of her little fox which she is very fond of and hopes one day to show you.’  She had found the fox during a long walk, when she had gone off rambling on her own, and rescued it.

But then Harriet became more poorly, and where previously her mother had managed Caroline’s education, now Harriet was too ill Caroline’s education was left to Tutors including Dr Drew, who believed in harsh punishment.

Caroline is recorded as craving attention. Caroline’s grandmother wrote… ‘She asked me the other day if her doll did no look very droll today, to which for the sake of peace I answered Yes and then changed the conversation to something that I thought would interest her. I took her out and walking we called upon some little girls she likes to play with, we read together, I told her one or two stories, but at the end of every occupation and every change of place, she asked me with a fretful tone. “Why won’t you answer me Grandmama, I say my Doll looks very droll today.”

And then her precious grandmother lost patience with her tempers too. One record of Caroline fretting, is noted as ending with her being sent away from her ill mother to Lady Spencer, ‘I was obliged to whip her severely, by which I mean three smart strokes with my hand, for more than that can never I think be necessary.’

And so the records go on… Caroline ‘outrageously Naughty…’ ‘so excessively naughty all day as to make both Harriet and me uneasy from the fear she was not well.’ ‘excessively obstinate perverse and ungovernable.’

In the end her grandmother bought a book called ‘The Happy Family‘ to teach Caroline that rewards came to those who behaved.

But then we hit a crux of the issue perhaps, when its recorded that if her mother or someone, ‘give up our whole day to her, she is well contented, but if she sees us employed or in conversation it is then she begins.

Caroline’s grandmother once records the tutor, Dr Drew insisting on Caroline being carried away from the dinner table, while she screamed and shouted, and her Italian Master Nandini (whose name appears as a baddy in one of the novels she wrote as an adult) was of the same opinion that Caroline should be severely disciplined.

Then finally in September, Caroline’s father returned with her youngest brother, and took the family to Naples, but then Caroline fell ill, and so her father took her brother away with him to see Rome.

It was while they were separated that Harriet and Caroline received the news that Harriet’s friend, Marie Antionette, had been guillotined, and then another person to steal her mother’s attention came into Caroline’s life. An officer who was 12 years younger than Harriet, met her and fell for her instantly, Granville Leveson-Gower. He was constantly with Harriet, taking her time from Caroline.

Then Caroline fell severely ill and nearly died with a fever but was nursed all through the winter and spring by her grandmother.

The family finally returned to England in August 1794, when Caroline was still only eight, but it was with Granville Leveson-Gower still in tow and taking her mother’s attention. He would travel to London to meet Harriet in her town house, for illicit moments, and then when the family moved to Teignmouth to spend the winter, then he would travel from where he was stationed in Plymouth to visit Harriet.

Caroline was now also recorded as a good rider, although she rode astride and ignored the sidesaddle, but she could saddle and bridle her own horse.

But then came a moment in Caroline’s upbringing that really did surprise me, bearing in mind the family were at the top of society and titled – Harriet sent Caroline to a girls’ school.

I really didn’t know the Georgians sent girls to school, and yet Harriette Wilson’s middle (tradesman’s) class family had sent Harriette too a girl’s school in France, and now I discover even the best families sent their girls off to school. I knew they sent boys. But girls? And yet Jane Austen and her sister were sent away to school too. So it must have been extremely common I think.

More  about the girl’s school Caroline went to next week 😉 But in the mean time The Lost Love of a Soldier is out this Thursday!! Very excited!!


The Lost Love of Soldier

The prequel to The Illicit Love of a Courtesan

is available to pre-order just click on the cover in the side bar


 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 most booksellers in paperback


A day in the life of Eighteenth Century Bath

Trip to Bath Arrival at Bath
Thomas Rowlandson

In ‘Beau’ Nash’s day when a gentleman or lady arrived at Bath, as described by Oliver Goldsmith in 1762, they were welcomed by a peal of the Abbey bells. For this luxury people generally gave the bell ringers a gift of half a guinea or more, dependent on the person’s fortune, generosity or ostentation. Oliver Goldsmith comments on the disturbance this caused the sick, then says the ‘pleasure of knowing the name of every family that comes to town recompenses the inconvenience. Invalids are fond of news, and upon the first sound of the bells, every body sends out to enquire for whom they ring.’

Once the family’s arrival has been announced by the bells, the master of it would go to the public places ‘and subscribe two guineas at the assembly-houses towards the balls and music in the pump-house, for which he is entitled to three tickets every ball night. His next subscription is a crown, half a guinea, or a guinea, according to his rank and quality, for the liberty of walking in the private walks belonging to Simplon’s assembly-house, a crown or half a guinea is also given to the booksellers, for which the gentleman is to have what books he pleases to read at his lodgings. And at the coffee-house another subscription is taken for pen, ink and paper, for such letters as the subscriber shall write at it during his stay. The ladies too may subscribe to the booksellers, and to a house by the pump-room, for the advantage of reading the news, and for enjoying each other’s conversation.’

The Kings Bath from Comforts of Bath
Thomas Rowlandson 1798

Once a family was established the day was usually begun by bathing for an hour or so. Women were brought in a chair in the morning, dressed in their bathing clothes, and went into the water and given a small floating bowl by an attendant. The lady put a handkerchief, snuffbox and nosegay in this bowl and then traversed the baths, either alone or with a guide if she was new to Bath; until she’d amused herself fully and then she called for her chair and returned to her lodgings.

The Pump Room
Thomas Rowlandson

After bathing people immediately gathered in ‘general assembly’ at the pump-house, ‘some for pleasure and some to drink the hot waters’. To take the waters three glasses were drunk at intervals. And while people drank the waters and enjoyed the ‘conversation of the gay, the witty, or the forward’ a small band of musicians played to enliven the atmosphere.

The Pump Room, Abbey entrance

From the pump-house ladies sometimes withdrew to a female coffee-house before returning to their lodgings. While gentlemen withdrew to ‘their coffee-houses to read the papers, or converse on the news of the day, with a freedom and ease not to be found in the metropolis’.

The Public Breakfast, Comforts of Bath
Thomas Rowlandson 1798

Fashionable people ate public breakfasts at the assembly-houses, where they would invite acquaintances, and sometimes order private concerts. Or they might attend lectures on the arts and sciences, ‘which are frequently taught there in a pretty superficial manner, so as not to tease the understanding, while they afford the imagination some amusement’. The concerts were performed in the ballrooms, tickets a crown each. And concert breakfasts were sometimes held at the assembly-houses paid for by the gentlemen’s subscriptions. During these, ‘persons of rank and fortune’ might perform in the orchestra for the pleasure of joining the performers.

The Morning Ride, Comforts of Bath
Thomas Rowlandson 1798

Another morning diversion was to attend a morning service in the Abbey.

Bath Abbey

As Oliver Goldsmith says ‘Thus we have the tedious morning fairly over’. So what of the afternoon?

As noon approaches some people appear on ‘the parade and other public walks, where they continue to chat and amuse each other, till they have formed parties for the play, cards, or dancing for the evening’. While others divert themselves reading in the bookshops, or take the air, walking in town, riding on horseback or in carriages, or even walking into ‘the meadows round the town or, winding along the side of the river Avon, and the neighbouring canal’. Some more adventurous walkers even scaled ‘those romantic precipices that overhang the city’.

Company at Play, Comforts of Bath
Thomas Rowlandson 1798

For the dinner hour people returned from their various recreations and dined on ‘mutton, butter, fish, and fowl’ with ‘utmost elegance and plenty’. After dinner people met again at the pump-house, and then retired with companions to the walks and then to drink tea at the assembly-houses before the evening entertainments began.

The Pump Room

Evening entertainment included ‘balls, plays or visits’ A theatre was erected in 1705 by subscription and there was a public ball every Tuesday and Friday evening.

The evening’s balls began at six with minuets, as I have said in earlier blogs, and as master of Ceremonies Beau Nash insisted the first was danced by ‘two persons of the highest distinction present.’ When the minuet concluded, the lady was to return to her seat, and Mr Nash was to bring the gentleman a new partner. This ceremony was observed by every succeeding couple, every gentlemen obliged to dance with at least two ladies until the minuets were over. They lasted two hours. At eight the country dances began and ladies of quality, according to their rank stood up first. During the short interval at nine the gentlemen helped their partners to tea, before the amusements began again. And then at eleven, Beau Nash entered the ball-room and ordered the music to desist by lifting up his finger. After allowing time for people to ‘become cool’ the ladies were then escorted to their carriages.

And so a day in eighteenth century Bath‘yields a continued rotation of diversions.’ And ‘people of all ways of thinking, even from the libertine to the Methodist, have it in their power to complete the day with employments suited to their inclinations.’


Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and 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