The wonderful thing is that unlike the majority of Caro’s and William’s family, they were in love. His proposal letter made his feelings very clear to Caroline, and many years later William is recorded as telling none other than Queen Victoria that “I do believe if I had been refused, I should have died of it; it would have killed me...”
Likewise Lady Caroline’s family recorded how smitten Caroline was and how torn they were. Lady Bessborough, Caro’s mother, Harriet, saw William as hedonistic, (as if she could talk) but he promised to reform and abide by the will of his potential future mother-in-law. Harriet consulted her sister Georgiana, who described in a letter to Lady Spencer, their mother, how upset Harriet was over Caroline’s choice… and yet Caroline was adamant that she loved William Lamb… “such evidence of the most boundless attachment, that I really believe-so does the Duke, that any check would be productive of madness or death…”
So William and Caro were equally obsessed, and madly in love….
But before I go on, for people new to my blog, here is a little background to this series of posts, and for my followers, just skip to the end of the italics where I have, as usual, marked it 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 Caro and William obtained the final agreement, there is another little true life tale which is a brilliant story to reflect on when I write. Instead of encouraging William to come to the Bessborough’s house to press his suit, Caro asked him to meet her and her family at a performance of Hamlet in Drury Lane. A visit to the Theatre then was not as it is now, and I have written about that before, people met friends there and talked through entire performances, so this is not an odd request from Caro. William would have probably knocked on the door of her family’s Theatre box, and from the descriptions, I imagine him sitting next to Lady Bessborough,who was the one to be persuaded, whispering about his affection for Caro, and making promises of faithfulness, and promising he had the funds to keep her well. His conversation and manner were described as “warm and animated.” You can imagine him using hand gestures and leaning forward expressing his commitment and strength of feeling, and his eyes and his tone of voice probably showed the level of his affection for Caro.
Harriet felt pressured to say yes, and yet the final thing that clinched it was that Caro and William had chosen a public place for what was obviously a very personal and very emotional conversation to any onlooker, and with Lady Bessboroughs, and the Duchess of Devonshire’s reputations for infidelity, and the Lambs reputations for rakishness, it was assumed by some that Caro and William were in the middle of an affair… and so Harriet immediately declared that they were engaged…
That night when Harriet and Georgiana returned to the Devonshire’s town house, they shared Caroline’s news with the Marquess of Hartingdon, ‘Hart’, Georgiana’s only son, who had always believed he would marry Caroline, he was so distressed that she’d chosen someone else he had to be sedated.
The next morning William arrived at Cavendish Square, sure of his success and the family’s agreement, and made his formal request to Lord Bessborough – see again – so much in Romance novel’s is not written as it is in true life – most of us have the call on the father coming first… This is why I love researching through letters and memoirs, you obtain such a rich, real perspective, and you will see this slipping into my books more and more. Caro’s and William’s life has loads of influence on my next historical, but back to Caro.
Her mother’s, her aunt’s, The Duke of Devonshire, and her father’s consent achieved, there was one more person to persuade, ‘I listen for the postman’s knock (who knew the postman knocked in the 1800s 😉 ) with cold hands, and indescribable anxiety. Your peace of mind is I know so connected with yr. dear gdmama’s happiness‘ (that is his abbreviations not mine, the Victorian’s introduced absolute adherence to consistent grammar and spelling 😉 ) The Georgriana’s wrote as they wished – love those people – so much simpler for those of us with dyslexia.
But anyway, of course Caro wished for Lady Spencer’s approval, she had brought Caro up as much as her mother, and Caro was very fond of her.
Clearly William had written and was awaiting an answer, but the family came to Caro’s and William’s assistance. Caro’s brother John (the John who later was the man Harriett Wilson the courtesan fell in love with – society was really not that large), Caro’s uncle Lord Spencer, and Lord Morpeth (Little G’s new husband) all called to add their voice to praise William as Caro’s choice. “The are all wonderfully afraid of my sentiments.” recorded Lady Spencer, describing this barrage of persuasion to a friend.
Finally Caroline visited herself, with a now resigned Hart. “The Dr child was on her knees the tears streaming from her eyes & repeating that she wd not marry without my consent.”
Her grandmother was not convinced, and said she would not approve the match, and challenged the requirement for her consent, saying it was hardly necessary anyway as it was settled.
Caro then read her a letter from William, promising to devote his life to making Caro happy. Lady Spencer conceded only to accept the marriage, and only to accept William once he had proved his affection for Caro.
The Queen and the Prince of Wales approval was given then, and then the special licence was acquired from Archbishop of Canterbury and as all the preparations rushed forward, for fear of another war with France, Caro stayed with her mother at Holywell House, while William lived at Brocket Hall and road the half hour between the two daily to visit Caro.
The night before the wedding the Devonshire’s held a party honouring Caroline, and she received gifts from her family, a burnt-topaz cross from Harryo, bracelets from Hartington, a pearl cross from her Uncle’s paramour, Bess, and Little G (now nine months pregnant) gave Caro an aquamarine clasp and some wrought gold amulets and cameos… While William took an opportunity to give her grandmother a portrait of Caro to dig a little into her affections, which earned him some credit.
Then it was the day of the wedding. They were married in the Bessborough’s residence, No. 12 Cavendish Square, on the 3rd of June 1805, and Caro’s wedding dress was beautifully described by her aunt Georgiana. It had fine lace sleeves, and lace high-up around her neck, giving it an Eastern appearance. She wore one strand of pearls, and under her veil the aquamarine clasp that Little G had given her at the party. Caro is described as looking ‘light and beautifull’ as she walked steadily to join William, and exchanged her vows without hesitation. (A scene directly from a romance novel, but TRUE, how wonderful).
But after the wedding the emotion of the day became too much for Caroline. She loved her family just as much as she loved William, and then to add a beautifully romantic real scene to the end of today’s post, how did William react when the day became too much for her – he is described as walking through the noisy crowd surrounding her and simply picking her up. Then he carried his prize, his petite little Caro whom he loved, and had waited to claim for four years, out to their waiting carriage…
And so next week the stories of their married life begin…
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’.
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