Let’s talk about the macabre: was Byron truly so original

Dressing up in macabre costumes and seeking to frighten others for pleasure has been

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Lord Byron

considered as entertainment for centuries. The Victorians loved their gothic reconstructions and the Tudors loved the intrigue of hiding behind masks and dressing up so they could pretend to be someone else. Then the infamous Lord Byron set up his group of wild friends at his ancient, mostly fallen down, Newstead Abbey. There they drank their toasts from the crown of a monk’s skull while playing blind man’s buff with his pet bear. Byron also loved to dress in false monks’ robes and to lead his friends in ceremonies. There is also the picture of him in his Turkish costume which again professes how much he liked to lead fashion and act a part.

Byron liked to be one of the ringleaders in shocking others with his macabre behaviour. For instance setting Shelley, his young mistress and her sister to writing ghost stories on a dark stormy night abroad;  the tale that became Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But was Byron really as original as he would have had his friends think? Or was he flattering another man, a man, by his actions, I would guess he revered for achieving shocking acclaim years before Byron.

IMG_1004You may have heard of the Hellfire Club, set up by Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord le Despencer. The Hellfire Club was established long before Byron’s birth. To the left is Dashwood, dressed as both a monk and in eastern attire.

 

But the similarity in Byron’s behaviour extends not only to his choice of costumes but also his choice of macabre games and there setting.

Sir Francis also loved a mock ceremony and while Byron had inherited his abbey, Sir Francis had rented one solely to host his ceremonies. You can read more about Medmenham Abbey on the board in the picture below.

When the Hellfire Club met the men wore their monks’ robes the women wore masks to cover their identity and they went by pseudonyms.

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Byron’s last supper in England, that he ate in the company his closest friends (those who knew his most shocking secrets and overlooked them), is often spoken of. Yet Sir Francis took his ceremonies much further towards the shocking by naming his clubs superiors as twelve men, the apostles. These twelve men wore different robes to those who were deemed inferior. Sir Francis saw himself as the group’s antichrist and toasted the devil.

Sir Francis began clearing out the tunnels of the former mine in 1748 to create his network of caves. He dug down into a hill beneath his family church and set up his inner temple, where only his apostles might go, 100 meters, exactly beneath, the church. He rented Medmenham Abbey in 1750 probably about the time the caves were also finished and the clubs pattern of macabre ceremonies began.

The Hellfire Club’s gatherings in the caves began in the banqueting hall, where after a dinner, served by Dashwood’s servants, they entertained themselves in the niches about the room. Then the twelve superiors separated themselves from the crowd and walked on through more symbolic tunnels, over an underground stream (the river Styx) to the inner temple where no one knows what they got up to because none of them told the tale.

 

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The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama

The Tainted Love of a Captain #8 – The last episode in the Marlow Intrigues series

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The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all 

The Illicit Love of a Courtesan #2 

The Passionate Love of a Rake #3

The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4

The Dangerous Love of a Rogue #5

The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel #5.5

The Persuasive Love of a Libertine #5.75  now included in Jealous Love, (or free if you can persuade Amazon to price match with Kobo ebooks) 😉

The Secret Love of a Gentleman #6 

The Reckless Love of an Heir #7

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

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For

  • 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,
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Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional historical and contemporary 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. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

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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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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