The Torrid Life of Lady Caroline Lamb

© Cheryl Bolen

The facts of Lady Caroline Lamb’s life are presented in Paul Douglass’s 2004 biography, but as an English professor (at San Jose State University), Douglass is more interested in Lady Caroline the author than Lady Caroline, lover of the great Romantic poet Lord Byron.

Lady Caroline Lamb

Lady Caroline Lamb

The biographical information includes information on her birth and the privileged set into which she was born. She was the only daughter of Frederick Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon and his wife Harriet, the youngest daughter of the first Lord Spencer. The Duke of Devonshire was Lord Duncannon’s first cousin; the Duchess of Devonshire was Lady Duncannon’s sister. Because Lady Duncannon was caught up in the fast lifestyle of the Whig ladies of the era, she had several lovers, among them Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the playwright and great Whig orator. Douglass suggests the possibility that Sheridan might actually have been Lady Caroline’s father, but he also says, “Sheridan’s amazingly facile tongue, moodiness, and tendency toward self-destructive behavior all find echoes in Lady Caroline’s personality, though it is unlikely they were related by blood.” Born November 13, 1785, Lady Caroline spent most of her early years abroad and could speak and write fluently in French and Italian. In 1793 her father succeeded, becoming Earl of Bessborough. Though she was very close to her mother, Lady Caroline — always a high-strung child — was also close to her maternal grandmother, Lady Spencer, who attempted to counteract her own daughter’s influence with piety. At age nineteen, Lady Caroline married William Lamb, the second son of Lord and Lady Melbourne, though he was almost certainly sired by his mother’s lover Lord Egremont. Caro had known him all her life. He wrote that he had been in love with her for four years but could not hope for her hand until he became Lord Melbourne’s heir when his elder brother unexpectedly died. As heir, he would be a suitable match for a high-born girl like Lady Caroline.

William Lamb

William Lamb

Had she not fallen in love with Lamb, she was destined to marry either her cousin who would be the sixth Duke of Devonshire or the cousin who would be the third Lord Spencer. Though she was madly in love with Lamb before the marriage, she was extremely moody the first few weeks of her marriage. It is believed she was shocked over what went on in the bedchamber between a husband and wife. Seven months later she gave birth to a premature girl, who died shortly after her birth. The following year she gave birth to her son Augustus Lamb. She adored her infant son, but as he became older it was clear he was mentally handicapped. Douglass said Augustus was retarded, but he gives no examples and scarcely mentions Augustus after his birth. (From other sources, it appears the boy may have been autistic.) Douglass does say that Caroline insisted that the boy not be put away but always stay with her or his father. Having befriended Byron’s publisher John Murray, Caroline read Byron’s “Childe Harold” before its publication and — instantly captivated — told Murray she had to meet Byron. (By then, Lady Caroline had already conducted at one flagrant love affair.) Her affair with Byron began the month of Childe Harold’s publication, March, 1812, and like a flame burned with torrid intensity before it was snuffed three months later.

Lord Byron

Lord Byron

During the tempestuous days of their liaison Lady Caroline flung discretion to the wind. Small and thin, she dressed as a page and sneaked into Byron’s chambers for passionate bouts of lovemaking that may have been even too wild for Byron. At first, his passion rivaled hers, but because of the disgrace she was bringing to her husband and family and because he needed to marry an heiress, he backed away from Caro. In an effort to make her despise him, Byron told her of unpardonable acts he had committed. Douglass suggests that Byron admitted to incest with his sister Augusta Leigh and to having sex with boys. Douglass even suggests he forced anal sex on Caroline to make himself loathsome to her. In September, her parents demanded she and her husband go to Ireland with them. Though Byron would write and inform her he no longer loved her, Caroline never could free herself of the debilitating love she felt toward him. She lost all pride. In her twisted sense of intimacy, she exchanged locks of hair with him, but she sent pubic hair. She never stopped writing to him, never stopped begging for meetings with him. In a letter she wrote him two years after their affair she captures her own persona better than any biographer: “I lov’d you as no Woman ever could love because I am not like them — but more like a Beast who sees no crime in loving & following its Master — you became such to me — Master of my soul more than of anything else.” In her obsession over Byron, she became adept not only at copying the style of his poetry but also of copying his handwriting and manner of scratching out words in his writings. She used this to forge a letter to Murray authorizing Caroline to take possession of a Byron portrait that was at Murray’s publishing office. If she could not have Byron, she wanted his portrait – and his writings, writings, which she studied and emulated for the rest of her life. Four years after their affair she published her novel Glenarvon. Hugely popular, it went to several printings but instead of gaining the critical acclaim she so desired, its satire of her own class caused her to be ostracized. But she would not be deterred in her obsession to be an author. She wrote lyrics, poetry, and two more novels. Her relationship with Lord and Lady Melbourne, with whom she was forced to live, had been tenuous ever since the blatant affair with Byron and as her outrageous behavior (throwing crockery, coming to a ball dressed as Byron’s “Don Juan,” shamelessly flirting with the Duke of Wellington) increased, they urged William to separate from her. But the cuckolded William stuck by her.

William Lamb, Lord Melburne, Queen Elizabeth's first Prime Minister

William Lamb, Lord Melburne, Queen Elizabeth’s first Prime Minister

As she slipped into alcoholism in the 1820s he, too, began to be disgusted with her, and he made arrangements to live apart. It was at this time the Melbourne family came to the conclusion she was insane. William would not commit her, but he did hire “keepers” for her. He never divorced her and was at her side when she died at age forty-two. Her death was brought on by her alcoholism. Lady Caroline would never become Lady Melbourne. In a cruel ivony of her life, William succeeded to the title and became prime minister after her death.—Preorders now available for Cheryl’s Duchess by Mistake (House of Haverstock, Book 2), a sequel to the bestselling Lady by Chance.

Jane Austen’s Bath

jane austen center

Bath’s Jane Austen Center

© Cheryl Bolen

Cheryl wrote this for Mary Gramlich’s blog last year

It’s no coincidence that the Jane Austen Center is located in Bath, England. The city has so many associations with her. She visited there several times, so it was only natural she set two of her novels (Persuasion and Northanger Abbey) there.

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

The Georgian era in which she lived is reflected in the city’s Palladian-inspired architecture more than in any other town. Few cities in the world are graced with the uniformity of architecture that Bath has. Throughout the famed watering city, most of the graceful buildings are clad in the pale, golden Bath stone.

Architects John Wood the Elder (1704-54) and his son, John Wood the Younger (1728-1782), designed some of the city’s most prominent buildings, including the Royal Crescent, the Circus, and the Assembly Rooms. These building are well maintained in the 21st century. The Assembly Rooms look as they did when Jane Austen visited and can be toured today. The lovely townhouse at Number 1 Royal Crescent is also offered for touring.

The Romans built a city on Bath’s seven hills much as their own Rome had been built on seven hills. Like Rome, Bath is dissected by a river, the Avon. The heart of the city lies to the west of the River Avon. That is where the old Roman baths, Bath Cathedral, most shopping, the Circus, Queen Square, the Royal Crescent, and the Assembly Rooms are located. The beautiful Pulteney Bridge, built by Robert Adam in much the same style as Florence’s Ponte Vecchio, links the two parts of the city.

Bath's Pulteney Bridge, which crosses the River Avon, was designed by Robert Adam.

Bath’s Pultney Bridge, which crosses the River Avon, was designed by Robert Adam.

Visitors can easily walk the compressed city, though double-decker tour buses will provide interesting commentary.

Cheryl Bolen standing in front of Bath's Royal Crescent.

Cheryl Bolen standing in front of Bath’s Royal Crescent.

A two-time visitor to the city , I was excited to set my popular Brides of Bath series there. The latest installment is the novella, A Christmas in Bath, which brings together most of the characters of the earlier books—with a brand new love story that was hinted at in Book 2, With His Ring.

 

Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill House

© Cheryl Bolen

One of the most well-known men in Georgian England was Horace Walpole (1717-1797), a younger son of the first British Prime Minister, Robert Walpole. Horace would have been assured a certain notoriety because of his family connections, but he also blazed his own trail as a man of letters, a Whig politician, art connoisseur, and builder of Strawberry Hill House.

Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole’s greatest source of fame came from his immensely bestselling novel, The Castle of Otranto, which was first published in 1764. At first released under a pseudonym and purported to be a translation from old Italian documents, Walpole soon took credit for the unique work, which established the genre of the gothic novel.

The rich details of Georgian life in his erudite letters are a valuable resource to historians.

Walpole started building his “gothic castle” in Twickenham in 1749 and continued on it for nearly 30 years, expanding from the original five acres to 46 acres while designing gardens befitting his showplace house. During his lifetime, Strawberry Hill House drew throngs of visitors.

strawberry 1

Strawberry Hill in the 18th century

Though Strawberry Hill was considered in the country during Georgian times, it is located in the present London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames and was one of a proliferation of Thames-side villas erected by aristocrats and other wealthy men during the eighteenth century.

As an aesthete, Walpole filled his beloved Strawberry Hill House with art treasures, mostly antiquarian.

Described as a “natural celibate,” the effeminate Walpole never married and died childless.  After his death, Strawberry Hill passed to his cousin Anne Seymour Damer, then to the Waldegrave family. Losing the Waldegrave family fortune, two Waldegrave brothers authorized a huge auction of the treasures of Strawberry Hill House in 1842. This left the house stripped of all its contents.

The Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University has a database of all Horace Walpole’s art treasures, their current location, and descriptions of those whose ownership has not been traced.

strawberry hill house

Strawberry Hill House today

In 1923, St. Mary’s University purchased Strawberry Hill House and held it for more than three-quarters of a century. In 2007 Strawberry Hill House was leased to the Strawberry Hill Trust, which raised £9 million for the restoration and subsequent reopening of the house.

After two centuries, the house re-opened to the public in 2010 and is administered by the trust. It can be reached by a variety of London transit options. Since it is currently just a three-minute walk from the Thames River Walk around Richmond, it is suggested that visitors walk along the river path from Richmond in order to tour Strawberry Hill House.—Cheryl Bolen’s newest release is A Christmas in Bath (Brides of Bath series)

Sisters of Ill Repute

© By Cheryl Bolen

The names of very few members of the demimonde from Regency England survive. A noticeable exception is Harriette Wilson (not her real name). Her entre´ into history was provided by her own witty pen. The women who once moved in the same circles with Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington, and other aristocrats penned her tell-tale memoirs some years after age and circumstances robbed her of her once-lofty position. And those memoirs are still interesting reading today — even though the bedroom door stays closed.

harriette

At the age of fifteen, Harriette became the mistress of Lord Craven. Though she had been born Harriette Dubouchet, she adopted the surname Wilson, probably in an effort to protect the respectable members of her family. She was one of fifteen children born in London to John Dubouchet (a Swiss) and his wife Amelia, who was thought to be the illegitimate daughter of a well-to-do English gentleman.

Four of the Dubouchet sisters were to become Cyprians. Besides Harriette, these profligates included Fanny, Amy (who bore a son of the Duke of Argyle), and the youngest, Sophy (who brought the family a degree of respectability by marrying a peer).

At age thirteen, Sophy became the mistress of Lord Deerhurst but while still very young managed to persuade Lord Berwick to marry her.

During Harriette’s brief reign over London’s demi rep, she lived in fashionable houses with a staff of servants, patronized the best modistes, and even had her own box at the theatre (where all of London could view the notorious woman).

In her memoirs, Harriette writes of her mother with great affection, explaining that what her mother lacked in fortune she bestowed tenfold in giving her children a fine education. All the children were as fluent in French as they were in English.

Harriette insists that no blame for hers or her sisters’ lifestyle should attach to the mother. “The respect I feel for the memory of a most tender parent,” Harriette wrote, “makes me anxious that she should be acquitted from every shadow of blame, which might, by some, perhaps, be imputed to her, in consequence of her daughters’ errors, and the life they fell into.

It was some consolation to the parents when Sophy snagged a title.

Sadly, the other sisters did not fare as well. Fanny died a painful death after the love of life left her. The circumstances of Amy’s later years are not known, and though little is known of Harriette’s later years, it is thought she died in poverty.

Do You Know Welch Surnames?

©Cheryl Bolen

It’s amazing how mail-order retailers know how to tap into demographics. I’m not quite sure how I got recognized as an Anglophile—which I am—but I regularly get interesting catalogues with all manner of offerings from the British Isles. Today’s had an interesting page offering Welch tartans.

A lot of us are familiar with Scottish names, like Campbell, Douglas, Hamilton, MacKay, Mac Kenzie, and a lot more surnames that start with Mac.

Many of us know the Irish names like Fitzgerald, McConnell, O’Connor, and O’Malley. If it starts with Mc or O’, it’s gotta be Irish.

But I have to plead a certain ignorance of Welch names, even though I knew my maiden name of Williams had Welch origins. Because I read a lot of books by British authors from all eras, I knew a handful of Welch names, like Thomas, Jones, and Evans.

The Welch poet, Dylan Thomas

The Welch poet, Dylan Thomas

For those of you not fortunate enough to get these catalogues, here is a list of Welch names:

St. David, Davies, Edwards, Ellis, Evans, Beynon, Griffiths, Gwynn, Harris, Hopkins, Howell, Hughes, James, Jenkins, Lewis, Llewellyn, Lloyd, Meredith, Morgan, Morris, Owen.

Also, Powell, Phillips, Pope, Powys, Price, Pritchard, Prosser, Reece (or Rhys), Rice, Richard, Roberts, Rosser, Thomas, Vaughn, Walters, Watkins, and Wynn.

First Family of Biographers

© Cheryl Bolen

Those of you who read my blogs know I’m a passionate reader of biographies, especially ones about dead Englishmen and women. Quite by accident a few years ago, I realized many of these biographies I’d read were written by three generations of women in a remarkable British family.

These non-fiction titles from my personal shelves were all penned by members of Lady Elizabeth Longford's family.l

These non-fiction titles from my personal shelves were all penned by members of Lady Elizabeth Longford’s family.

This dynasty began with the intellectual Elizabeth Longford (1906-2002), a mother of eight and wife of Frank Packenham, later 7th Earl of Longford (a descendant of the 1st Duchess of Wellington). Elizabeth’s firstborn is eminent biographer Antonia Fraser (b. 1932), and Antonia’s daughter Flora (b. 1958) is one of the premiere biographers in England today.

I hung on every line of Elizabeth’s 1986 autobiography, The Pebbled Shore. She and her future husband were in the first wave of Oxford intellectuals following the first war and were contemporaries and friends with Evelyn Waugh and Lord David Cecil and later were acquainted with Churchill and T.E. Lawrence. They spent the early years of their marriage working toward the social reforms that would later be put into practice throughout the British Isles.

Lady Longford did not come into her own as a biographer until she was in her sixties, but her works were remarkably well researched, especially for that era. Among these are two volumes on the Duke of Wellington, a biography of Lord Byron, and another on Queen Victoria.

Lady Longford, left, and the 8th Duke of Wellington research at Salmanca for her work on the 1st Duke of Wellington.

Lady Longford, left, and the 8th Duke of Wellington research at Salmanca for her work on the 1st Duke of Wellington.

Her always-precocious daughter Antonia has written in several genres, and her body of work is impressive, but she too is a first-class biographer. Among those she has done biographies on are Mary Queen of Scots, King Arthur, Cromwell, Charles II, and most recently, Marie Antoinette.

Perhaps the finest biographer of the three is Flora Fraser, one of Antonia’s six children. No one researches more meticulously. She spends years on her subjects, which have included the six daughters of George III, Queen Caroline, Pauline Bonaparte, and Emma Hamilton. (Note all these lived in the Regency, and of course I’ve read them all!)

The literary Longfords were celebrated at a Foyle's lunch in 1967. Lord Longford's wife is on one side, daughter Antonia on the other, and five more of their children also were authors.

The literary Longfords were celebrated at a Foyle’s lunch in 1967. Lord Longford’s wife is on one side, daughter Antonia on the other, and five more of their children also were authors.

There were many other writers in this esteemed family, including the patriarch. In fact, I’ve got Lord Longford’s History of the House of Lords.—Cheryl Bolen, whose novella A Christmas in Bath will continue her Brides of Bath series set in Regency England.

The Suicide of Lord Castlereagh

© By Cheryl Bolen

Since I strive for authenticity in my Regency-era historicals, especially in my Regent Mysteries, I try to use many personages who actually existed. English Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh makes a few appearances in my A Most Discreet Inquiry (Regent Mysteries, Book 2).

Born Robert Stewart in Ireland in 1769, he was elevated to Viscount Castlereagh at the age of 26 when his father became the Earl of Londonderry. Two years earlier he had entered the English House of Commons, where he would serve until his death in 1822 and which he would lead for the last decade of his life.

Lord Castlereagh

Lord Castlereagh

The same year he entered the English Parliament, 1794, was also the year in which he married Amelia (Emily) Hobart, daughter of John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire. Castlereagh’s maternal grandfather (Francis Seymour Conway, 1st Marquess of Hertford) as well as his father-in-law had both served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Lord and Lady Castlereagh were devoted to each other but never had children. Lady Castlereagh became well known in London as one of the patronesses of Almack’s.

As Secretary of War in 1809, he challenged Foreign Secretary George Canning to a duel at Putney Heath. In the duel, he shot Canning in the leg and had to leave government for the next three years.

He returned in 1812, at the age of 43, becoming Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, a position her held for ten tumultuous years, while also leading the Tories in the House of Commons. Despite that he worked tirelessly for his country to ensure a lasting European peace, he was extremely unpopular not only with the populace he served but also among newspaper editors and political cartoonists.

He succeeded his father as Marquess of Londonderry in 1821, but since it was a non-representative Irish peerage, he could still serve as leader of the House of Commons of Great Britain.

Two weeks before his suicide the next year he began suffering from paranoia, which could be attributed to the years of abuse by an angry citizenry and press, overwork, or even gout. He imagined himself persecuted from every quarter and became irrational and incoherent. His devoted wife continued sleeping with him but removed pistols and razors from his reach and kept in close contact with her husband’s physician, Dr. Bankhead, who had cupped him.

Three days before his death he met with King George IV, who became upset over Castlereagh’s mental state, as did the Duke of Wellington, with whom he was close. Knowing that he was losing his mind, Castlereagh left London for Loring Hall, his country estate in Kent.

The morning of his death he became violent with his wife, accusing her of being in a conspiracy against him. She left their bedroom to call the doctor. That was when her husband went to his dressing room with a small knife which he had managed to hide. He stabbed himself in the carotid artery. Just as Dr. Bankhead entered the room, he said, “Let me fall on your arm, Bankhead. It’s all over!”

The suicide of Lord Castlereagh

The suicide of Lord Castlereagh

The nation was shocked. Even his bitter parliamentary opponent Whig Henry Brougham mourned him. “Put all their other men together in one scale, and poor Castlereagh in the other – single he plainly weighed them down,” Brougham said. “Also he was a gentleman, the only one amongst them.”

Lord Byron did not agree. He wrote over his grave:

Posterity will ne’er survey
A nobler grave than this:
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and piss.

Despite the circumstances of his death—attributed to insanity—the longtime Foreign Secretary was buried in Westminster Abbey near his political ally and mentor William Pitt. –Cheryl Bolen, whose novella, A Christmas in Bath, continues her Brides of Bath series set in Regency England.