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 least 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 Victoria’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.

London’s Burlington House

© Cheryl Bolen

Burlington House, located on London’s busy Piccadilly near the Piccadilly Circus, is now seen by thousands who view exhibits there of the Royal Academy.

But the former aristocratic home is significantly altered from what it was when Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, engaged Scottish architect Colen Campbell to redesign it in 1718 when the earl was 26. Indeed, the earl’s home significantly altered the previous home there, built in 1667 by the 1st Earl of Burlington. The 1st earl engaged William Kent to design the baroque interiors, some of which remain today.

During the 1st earl’s lifetime, Burlington House was a hub for artists, including Handel, who reportedly lived there for three years, Swift, and Pope.

The 3rd earl succeeded at age 10. (See my previous blogs on the 3rd Earl of Burlington in “Chiswick House: Quintessentially Georgian” https://cherylsregencyramblings.wordpress.com/?s=chiswick+house and “The Grand Tour” https://cherylsregencyramblings.wordpress.com/?s=the+grand+tour.)

Campbell was heavily influenced by Italian Andrea Palladio—whom the earl also came to emulate when he designed his Chiswick House as a Thames-side villa.

This is a view of Burlington House from Piccadilly as it looked in the lifetime of the 3rd Earl of Burlington

This is a view of Burlington House from Piccadilly as it looked in the lifetime of the 3rd Earl of Burlington

Burlington House was one of a handful of London residences that were constructed on large plots of land with outbuildings. (I’ve previously blogged on Devonshire House and Albany, both located on Piccadilly near Burlington Houston, and both of which were on large plots set back from the street.) The main house is some distance away from the Victorian archway into the forecourt in front of the house.

Campbell’s Palladian main house remains today, but a third story was added in Victorian times. Also added in Victorian times was the building, centered by a huge open arch, which lines the sidewalk on Piccadilly. This building houses the various “learned societies” which occupy the site and is not open to the public.

The earl’s estate passed to his grandson, the Duke of Devonshire, who never resided there. In 1815, the 6th Duke of Devonshire sold Burlington House to his uncle Lord George Cavendish, and Lord George built the adjacent Burlington Arcade (see my previous blog).

In 1854, the property was sold for £140,000 to the British government, which eventually leased it to the Royal Academy for 999 years. It also was chosen to house five “learned societies.”

Burlington House today (now the Royal Academy), note the third floor added in Georgian times

Burlington House today (now the Royal Academy), note the third floor added in Victorian times

The main house’s John Medejski Fine Rooms, often open free to the public, were restored in 2004 to what they would have looked like when The Earls of Burlington lived there. I have had the good fortune of viewing these lovely rooms, which include some designed by Kent 300 years ago. For those planning a trip to London, I would suggest seeing The Royal Academy on the weekends, when more rooms are open.

Kent's ceiling today

Kent’s ceiling today

Kent's dinner room

Kent’s dinner room

Sidewalk (on Piccadilly) entrance today. This addition was completed in Victorian times.

Sidewalk (on Piccadilly) entrance today. This addition was completed in Victorian times.

 

London’s Burlington Arcade

© Cheryl Bolen, 2014

Almost two hundred years after it was built, the Burlington Arcade still remains one of the most prestigious shopping areas in London. The upscale shopping promenade, which features arcades, bowed store fronts, and a glazed roof, opened on Piccadilly in 1819. The “mall” was to serve as a prototype for its many imitators over the past two centuries.

Burlington Arcade is adjacent to Burlington House, which the 6th Duke of Devonshire sold to his uncle, Lord George Cavendish (1754-1834) in 1815. Lord George loved his house and adjacent garden, which was one of a handful of aristocratic London homes that were surrounded by gardens. Unfortunately, the wall around his garden was no deterrent to those who threw oyster shells, dirt, and broken bottles onto his property.

Burlington Arcade, 1837

Burlington Arcade, 1837

To keep his garden clear of litter, Lord George commissioned Samuel Ware to design the arcade to run along the western perimeter of his property, and it opened in 1819 with 72 two-story units. The arcade separated Burlington House from Albany, another magnificent home built by Lord and Lady Melbourne nearly three decades earlier. Like Burlington House, the walled property around Albany consisted of a parking court, outbuildings, and garden.

inside arcade

Inside London’s posh Burlington Arcade today

Just steps from Piccadilly Circus, Burlington Arcade’s shops offers high-quality goods ranging from fine cashmere and jewelry to leather goods. Just as it was during Lord George Cavendish’s lifetime, the arcade is still patrolled by beadles in top hats and frock coats, modeled after Lord George’s regiment, the 10th Hussars. And it still is a go-to place for top-quality goods. Next blog: Burlington House