Friday, December 19, 2008

Tart of the Week: Lady Caroline Lamb

The notorious name of Caroline Lamb has graced this blog many times. Now it is time to expand about this curious creature who unfortunately has gone down in history as a spurned lover. Lady Caroline was the third child of Harriet, Countess of Bessborough but not necessarily the daughter of the Earl of Bessborough, but that is a story for another time. Because Caroline Ponsoby was Georgiana's niece by way of her sister she is considered by way of this blog, to be Devonshire Progeny. This elite little group means each member gets their own nickname, in Caroline's case, Caro.

In 1802 the reckless teenage Caro's attention fell on the Honourable William Lamb. William was the son of Lady Melbourne (former leader of the ton and great friend to Georgiana) but not necessarily of Lord Melbourne. William reciprocated Caroline's attention and the two fell for each other. Caro's mother was not pleased with the potential match. She was not a big fan of Lady Melbourne and wanted to avoid united the families with marriage. Harriet was also concerned about loosing her only daughter, who consumed much of her attention and was not the easiest child to raise. Caro was determined though, and in 1805 she married William who soon afterward succeeded his brother as Viscount Melbourne.

The marriage was rough from the start. Caroline and William had a difficult time conceiving and giving birth to a healthy baby. William also was really involved in his political career which meant less time giving Caroline attention, and if Caro couldn't get the attention she needed immediately she was going to seek other means of getting it. This meant a series of lovers. It also meant being a party monster. The Lambs (who were never saints) were outraged and demanded William separate from Caro. He always seemed to prefer being either ignorant of her antics or remain quiet. I'm sure this only made things worse.

In 1812 the 27 year old Caroline met the dashing 24 year old poet Lord Byron. He sought her out at a party, she played hard to get, a torrid affair began. After the chauvinist Byron had amused himself by successfully capturing Caro's heart he grew bored and then amused himself with seeing how far she would go with ruining her marriage. He was more in love with the challenges their affair presented than Caro herself. Caro, in turn, became obsessively in love with him and when he dumped her, she did not take it all. First she went a little crazy, and then even her mother got involved, but eventually it was able to simmer down to the two making catty remarks. He called her a skeleton, she made fun of his club foot; all in all there were some great insults exchanged.

Sadly though, Caro's scars were more than skin deep. She still sought revenge and began exhibiting more abnormal behaviors. The Melbournes were not only telling William to get a separation from Caroline, they were also trying to convince him to get her institutionalized. Soon, her Aunt Lavinia jumped on the bandwagon and when Caro found out she was hurt and angry. Meanwhile Byron wasn't doing so hot either; rumors of sodomy, incest, and exile were all the talk. But this still didn't lighten Caroline's spirits. Soon afterward she lost her temper at a servant and threw something at him which nailed him in the head. She then panicked, thinking she had killed him; but luckily he survived the assault.

Caroline found a brief solace in taking on a literary career. Her 1816 Gothic novel, Glenarvon was published anonymously but everyone knew who wrote it based on the fact it was based on those in Caro's life, especially Byron. The book was a huge commercial success but it further alienated Caro from her family and friends. Caro St Jules was disgusted by how it insulted William, and Lady Melbourne couldn't even finish the book. This just made Caroline sink into a depression again. She just couldn't win.

A series of deaths further deteriorated Caro's fragile state. When her mother died in 1821 her brothers and friends rushed to her side knowing that it was Harriet who kept Caro balanced for many years. Then, three years later, Caro accidentally came across Byron's funeral cortège and that really sent her over the edge. She suffered a nervous breakdown and spent her remaining years in rumored insanity at her home, Brocket Hall. This tragic heroine died in 1828.


  1. I think her portraits are just gorgeous. I wish I could meet Byron - I never can figure out why women were so attracted to him! Was the bad boy image just so unique at the time?

  2. Well, in the 18th c it was very attractive to be witty and intelligent...and everyone became obsessed with Byron after his book came out, even he said he woke up famous one day. But I think he was also mysterious and Romantic (in a literary sense). And yes, he did have that bad boy image which was just so irresistible!

  3. Unstable, talented, passionate, and well-connected. Those qualities, along with her obsession with Byron, earned her a spot in history. It helps that she was a drop dead gorgeous pixie and that her husband tolerated her behavior. As for Byron? A certified dandy. His impeccable attire and attitude of studied ennui, coupled with his talent for poesy, would have driven any regency miss (or missus) wild.

  4. the things that we do for men ??? :(

  5. I found it hard to put Lady Caro into words (especially in blog-size words) because she is just as Vic perfectly stated

  6. LOVE this post! How do I become a tart of the week? I think I could have been infatuated with Byron as well, he was quite the leading man, I hear.

  7. Caro was the one who famously described Byron as "mad, bad and dangerous to know."

    That has always been my favorite description of a historical figure, ever.

  8. Oh, and Byron would have been the equivalent of the Beatles in terms of popularity. He was one of the (if not the) first "rock star" type of celebritiy, famous as much for who he was as for his artistry, mobbed wherever he went, etc.

  9. I like that comparison! Even his over-night success surprised him, and coming from a man like Byron, I think that says a lot!