I said at the end of my post last week that Lady Caroline Lamb went to a girls’ school. In fact the school she went to in Knightsbridge, in 1795 at the age of ten, was the same school which Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra had attended. The school at 22 Hans Place, was run by Frances Rowden a former governess in Lady Caroline Lamb’s father’s family. But before I tell you more, here is a quick recap of the background of this series of posts, if you’ve read it before just skip to where I start again with bold type…
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.”
By 1795 Caroline received regular doses of laudanum to make her temper more manageable for her grandmother (who records mixing drops of laudanum disguised with drops of lavender to keep Caroline calm) and ill mother and aunt found Caroline unmanageable. The Devonshire’s would ensure they only entertained when Caroline was not there, and they hired nurses to take her away from the family. While her mother’s energy was focused on her young military lover.
Numerous letters are still in existence shared between the two of them, which describe not only their love affair, but Harriet’s, and therefore Caroline’s, daily life.
From these letters, and others, we know the family desperately wished to be rid of Caro and place her into the care of others, and so it was that in 1795 at the age of ten she was sent to school.
As a pupil, just as Jane Austen and Cassandra would have done, Lady Caroline Lamb was required to wear a uniform. A white muslin dress with a black apron. At the school they practiced their writing, French and Italian, and were given dance lessons. After lunch there were made to lay on boards for half-an-hour and taught to walk back and forth in a certain way to develop their deportment.
But the school did not particularly calm Caroline’s natural exuberance and wildness.
In January 1797 Caroline writes about herself, to her older cousin (Little G) Lady Georgiana Cavendish – expressing perhaps what she must have been told many times in her life… and then ends her diatribe with an odd riddle.
The damson tree
Damn the trees on
You know damson tree
Damn tree son
That makes treason
Though ’tis good to say
Damn tree son
Ah little, little, little me
Writes to devel, devel G’…
In the same letter Caroline mentions the addictive sins of both her mother and aunt, in words that ring with a note of repetition, perhaps, her mother and/or aunt often said this? ‘Oh Lord what troubles in this be and naught but gambling wine and glee.‘
In 1797 Caroline was integrated back into the family, although still dosed with laudanum. She was allowed to spend the summer visiting with her mother, and Caroline wrote to her cousin G in this period, expressing a little of her family life, ‘We played at Pope jone every night almost for money till nine or a little past, my brothers went yesterday to Harrow before they went they hunted some rats and John threw me a dead one which blooded me. Last night I looked at Jupiter the star through the telescope it looked like a full moon’ – I love the excerpts of normal Georgian life which you find in letters it feels to me like I can touch the past.
In January 1798 Caroline, caught chicken pox, and passed them on to her brother William, as recorded by her mother in a letter to her young lover, Granville, ‘I have never seen anything so pretty as Caroline nursing him.’
But then we have another glimpse of the sort of life which defined Caroline’s childhood, and perhaps influenced who she became. After the bout of chicken pox, the family moved back to London, to Cavendish square. Approaching thirteen, Caroline’s mother and father would now be considering an appropriate marriage, and looking at who they may pair there daughter with when she was of age. But an incident occurred in the family’s London home, when at the age of twelve Caroline walked in to her mother’s dressing room and found her being indelicate with the young officer she had begun an affair with in Naples years before.
The letters between Granville and Harriet give us a window into this experience, Granville made no excuses and simply left. Caroline said to Harriet, she believed he had left because she was ugly, and Harriet wrote to him saying she said, ‘I suppose Lord Granville would not deign to look at me if I am all pitted with chicken pox.’ When her mother asked why she thought this, Harriet recorded Caroline’s answer, ‘he seems too fine a gentlemen to like ugly people‘ Hariet herself then adds, ‘why Caroline supposes you are so govern’d by looks’
You can only wonder at the type of conversations and behaviors that carried on before young Caroline’s eyes…
Just one more set of tales to tell about Lady Caroline Lamb’s childhood next week, and the we will have reached her ‘Coming out‘ :-)
Go to the index
- 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,
- the prequel excerpts for book #3 The Scandalous Love of a Duke
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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