In British Peerage, she’s known simply as the Honorable Caroline Ponsonby and Lady Caroline Lamb.
She was married to the man who would, after her death, become Viscount Melbourne, Lord Melbourne, and the Prime Minister of The United Kingdom, and Queen Victoria’s favorite.
William Lamb, Lord Melbourne
She would never be Lady Melbourne nor the Prime Minister’s wife, she died before all that, and for those of you watching Victoria on PBS this may help to clear UP a conversation or two between Victoria and Lord M.
Lady Caroline Lamb was best known for her literary efforts and her affair with Lord Byron. This is where we’ll spend today’s time.
Just as war was breaking out between The UK and The USA for a second time, in March of 1812, Lady Caroline launched into a scandalous, infamous, and well publicized affair with the “quirky” poet. And why not? After all, he was pretty dreamy for the day. He was a playah to say the least.
At first, Lady Caroline rebuffed his attentions. Byron had a rep, he was clearly bi-sexual, had had affairs with many more than most in his 24 years, and Lady Caroline described him as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”
That he was.
But, something called her to him. So much so, she actually wrote him a “fan” letter – pretty forward stuff for 1812. Ladies just didn’t do that.
But, alas, Lady Caroline was no Lady!
Byron, now that she was interested in him, thought at first to ignore her advances, but as she was the niece of the Duchess of Devonshire, he decided to pursue her passionately; her high social status could help him.
The couple denied the affair publicly but privately pledged their troth from March to August of 1812. When he began to call her Caro, she insisted everyone else do the same.
But, it was a fling, a fancy, a fluke. It didn’t last.
Byron ended it, and Caroline’s husband carted the poor brokenhearted girl off to his Irish estate.
Absence did make the heart grow fonder, and her ardor did not cool.
He wrote back…and made it abundantly clear he was no longer interested.
Her pursuit of the poet became cause célèbre, and a public campaign to reunite her with Byron ensued.
The couple meet again at Lady Heathcote’s ball, and in the heat of a July evening Byron publicly insulted his former lover causing her to break a wine glass and slash her wrists.
Society was scandalized, Lady Caroline was rescued, her mental state questioned, and Byron, ever the rogue, referred to it as just so much theater, claiming, “…Lady Caroline performed the dagger scene.”
But alas, she persisted.
Her obsession with the poet defined her later career and life. It actually influenced his work as well.
They wrote poems in one another’s styles, they wrote poems about one another, and blatantly planted messages to each other in their work.
Her Ladyship’s obsession with Byron was so intense, she stalked him, and during one attempt to gain entry into his home wrote “remember me” in the flyleaf of one of his books.
He responded with this:
Remember thee! Remember thee!
Till Lethe quench life’s burning stream;
Remorse and shame shall cling to thee,
And haunt thee like a feverish dream!
Remember thee! Ay, doubt it not.
Thy husband shall think of thee!
By neither shalt thoug be forgot.
Thou false to him, thou fiend to me!
As to the jilted husband; despite the efforts of his own mother to rid the family of Lady Caroline, William Lamb considered Byron treacherous and supported his wife until her death. He agreed to a formal separation in 1825; he dated, she dated, there was no hypocrisy, it became an open marriage.
She stayed at Brockett Hall, the ancestral home of Lamb. He continued his political climb. She began to drink and abuse laudanum, and by 1827 was under the constant care of her doctor. Her frail frame began to shut down, she retained fluids – then called dropsy – and as she lay dying, the cuckolded Chief Secretary of Ireland made a perilous crossing and was at her side when she died in January of 1828.
Byron had died, from a violent fever at the hands of ignorant Greek physicians, four years before.
He was still mad, bad, and dangerous to know.