Category Archives: Lovers

A French Lady’s Advice to Her Lover

What it takes to score with a French lady in the 18th century

Translation:

This spaniel that obeys me should serve as the model

Any suitor who would want to woo me:

he is unassuming, obliging, and faithful

Lovers, to be loved, try to imitate him.

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Lady Caro Crops Her Hair

The worst I can say about Lady Caroline Lamb is that she suffered from erotomania.  This is the medical euphemism for saying she was sexually, intellectually, and psychically besotted with Lord Byron to a degree that made him squirm in his trousers.

Lady Caroline Lamb – Thomas Phillips

Their short affair lasted from March to August of 1812 and made an indelible impression on his poetry.  A number are direct rejoinders to Caro’s immoderate behavior.  (*Sigh* All the years I spent at university learning about Romantic poets and never once encountered Byron’s “Remember Thee”.  The poem was a stab at his ex-lover when, in a fit of desperation, she descended upon his household and scribbled in the flyleaf of one of his books “Remember thee!”)

 Lord Byron – Thomas Phillips

For the man she had initially spurned as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” Caro had it bad.  She is credited with being the first celebrity stalker, running her sprightly self around London trying to enflame Byron by Any Means Necessary.  She even impersonated Byron in writing, requesting his favorite miniature portrait of himself from his publishers.

Mimicry was nothing new for Caro.  As Lady Morgan recounts in her memoirs, Caro’s childhood at the Duchess of Devonshire’s household:

Caro’s unconventional education was her solace amid the madness of the aristocracy.  Her perspective turned her into a novelist and poet, and to Byron’s annoyance, a damn good copyist.  He criticized her for modeling the great originals in her work, lamenting over her ability to capture voice—especially his own.

Although history relegates her to the archives of the sexually diseased, she was witty and singular.  Her work and legacy deserve a closer look.  Dickens called her “One of the most interesting stories of fashionable life . . . [a] really clever woman—a heroine in a way. . .”  Byron recognized her eccentricity saying, “I do not at all know how to deal with her, because she is unlike everyone else.” (BLJ 2:222)

Lady Caroline Lamb – Sir Thomas Lawrence (1805)

Caro’s reputation, through much her own fault, was defamed by her peers.  In a letter of November 1824 written to Captain Thomas Medwin, Byron’s biographer and close friend, she imparts her version of a salacious tale following their breakup:

“. . . unhappily, we continued occasionally to meet. Lord Byron liked others, I only him–The scene at Lady Heathcote’s is nearly true–he had made me swear I was never to Waltz. Lady Heathcote said, Come, Lady Caroline, you must begin, & I bitterly answered–oh yes! I am in a merry humour. I did so–but whispered to Lord Byron ‘I conclude I may waltz _now_’ and he answered sarcastically, ‘with every body in turn–you always did it better than any one.  I shall have a pleasure in seeing you.”–I did so you may judge with what feelings.  After this, feeling ill, I went into a small inner room where supper was prepared; Lord Byron & Lady Rancliffe entered after; seeing me, he said, ‘I have been admiring your dexterity.’ I clasped a knife, not intending anything. ‘Do, my dear,’ he said. ‘But if you mean to act a Roman’s part, mind which way you strike with your knife–be it at your own heart, not mine–you have struck there already.’ ‘Byron,’ I said, and ran away with the knife. I never stabbed myself. It is false.”

Take the tale out of context and Caro does seem crazy, but if we are to trust her word, Byron taunted her nearly as much as she harassed him.  They were that broken couple, terrible together, terrible apart.

It didn’t help that Caro refused to shrug off her individuality.  Her inability to comport like other ladies made the ton jittery and even estranged her friends.  She possessed an artful way of living but was artless, by her own account “not a woman of the world.”

Physical and emotional hardships persisted throughout her life.  At age 19, she married William Lamb for love.  By 26, she’d lost a daughter and tried to raise her mentally handicapped son.  She’d turned from her former piety, aped the ton’s moral ambiguities, and taken Byron as a lover.  She was a woman like no other, cropping her hair when hair, no matter how tightly wound upon the head during the day, was long and heavy against the neck at night.  As she said about herself once:

“…everybody wishes to run down and suppress the vital spark of genius I have, and in truth, it is but small (about what one sees a maid gets by excessive beating on a tinder-box). I am not vain, believe me, nor selfish, nor in love with my authorship; but I am independent, as far as a mite and bit of dust can be.” *

Further Information:

The Magnificient Cheek of Harriette Wilson

Harriette Wilson liked to insult her suitors.  Early on in her career she discovered the fastest way to get a man on his knees was to show him how little he could succeed the first go around.  Courtesans, of course, were famous for this.

For a certain caliber of female, hardships birth wit, and to the gentleman trapped in a stratum of dull, mannered ladies, wit was an aphrodisiac.  So, it seems, was cheek.

Harriette’s method was ridiculously simple.  She laid siege to powerful men by writing queries like the one she “half in humour” dashed off to the Prince of Wales: “I am told that I am very beautiful, so perhaps you would like to see me. . .”  When his  reply was returned to her in the affirmative, she further wrote,

This sauciness inspired the ardor of many influential men during her reign, including the Duke of Wellington, the Marquess of Worcester, the Duke of Argyll, and Lord Melbourne’s son, the Honorable Frederick Lamb.  One can scarcely leave out her first lover, the Earl of Craven.

At the age of 15, Craven introduced her to the pursuits of pleasure, but she was no more enamored of him than of his cocoa trees from the West Indies.  By her own account, he would amuse her by drawing pictures of his “fellows” along with the dreaded trees, a practice Harriette called a “dead bore.”  It didn’t help that she despaired of his cotton night cap.  “Surely,”  [she] would say, “all men do not wear those shocking nightcaps; else all women’s illusions had been destroyed on the first night of their marriage.”

Harriette Wilson’s dismal opinion of marriage was borne from early experience: “. . .my dear mother’s marriage had proved to me so forcibly the miseries of two people of contrary opinions and character torturing each other to the end of their natural lives, that, before I was ten years old, I decided in my own mind to live free as air from any restraint but that of my own conscience.”

Although Harriette forbore blaming her parent’s marriage, and indeeded stressed that her dear mother did not influence her choice in profession, an unhappy home life seemed to affect the family at large.  Among her sisters, three of them turned Cyprian—Amy, Sophia, and Fanny.

The closest in age, Harriette and Amy spent their careers competing for affections with the latter sister stealing lovers from the former.  Harriette blamed Amy for instigating the strain between them, once stating, “Amy’s virtue was something like the nine lives of a cat.”  Amy later bore a son by the Duke of Argyll, Harriette’s third lover.

Fanny and Sophia are, by degrees, less interesting.  Fanny was described by a mutual acquaintance as “. . .the sweetest creature on earth.”  Harriette had nothing but affection for her, saying she was “. . . the most popular woman I ever met with.  The most ill-natured and spiteful of her sex could never find it in their hearts to abuse one who, in their absence, warmly fought all their battles . . .”  Settled for seven years after the death of her lover and the father of her three children, Fanny died young after a three week illness.

The youngest sister, Sophia, endowed the family with honor by marrying her protector, Lord Berwick, in 1812.  She, however, inspired much exasperation in Harriette before she retired into matrimonial bliss.  On one occasion, her sisters were in hysterics when the 14 year old Sophia “…went away with Lord Deerhurst [that prince of hypocrites], being innocent as an infant as to the nature of seduction and its consequence . . . Sophie was a child, and not a very clever one…”  The situation sounds strikingly similar to Lydia’s flight with Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.

A connection between Jane Austen and Harriette’s first lover, Lord Craven, can be found here.

 S.W. Fores of Piccadilly printed a caricature by H. Heath in 1825 called “La Coterie Debauché”  

Harriette is writing while her cadre of lovers watch on.

Although a well-known courtesan in Regency times, we have Harriette’s memoirs to thank for her enduring legacy in ours.  The memoirs were published in 1825, a move she describes as a “desperate effort to live by my wits.”  This is a marked contrast from the manner in which she formerly earned her living.  The memoirs gained her a reputation far exceeding that of a demimondaine.  Rather than earning admiration for her enterprise in a sticky situation, she was scorned by her methods.

Harriette was nearing old age–in truth, her thirties–when her protectors decided she wasn’t worth the jangle in their pockets.  Denied the annuity promised by the Duke of Bedford upon her agreement to forsake his heir, the Marquess of Worcester, Harriette was left penniless.  Her beauty diminishing along with her funds, the woman who later wrote, “I will be the mere instrument of pleasure to no man.  He must make a friend and companion of me, or he will lose me,” dared blackmail the feckless gentlemen who had thrown her off.  The famous reply by the Duke of Wellington, “publish, and be damned,” arises from Harriette’s request for funds in exchange to leave his name out of her memoirs.

Regardless of who paid up, the suprisingly tasteful history of her love life earned her a small fortune.  Her publisher, John Stockdale, was forced to queue the crowds that stormed his shop upon the latest print installments.  This nail biting manuever served Harriette well.  The installments tested the nerves of her former lovers while they awaited the appearance of their names in the next issue.  How many cried off at the last minute, we can only imagine.  From the date of their publication, her memoirs increased in notoriety and exceeded Harriette’s hope of twenty editions. reaching thirty in its first year as well as the six volume French version.

Even today they are great reading.  Harriette may have resorted to blackmailing and thereby acquired a reputation for unreliability, but she has an intelligent wit.  She vilified some of her lovers, yes, but treated others with a fair pen.  And she did not always spare herself in the telling.

The eBook format for Harriette’s memoirs can be downloaded free here.

Various plates from a set of eight satirical illustrations to the memoirs of Harriette Wilson from The British Museum

Further Sources:

Ban and Mary: A Lover’s Wager

For a fellow who had earned the nickname “Bloody Ban”, Banastre Tarleton was quite the ladies’ man.  Although not a large man, his compelling physical presence belied his short stature.  He was strong and athletic with reddish hair and dark eyes.  It was his arrogant charm, however, that tantalized the ladies as much as (if not more than) his handsome features and his heroism.

Mary Robinson as Perdita, John Hoppner, 1782

One of the most desirable women in England at the time, the actress Mary Robinson, better known as Perdita, met him through the Prince Regent.  Upon his return to England, Tarleton was hailed as a hero, an honor which granted him membership into Prinny’s exclusive set.  Mary Robinson had been one of Prinny’s many mistresses and had lately found a new protector in Lord Malden.  Much like Tarleton, Malden was convinced of his sexual prowess.  He bet that Mary would remain faithful to him even if Tarleton attempted to woo her away from him.  An account of the bet in the salacious Memoirs of Perdita claimed Tarleton “would not only win her from Malden, but also jilt her.”

Nice guy.

Ever the gambling man, Tarleton’s wager was well placed.  Several weeks after the planned seduction, Mary was in Tarleton’s bed and Lord Malden was astonished.  Up until this point, the three had been a mischievous trio, amusing themselves by playing tricks on Mary’s admirers and would-be suitors.  Now they had a fracture.

Ban in his green coat uniform

Mary was furious when she discovered herself the victim of their scheme.  As his hubris had made him a grand fool, Lord Malden relinquished his role as Mary’s protector, though he did settle upon her an annuity and also a house in Berkley Square.  Tarleton, never truly ruffled by anything, weathered the storm.  He was at Mary’s side in June when she suffered a traffic accident in Hyde Park and this dilligence in attending to her awarded him her forgiveness.

Although their passionate affair evolved into one of increasing strife and reconciliation, Tarleton remained Mary’s lover for 15 years.  They were the celebrity couple of their time.  Wherever they went—to balls, operas, political gatherings—people whispered.

Considered the most fashionably dressed in any room, the young couple made a beautiful pair and the papers loved them for it.  The war hero and actress were fodder for the insatiable public, appearing in the papers with as much frequency as celebrities in today’s supermarket newsrags.  James Gillray, a fledgling cartoonist at the time, published his scathing cartoon, “The Thunderer” (subtitled “Vide; Every Man in his Humour, alter’d from Ben Johnson”) in 1792.

The featherhead is none other than the Prince Regent (the triple feather was his father’s emblem).  Tarleton (with a noticeably large package in his breeches) is regaling Prinny with tales of war.  Mary is the whirligig above the door with a sign reading “A la mode beef, hot every night.”  Every man, we are to assume, gets to have a go at her.  The dialogue reads as follows:

Throughout his relationship with Mary, Tarleton was criticized for keeping around a loose woman who was nothing but a hindrance to him.  His family keenly disapproved, in part because while around Mary, he could not seem to live within his means.  From the previous post, we know this problem predates Mary, but perhaps they thought Mary a bad egg, worsening Tarleton’s profligacy through influence.  They would not be the first family to do so.

Tarleton’s lavish lifestyle with Mary eventually caught up with.  In 1783 his family offered to pay his most pressing debts, a total of £5,000, if he would leave for the continent without his lover.  In desperation, Mary borrowed to prevent this eventuality and chased after him.  She suffered a miscarriage on her journey and, as her biographer Paula Byrne has speculated, experienced partial paralysis of her lower limbs, possibly at the hands of a malpracticing midwife.  Tarleton was greatly aggrieved to hear the news and the couple swiftly reunited in France.

Mrs Mary Robinson – Perdita by Thomas Gainsborough, 1781

Mary’s condition seems to be of no impediment to their relationship.  Although they were on occassion known to be unfaithful, they lived together for many years after her health problems commenced and became known as “the wandering couple”, a reference to their travels while under pressure of debts.

Regarding one affair of signifcance, Tarleton simply shrugged off Mary’s liason with Charles James Fox, saying, “I shall ever applaud the Perdita for being the most generous woman on earth.”  Mary was not so equanimous when Tarleton diddled with another lady.  From the late 1780s, she was known to write poetry and novels portraying Tarleton as a villain and whatnot.

The details of their eventual breakup are not known, but we do know that Tarleton had political ambitions.  He first ran for parliament in 1784, but he didn’t win a seat until 1790.

Over the years, Mary, plagued by her condition, evolved into an independent woman of letters.  Her peers called her “The English Sappho”.  She wrote prolifically, producing numerous poems, six novels, two plays, and a feminist treaty a la A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Wollstonecraft.  She was also working on her unfinished memoirs.

Her liberal, feminist leanings did no favors for Tarleton’s political career.  Compared to his Tory brother (whom he actually ran against once), Tarleton did vote for parliamentary opposition as a Whig, but he was also well known for his support of the slave trade.  One can see how this would not go over well with Mary.

Contemplation, Mrs. Mary Robinson by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1783-1784 (Wallace Collection)

The couple eventually parted ways in 1797.  Mary was left with thousands of pounds of debt, presumably shared, but her relationship with Tarleton had been costly.  When he first ran for MP in 1784, creditors found the couple, living again in England, and took possession of a large majority of Mary’s property.

Tarleton, although a war hero and the author of the successful History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, had very little to live on, essentially half military pay of £341.  Mary also earned  income off her novels, but the numbers were dismal.  Over her writing career, she earned approxiately £460.  Given her and Tarleton’s financial disappointments, perhaps the same woman who published the poem Sappho and Phaon in 1796, a markedly different poem than her “Ode to Valour“, had reason to be bitter.

A year after their final breakup, Tarleton married Susan Priscilla Bertie, the illegitimate daughter of the 4th and last Duke of Ancaster.  They were married for 35 years, but had no children.

After  years of poor health, Mary died in 1800, but in an interesting twist of fates, Susan Tarleton befriended Mary’s only daughter, Mary Elizabeth Robinson.  When Mary Elizabeth, a novelist herself, published the anthology The Wild Wreath in 1804, the engravings were based on drawings of “Mrs. B. Tarleton”.  Their friendship is not entirely surpising given that Mary Elizabeth was raised around Tarleton.  Since she likely had an enduring connection to the  man who was father to her for over 15 years, it was even to be expected.

For more about Mary Robinson and Banastre Tarleton:

My previous post: Handsome Devil’s and their Deeds: Banastre Tarleton

The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide: Tart of the Week: Mary “Perdita” Robinson

Perdita, a biography by Paula Byrne

Mary Robinson’s bio and links to her works from the University of Pennsylvania’s Celebration of Women Writers

Mary Robinson: A Life Lived Extraordinarily (Jane Austen Centre) 

A short article on Sappho and Phaon from The Guardian

The First Actresses Exhibition: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons

All for Love: The Scandalous Life and Times of Royal Mistress Mary Robinson by Amanda Elyot (a novel)

The Prince’s Mistress: Perdita, a life of Mary Robinson by Hester Davenport

For the numbers on Ban and Mary’s pay scale see, Mary Robinson: Select Poems, edited By Judith Pascoe