Tag Archives: Lords

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:

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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 indeed 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 Beaufort 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:

Handsome Devils and Their Digs: Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe

If a strong, serious profile makes the man, Lord Stratford Canning is made.  A bit stern of lip, perhaps, and knife sharp of nose, but this fellow has an intensity about him that draws the eye.  Most amusing to me, he actually looks uncannily like an ex of mine, which if I had no respect for his privacy, I would share.  Strange to look at a 19th century face and see a likeness–you would be dumbstruck by the resemblance, I’m telling you!

Lord Stratford Canning, 1st Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe, is 29 in this 1814  portrait and didn’t ascend to the peerage until 1852.  During his lifetime, he was most distinguished as a diplomat wherein he traveled as far as Washington and Constantinople.  He served as ambassador to the Ottoman Empires three times, his first appointment commencing during the Napoleonic wars, and although he was appointed Russian ambassador in 1832, Tsar Nicholas I didn’t think kindly to meeting him.  He was never received and the snub affronted all of England.  England’s foreign office subsequently refused to appoint a new ambassador, assigning the lowlier position of charge d’affaires instead.  The reasons for the Tsar Nicholas’s resistance can be explained by the danger the viscount posed.  As ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, he was well seasoned regarding Russian’s interests in the East.  Russia, fearing his politcal influence, prefered to work with a gentleman who had less intelligence on her foreign affairs.  The strength of the viscount’s personality was also a knock against him.  He was known for his “quick feelings” and “outspoken frankness” which had made him unpopular, among others, with the Russian ambassador’s wife.

Anglican Church, aka Crimean Church, in Istanbul of which Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe laid the foundation

As a result of his career, the viscount was infrequently in England.  He owned a townhouse in Grosvenor and called London home.  Based on what I found in the Gentleman’s Magazine, it appears the viscount was short-changed by his grandfather in regard to inheriting the family estate of Garvagh.  The estate was unentailed, the process of which I am very much in the dark about, and passed to the viscount’s uncle–a younger son–instead of directly to his father.  His father, Stratford Canning, was an Irish member of a banking and mercantile firm, but the family was by no means without any aristocratic relations, if still green around the edges.  His first cousin (the fellow who inherited Garvagh in Londonderry, Ireland) became 1st Baron of Garvagh in 1818 and had a mesalliance with the actress Mary Costello, whom he eventually married.  He later served as prime minister.

In regard to romance and marriage, the viscount wedded twice.  By all accounts, he loved his first wife,

Although he had children, the viscountcy went extinct with his death.  His first wife died without producing an heir and his only son with his second wife failed to have children and died before his father.

For an in depth look at the viscount’s fascinating life, including 19th century political matters and selections from his personal memoirs and letters, see The Life of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe.

Handsome Devils and Their Digs: 4th Earl of Aberdeen

George Hamilton-Gordon was not only a hottie, he had a big heart.  Upon visiting his Scottish estate of Haddo house in 1805 for the first time since childhood,  he was stunned by the impoverished conditions surrounding his tenants.  His father and grandfather had accrued large debts during their lifetimes and instead of squandering what little money he had, George invested his inheritance in agriculture and husbandry to improve the welfare of those under his protection.   Impressive for a man who ascended to the earldom at age 17.

George also appeared to be a softie in the love department.  At age 21 he married Lady Catherine Elizabeth Hamilton, daughter of 1st Marquess of Abercorn.  She died of tuberculosis in 1812, their heir and only son having died two years prior.  Without issue, George did marry his widowed sister-in-law Harriet Douglas in 1815 at the insistence of his father-in-law.  The marriage was a disaster.  George remained in love with his previous wife and had a strong dislike for Harriet saying she was one of the stupidest persons he had ever met.  Ouch!  Harriet hated Haddo house, the Aberdeen ancestral seat, and was unkind to his daughters from his first marriage.  By 1819 they were already living apart.

Marital difficulties aside, George’s life had its satisfactions.  After the death of his parents, he appointed William Pitt the younger as his guardian, a relationship with evolved into a close friendship.  As promissed by Pitt, he gained an English peerage in 1814, allowing him access to the House of Lords (Scottish peers did not have rights to a seat) and a secure, if ultimately rocky, future in politics.  He was also a devoted father, a fellow of the Royal Society, a scholar with interest in archaeology and Greece from his Grand Tours days, and Prime Minister from 1852 to 1855.

For more on today’s handsome devil:

Handsome Devils and Their Digs: 5th Viscount Chetwynd

On account of the summer heat, I’m feeling blog malaise and so I thought, what better way to revive myself and all of you than a bit of aristocratic eye candy?  Wigs notwithstanding, there were some striking faces in the bunch, especially if you like serious looking fellows.

Without further ado then, I invite you to unearth your inner gold digger (in the 18th century, this was no crime!).  Kindly allow me to present what might have been your future prospects if you were a) a lady of the ton living in Georgian England or b) a romance novel heroine.

First off, Richard, 5th Viscount of Chetwynd.

By Thomas Gainsborough, 1780s

(c)  Gainsborough’s House.  Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Chetwynd Digs (I’m misleading you here.  I’ll explain below):

The magnificent Ingestre Hall actually passed down to the 2nd Viscount Chetwynd’s daughter, Hon. Catherine Chetwynd, by testementary will which allowed the estate to pass to Catherine and her eldest male son, who  later became the 1st Earl of Talbot and Viscount Ingestre .  During this time, women could inherit if no male heirs remained.  As this was not the case, I’m not exactly certain what happened regarding the estate falling out of succession with the next Viscount Chetwynd.  In all likelihood, the estate was not entailed.

The 2nd Viscount’s sons having predeceased him, the title of Viscount Chetwynd passed to his brother, William, who was the heir-at-law.  Richard, our handsome devil of the day, was the great- grandson of William and was born at Heywood Park, Staffordshire.  Given that I couldn’t find any pictures of Heywood, Ingestre Hall is what you get to associate Chetwynd with for now.  I’ll aim for full-on accurancy next post.  Promise.

What else might you like to know about the Chetwynds?

  • They hail from Bearhaven, County Kerry, Ireland
  • The viscountcy was created by King George I in 1717
  • The family motto is Probitas Verus Honos: Probity is true honor
  • 6th Viscount Chetwynd, Richard’s son, was known as “Oroonoko Chetwynd” due to his dark complexion.  Oroonoko was the enslaved African prince in Aprha Behn’s 1688 novel of the same name.

On Entailment

Entailing property ensured the ancestral seat of any given aristocratic title  remained in the family, thereby retaining the rank, both in wealth and history, due to the peerage.  A number of problems existed when daughters inherited.  Firstly, in the case of several daughters, the estate would be broken up into equal portions.  When only one daughter was present to inherit, the estate would pass to her husband’s male descendants and out of the original patriarchal line.  Where primogeniture ruled, however, the estate was guaranteed to remain whole because entailed property could not be sold or deeded outside the succeeding male line.  This is exactly the dilemma of the Bennet family in Pride & Prejudice with Mr. Collins.  See Land, Law, and Love from the Jane Austen Society of North America for a more comprehensive  explanation of entailment.