Monday, 3 October 2005
Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know
Lady Caroline Lamb & Lord Byron (from two separate paintings)
Life for the rich and fashionable in London during the Regency period (1788 to 1830), was extravagant and decadent. Marriage was mostly seen as a business arrangement, with fidelity being very low on the priority list for both sexes. The idea was that a woman's duty was to provide her husband with at least one male heir. That objective having been achieved, the happy wife was free to amuse herself with as many lovers as she sought fit to.
Lady Caroline Lamb was a typical example of the time. She was brought up in an environment in which all the adults were having affairs and many of her playmates were their illegitimate children. In her early teens she was married off to William Lamb, an ambitious politician and son of Lady Melbourne, ex mistress of the Prince of Wales. Two out of five of Lady Melbourne's children were rumoured to have been fathered by her lovers.
Not long after her marriage Caroline embarked on a series of affairs, which arose her mother-in-law's hostility towards her as she made no effort to conceal her liaisons. A contemporary account describes Caroline as "...a woman of society and of the world, the belle, the toast, the star of the day. She was adored but not content. She had a restless craving after excitement...she was bold and daring in her excursions through the debatable land between friendship and love."
In 1812 Caroline met Lord Byron. He was already as famous for his affairs with women as for his poetry. After first meeting him she wrote in her diary that he was "mad, bad and dangerous to know". A wildly passionate love affair ensued. Lady Caroline's diary entry would however prove to be almost prophetic as alas, for her Byron did turn out to be dangerous to know and their affair led to her downfall. Byron soon got tired of Caroline, characterizing her as wild and improvident as she would often cause scenes in public and was becoming increasingly possessive with him. At one point, he refused to see her and she disguised herself as a boy in order to gain admittance into his lodgings. Byron started feeling that her behaviour was making him look riduculous and so decided to put an end to their affair. In July 1813, he arrived at a party with a certain Lady Oxford and in everyone's presence ignored Caroline completely. This drove her to distraction and she frantically collapsed on the floor screaming, took some broken glass, tried to cut her wrists and then stabbed herself several times with a pair of scissors. She was carried out in a straight-jacket. Although she survived her wounds, her reputation in high society had been ruined.
Posted by Anna at Monday, October 03, 2005