Childhood & Early Life
Lady Caroline was born on November 13, 1785. She was the only daughter of Anglo-Irish peer Frederick Ponsonby and Henrietta, Countess of Bessborough. In 1793, her father became the 3rd Earl of Bessborough.
Lady Caroline was the cousin of Annabella, Lady Byron, who was later married to poet Lord Byron. She was also the niece of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire.
She was known as the Honourable Caroline Ponsonby, until her father became an earl.
She was a fragile child and almost died of a gut infection caused due to worms when she was visiting Italy with her mother.
She was a tomboy in her childhood. As she received no formal education, she could not read until late adolescence. She was taught by private tutors and had a governess who is believed to have given rise to her love for literature.
She soon mastered the art of writing. She was also interested in portrait sketching and was later groomed for court life.
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Lady Caroline's most significant work was the Gothic novel ‘Glenarvon,’ published in 1816. It was released anonymously but had signs of Lady Caroline’s touch. It narrated the tale of a former lover, depicted as a war hero-turned-traitor.
The book was the first to feature a “Byronic hero” apart from Byron's own work. Though the book became popular, critics disliked it and called it pulp fiction.
In 1819, Lady Caroline copied Byron’s style in the narrative poem ‘A New Canto.’ She published three more novels: ‘Graham Hamilton’ (1822), ‘Ada Reis’ (1823), and ‘Penruddock’ (1823). The last one was known as her “pocket-diary” and was published in England.
Relationship with Byron
From March to August 1812, Lady Caroline was in a much-publicized relationship with English poet Lord Byron. Back then, he was 24 and she was 26.
By then, Lady Caroline was already married and had an autistic son. Moreover, her husband, William Lamb, was the younger son of Lord and Lady Melbourne, who were also Byron’s friends.
Lady Caroline and Byron had first met in the ‘Holland House,’ also known as ‘Cope Castle,’ situated near London. It is believed that she had ignored Byron when they had first met.
Byron called her "Caro,” which she later adopted as her public nickname. She, on the other hand, described Byron as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” They read and discussed poetry together. They also argued over his flirtations with other women.
In May 1812, she even thought of leaving her husband, at Byron’s suggestion. However, things turned sour between Byron and her soon after.
Soon, Byron started ignoring her. In the winters of 1812 and 1813, Byron started another affair, with Jane Elizabeth, Countess of Oxford. She was a friend of Lady Caroline’s.
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After Byron became increasingly cold toward Lady Caroline, her husband took her to Ireland. However, she continued to write to Byron constantly. After she returned to London in 1813, Byron told her he did not intend to rekindle their relationship. Lady Caroline became desperate and wrote to Jane stating that she would reveal their affair to Lord Oxford.
She also faked Byron’s handwriting to write to his publisher, John Murray, requesting him to send her a painted miniature of Byron. Murray did so, without suspecting anything, and this angered Byron.
On July 5, 1813, at Lady Heathcote's ball, Byron publicly humiliated Lady Caroline. She then broke a wine glass and tried to commit suicide by slashing her wrists. Her mother-in-law saved her in time. Eventually, driven by close friends, Byron decided to leave London.
By 1814, Byron was getting ready to marry Lady Caroline’s cousin, Annabella Milbanke, with whom he had had one of his serious affairs. Lady Caroline learned about this but remained calm. In 1816, Byron and Annabella separated.
Lady Caroline later claimed that she knew of Byron’s incestuous relationship with Augusta Leigh, his half-sister. It is said that Lady Caroline had hastened the process of Byron and Annabella’s separation by spreading rumors about Byron and Augusta.
After Byron’s death in 1824, she wished to know his last words and wanted to get back the letters she had written to him.
Family & Personal Life
She got married to budding politician The Hon. William Lamb in 1815. She was 17 back then, and their marriage was peaceful initially. William later became Viscount Melbourne and the prime minister of the U.K.
They had a son, George Augustus Frederick, on August 11, 1807. Their son was, however, autistic. They also had a premature daughter in 1809. Unfortunately, she died within 24 hours. Lady Caroline was drained by childbirth.
The Lambs took care of their son at home, instead of sending him to a mental institution. However, the death of her daughter and the illness of her son, along with her husband’s busy political career, created problems in her married life. Moreover, Lady Caroline was not liked by William’s family, who called her “the little beast.” Perhaps, this void in her personal life led her to begin her tumultuous affair with Byron.
William and Lady Caroline separated in 1825. They had both had extramarital affairs by that time. She began living at ‘Brocket Hall.’ Her final years saw her struggling with alcoholism. By 1827, she was suffering from dropsy, an illness that is now known as oedema.
Lady Caroline died on January 25, 1828, with William at her bedside. She was 43 at the time of her death. He did not remarry and became the prime minister of the U.K. in 1834.
Lady Caroline was interred in the graveyard of ‘St Etheldreda's Church,’ Hatfield. Her husband, too, remains buried there.
The 1905-released novel ‘The Marriage of William Ashe’ by Mary Augusta Ward was based on the lives of Lady Caroline and William.
The 1972 movie ‘Lady Caroline Lamb’ narrated her tale. It starred Sarah Miles, Jon Finch, and Richard Chamberlain.
The 2003 ‘BBC’ drama titled ‘Byron’ starred Jonny Lee Miller as Byron and Camilla Power as Lady Caroline.