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Friday, January 30, 2015

The Torrid Life of Lady Caroline Lamb

The facts of Lady Caroline Lamb’s life are presented in this 2004 biography from Paul Douglass, but as an English professor (at San Jose State University), Douglass is more interested in Lady Caroline the author than Lady Caroline, lover of the great Romantic poet Lord Byron.

Lady Caroline Lamb

The biographical information includes information on her birth and the privileged set into which she was born. She was the only daughter of Frederick Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon and his wife Harriet, the youngest daughter of the first Lord Spencer. The Duke of Devonshire was Lord Duncannon’s first cousin; the Duchess of Devonshire was Lady Duncannon’s sister. Because Lady Duncannon was caught up in the fast lifestyle of the Whig ladies of the era, she had several lovers, among them Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the playwright and great Whig orator. Douglass suggests the possibility that Sheridan might actually have been Lady Caroline’s father, but he also says, “Sheridan’s amazingly facile tongue, moodiness, and tendency toward self-destructive behavior all find echoes in Lady Caroline’s personality, though it is unlikely they were related by blood.”

Born November 13, 1785, Lady Caroline spent most of her early years abroad and could speak and write fluently in French and Italian. In 1793 her father succeeded, becoming Earl of Bessborough. Though she was very close to her mother, Lady Caroline — always a high-strung child — was also close to her maternal grandmother, Lady Spencer, who attempted to counteract her own daughter’s influence with piety.
William Lamb

At age nineteen, Lady Caroline married William Lamb, the second son of Lord and Lady Melbourne, though he was almost certainly sired by his mother’s lover Lord Egremont. Caro had known him all her life. He wrote that he had been in love with her for four years but could not hope for her hand until he became Lord Melbourne’s heir when his elder brother unexpectedly died. As heir, he would be a suitable match for a high-born girl like Lady Caroline. Had she not fallen in love with Lamb, she was destined to marry either her cousin who would be the sixth Duke of Devonshire or the cousin who would be the third Lord Spencer.

Though she was madly in love with Lamb before the marriage, she was extremely moody the first few weeks of her marriage. It is believed she was shocked over what went on in the bedchamber between a husband and wife. Seven months later she gave birth to a premature girl, who died shortly after her birth. The following year she gave birth to her son Augustus Lamb. She adored her infant son, but as he became older it was clear he was mentally handicapped. Douglass said Augustus was retarded, but he gives no examples and scarcely mentions Augustus after his birth. (From other sources, it appears the boy may have been autistic.) Douglass does say that Caroline insisted that the boy not be put away but always stay with her or his father.

Having befriended Byron’s publisher John Murray, Caroline read Byron’s "Childe Harold" before its publication and — instantly captivated — told Murray she had to meet Byron. (By then, Lady Caroline had already conducted at one flagrant love affair.)
Lord Byron

Her affair with Byron began the month of Childe Harold’s publication, March, 1812, and like a flame burned with torrid intensity before it was snuffed three months later. During the tempestuous days of their liaison Lady Caroline flung discretion to the wind. Small and thin, she dressed as a page and sneaked into Byron’s chambers for passionate bouts of lovemaking that may have been even too wild for Byron. At first, his passion rivaled hers, but because of the disgrace she was bringing to her husband and family and because he needed to marry an heiress, he backed away from Caro. In an effort to make her despise him, Byron told her of unpardonable acts he had committed. Douglass suggests that Byron admitted to incest with his sister Augusta Leigh and to having sex with boys. Douglass even suggests he forced anal sex on Caroline to make himself loathsome to her.

In September, her parents demanded she and her husband go to Ireland with them. Though Byron would write and inform her he no longer loved her, Caroline never could free herself of the debilitating love she felt toward him. She lost all pride. In her twisted sense of intimacy, she exchanged locks of hair with him, but she sent pubic hair.
She never stopped writing to him, never stopped begging for meetings with him. In a letter she wrote him two years after their affair she captures her own persona better than any biographer: “I lov’d you as no Woman ever could love because I am not like them — but more like a Beast who sees no crime in loving & following its Master — you became such to me — Master of my soul more than of anything else.”

In her obsession over Byron, she became adept not only at copying the style of his poetry but also of copying his handwriting and manner of scratching out words in his writings. She used this to forge a letter to Murray authorizing Caroline to take possession of a Byron portrait that was at Murray’s publishing office.

If she could not have Byron, she wanted his portrait – and his writings, writings, which she studied and emulated for the rest of her life. Four years after their affair she published her novel Glenarvon. Hugely popular, it went to several printings but instead of gaining the critical acclaim she so desired, its satire of her own class caused her to be ostracized.

But she would not be deterred in her obsession to be an author. She wrote lyrics, poetry, and two more novels.

Her relationship with Lord and Lady Melbourne, with whom she was forced to live, had been tenuous ever since the blatant affair with Byron and as her outrageous behavior (throwing crockery, coming to a ball dressed as Byron’s "Don Juan," shamelessly flirting with the Duke of Wellington) increased, they urged William to separate from her.

But the cuckolded William stuck by her. As she slipped into alcoholism in the 1820s he, too, began to be disgusted with her, and he made arrangements to live apart.

It was at this time the Melbourne family came to the conclusion she was insane. William would not commit her, but he did hire “keepers” for her. He never divorced her and was at her side when she died at age forty-two. Her death was brought on by her alcoholism.
William Lamb, Lord Melbourne (Queen Victoria's first Prime Minister)

Lady Caroline would never become Lady Melbourne. In a cruel irony of her life, William succeeded to the title and became prime minister after her death.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Regency Sun Protection

Regency fashion plate, parasolby Donna Hatch

Unlike the sun-kissed tans admired by some women today, (and let's face it, chalk-white legs just aren't coveted) a pale complexion was a fashion statement during much of England's history. Since laborers often worked long hours outside, their skins got tanned and weathered from exposure to the sun and the elements. A lady with a creamy complexion loudly proclaimed, without uttering a word, that she was wealthy enough not to have to spend a great deal of time out of doors. But since a lady's skin could become unfashionably brown simply by walking outside, even with the protection of a hat or bonnet, she had to take measures to protect her skin from the sun.

During previous eras, ladies and gentlemen of the upper classes powered their faces to maintain a pale complexion.  But by the Regency Era, people abandoned the powder, rouge, lipstick, and powered wigs, as well as ostentatiously ornate clothing, in favor of a more natural, comfortable look. They also started bathing on a regular basis, which I think is not a coincidence.

Regency fashion plate and parasol
What was a lady to do if she wanted to spend time outside but keep her skin alabaster white without the use of powder? Sunscreen, obviously, was not the answer, since it had yet to be invented. Bonnets and hats certainly helped but there were times when those failed to protect a lady's face from all angles of the sun.

Enter the parasol. Made of natural fabrics such as cotton and silk and often embellished with lace, these functional little beauties became so popular in England early in the 19th century that they became part of a fashionable ensemble.  Depending on how they were made, they could even protect a lady from a light rain.

Winter Collection, 6 historical short storiesSo the next time your Regency lady goes for a walk, make sure she brings her bonnet and parasol to keep her face un-freckled and white, and her gloves to protect her hands, lest she fall under criticism of becoming "brown." Horrors!

For more pictures, feel free to check out  my Regency Accessories Pinterest Board with lots of images and fashion plates of parasols, fans, shoes, and other fun Regency accessories.

Laura Boyl on Jane Austen Center has some lovely pictures of ladies and children carrying parasols.

Louise Allen, on her blog, History of Costume, has a great collection of pictures as well as how the "correct" way to hold a parasol evolved.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Dealing with Servants

     "What wretches are ordinary servants that go on in the same vulgar Track ev'ry day! Eating, working and sleeping! But we, who have the Honour to serve the Nobility, are of another Species. We are above the common Forms, have Servants to wait upon us, and are as lazy and luxurious as our Masters."
     So is quoted a duke's servants in James Townley's 1775 High Life Below Stairs. The English class system extended through the upper ranks and well into lower orders, with its own complications of hierarchy. But even as the industrial revolution broke down class system by creating a new class of rich merchants, the upper class required their servants. And the larger the house and estate, the more staff required for its maintenance.
     In the country, an estate needed the following, in order of their own precedent:
     -A land steward to manage the estate, collect rents and settle disputes between tenants.
     -A house steward or housekeeper to supervise indoor staff for two hundred pounds a year, and some houses might have both a house steward and a housekeeper who served under him.
     -A valet for the master of the house, and a lady's maid for the lady of the house, whose wages might be anything from twenty to two hundred, depending on if they were in demand in London, or stuck in the countryside without opportunity.
A master of horse or stable clerk to supervise the stables, including livery servants who worked outdoors, coachmen and stable lads, for around sixty pounds a year in salary.
A butler, a cook, a head gardener, who earned twenty to forty pounds year.  This might include a wine-butler, and also a porter or major domino who supervised the comings and goings at the house, and a groom of chambers, who looked after the furniture in the house.

     In the lower male ranks came other coachmen, footmen, running footmen, grooms, under-butlers, under-coachmen, park-keepers, game-keepers, yard boys, hall boys, footboys. In the lower female servant ranks came nannies, chambermaids, laundry maids, dairy maids, maids-of-all-work, scullery maids. In town such staff might earn as much as ten to twenty pounds a year, with men being paid more. In the country, salaries were half that or even less.
     In the no-mans land between servant and master existed those creatures who might be of upper or lower class, but who did not quite fit into either, the governess, tutor and dancing master.
     A large estate might require as many as fifty indoor servants, and twice that or more in outside labor to deal with the estate's lawns, animals, produce, beer-making, dairy and so on. An estate acted very much like its own village, with squabbles between servants, gossip, flirtations, jealousies, and structure. All of which had changed little from feudal times.
     However, the world was changing. New factories, new roads and lower costs of transportation make even the servant class more mobile. And keeping a good staff began to be an issue.

     To hire staff, the lady of the house--or the housekeeper or house steward--might advertise in The London Times or the Morning Post. The custom of 'Mop Fairs' where servants might parade and find new positions also existed through the 1700's and into the 1800's.  "Females of the domestic kind are distinguished by their aprons, vs. cooks in coloured, nursery maids in white linen and chamber and waiting maids in lawn or cambric," writes Samuel Curwen of such a fair at Waltham Abbey in 1782. Such a fair included strolling, stalls, and full public houses, with a good bit of drinking. It was for many servants a holiday.
     Dress very much told of a person's status, both as in the world upstairs and below. The upper servants dressed in livery and uniforms provided by the house, while lower servant were expected to wear plain and ordinary.
     The cost to hire, feed, and dress an extensive staff could be considerable. Wages tended to be higher as well in a richer house. And servants could expect to be left tips--or vails--by visiting guests. A vail might be as much as a month's wages left by a departing guest, the amount determined by the status of the guest and the rank of the servant.
While a cook might earn fourteen to twenty pounds, in a rich house, this might be as much as forty to fifty pounds a year. Or, if in demand and talented, a chef might earn more, as did the Earl of Sefton's chef, Ude, who made three hundred guineas a year.
     On 400 pounds a year, a family might expect to afford two maids, one horse and one groom. Not in Front of the Servants reports that, "Between 1776 and 1802 the Reverend James Woodforde found that on three hundred pounds a year it was possible to have the following staff: a farming man, who also helped about the house on occasion, a footman, a yard boy, an upper maid (who did the cooking) and an undermaid."
     On 1,000 pounds a year income, that family could then keep three female servants, a coachman, a footman, two carriages, and a pair of horses. It took around 5,000 a year--the income of most wealthy gentry--to keep thirteen male servants, nine female staff, ten horses and four carriages.
     Coupled with the expense of a staff came its management. While on many country estates, servants came from the local lower orders and might well be born on the estate and look to live and die there, in town servants looked for opportunities to advance. Servants in town could register with agencies, but they would need to bring with them good references.
     However, as noted by a Portuguese visitor to England in 1808, "servants 'are not to be corrected, or even spoken to, but they immediately threaten to leave their service.'"
     As with any group, problems arose. Servants gossiped, stole from the pantry and even from a careless master's closet, and then there was the issue of upper class males and lower class females.
     "If you are in a great family, and my lady's woman, my lord may probably like you, although you are not half so handsome as his own lady." So wrote Jonathan Swift in his Directions to Servants in 1745. He went on to advise that any lady's made at least make certain that she is paid for "the smallest liberty." The attitude prevailed well into Victorian times that the maids of a house provided opportunity for gentlemen, for such girls were beyond any thought of marriage. Such activities came to be frowned upon rather than winked at, but continued. A very few gentlemen took the shocking step to marry their housekeeper, but such alliances meant ostracism from society for such couples. And servants themselves were shocked by such a mixing of class for they often could be even greater snobs than were their upper class masters.

Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the "Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer" contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA's Golden Heart, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: "simply superb"..."wonderfully uplifting"....and "beautifully written." She is also the author of the Mackenzie Solomon, Demon/Warders Urban Fantasy series, Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning Tire. She is currently working on her next Regency romance, Lady Chance.