LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

In Whig Society 1775-1818
Chapter VII.

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
‣ Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
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The true secret of Lady Melbourne’s trouble was that she knew that William’s carelessness about his career and distaste for public life were the results of the unhappiness of his home. For some time after her marriage and after the birth of Augustus, Caroline had seemed content with her home and her husband, but in 1810 Lady Melbourne’s life was complicated by the fact that her daughter-in-law was indulging in very open flirtations, and that they were carried not only beyond the bounds of prudence but also of good breeding. The views then taken of the sanctity of the marriage vow were lax, and divorce not infrequent. But Lady Melbourne, who had managed her own life with great perspicuity, had no wish to spoil the even tenor of her social way by a divorce in her family.

William was easygoing and in love with his wife. Lady Melbourne feared that divorce might be the least of the evils to dread. The growing indecorum of a daughter-in-law under the very eyes of her husband and as it were under his
protection would be very undesirable. So with her usual acumen she spoke first to the wife, and spoke to the point. We can see the interview between them—the stately woman, mature but still beautiful and with a clear brain and mind, trained in worldly wisdom by her long experience of the world, and the wild daughter-in-law, partly from affection, partly in defiance, flattering and cajoling her “dear, dearest Lady Melbourne.” The latter received the flattery; expressed her regret that she had been unjust in her surmises. She, however, continued to watch her daughter-in-law, with the result that shortly afterwards she wrote to her a contemptuous letter, beginning—

“I only write you a few lines for the purpose of preventing yr. coming to me loaded with falsehood & flattery under the impression that it will have any effect—which I most solemnly assure you it will not. I see you have no shame nor no compunction for yr. past conduct. I lament it but as I can do no good I shall withdraw myself and suffer no more vexations upon your acct. Yr. behaviour last night was so disgraceful in its appearance & so disgusting from its motives that it is quite impossible it should ever be effaced from my mind. When anyone braves the opinion of the World, sooner or later they will feel the consequences of it & altho at first people may have excused your forming friendships with all those who are censured for their conduct, from yr. youth & inexperience yet when they see you continue to single them out & to overlook all the decencys imposed by Society—they will look
upon you as belonging to the same class. Had you been sincere in yr. promises of amendment or wished to make any return to
Wm. for his kindness—you would have discarded and driven from yr. presence any persons or things that could remind you of the unworthy object for whose sake you had run such risks & exposed yourself so much, but on the contrary you seem to delight in everything that recalls him to you & to nourish & foster those disgraceful feelings which have caused so much unhappiness to those who ought to be dearest to you. A Married Woman should consider that by such levity she not only compromises her own honor & character but also that of her Husband—but you seek only to please yourself—You think you can blind yr. Husband and cajole yr. friends.

“Only one word more—let me alone. I will have no more conversations with you upon this hateful subject. I repeat it, let me alone, & do not drive me to explain the motives of the cold civility that will from henceforward pass between us.”

This letter brought a flood of confession from Lady Caroline. Sir Godfrey had given her a bracelet; he had given her a dog, and the dog had flown at her little son Augustus, who she worshipped. Perhaps the dog was mad, and through her conduct she might have killed her child. So she raved, swearing to her “dear, her dearest Lady Melbourne, who had been more than mother to her,” that she recognized her faults, and would never see Sir Godfrey again. But at the end of one of these letters she describes William
as a husband in terms that many a young husband would do well to take to heart:

“God knows I am humiliated enough, & did not expect I should ever act in this manner. Some heads may bear perfect happiness & perfect liberty, mine cannot, & those principles which I came to William with—that horror of vice, of deceit, of any thing that was the least improper, that Religion which I believed in then, without a doubt & with what William pleased to call superstitious enthusiasm—merited praise, & ought to have been cherished—they were safeguards to a character like mine & nobody can tell the almost childish innocence & inexperience I had preserved till then. All at once this was thrown off, & William himself though still unconscious of what he has done, William himself taught me to regard without horror all the forms & restraints I had laid so much stress on. With his excellent heart, sight, head & superior mind he might, & will go on with safety without them—he is superior to those passions & vanities which mislead weaker characters, & which, however I may be ashamed to own it, are continually misleading me. He called me Prudish, said I was straight-laced—amused himself with instructing me in things I need never have heard or known & the disgust I at first felt to the world’s wickedness I till then had never heard of in a very short time gave way to a general laxity of principles which, little by little, unperceived by you all, has been undermining the few virtues I ever possessed.”

The household of Melbourne House was con-
ducted on the plan pursued by the great families of Italy in their palaces.
Lady Melbourne seems to have given up the first floor to the Lambs on their marriage, and she and Lord Melbourne lived on the ground floor. Little Augustus had his nursery at the top of the house, for Miss Berry tells us how Lady Caroline dragged her there to show her the baby she was so proud of. Lady Melbourne continued to receive the great world at her routs and receptions, but Lady Caroline had her own receptions also, and Lady Sarah Spencer, afterwards Lady Lyttleton, describes a party given at Melbourne House by Lady Caroline in 1812, which lasted till three in the morning. The guests of Lady Melbourne, who she entertained in her own apartment downstairs, included Sheridan and the Prince of Wales. Sheridan was very drunk, and the supper party did not break up till six.

William was more cheerful; and his interest in politics revived. His wife for the moment had given up her flirtations, and was suffering from a violent fit of remorse. Lady Melbourne seized the opportunity to advise him to have a talk with Mr. Daniel Giles, the Member for St. Albans in the county of Hertford, with a view to standing for the Borough at the next general election. She assured William that Mr. Giles was quite willing to give up the seat to him, and was aware that he was only keeping it warm for the Lambs and advised him to call on Mr. Giles as early as possible.


Mr. Giles of Youngsbury, Hertfordshire, was a pleasant bachelor of fifty, very popular in the County Society, when he was required to act in the Whig interest. When nothing was wanted of him he was treated in the same manner as Tierney was by the aristocratic Whigs and spoken of rather contemptuously as “the Hertfordshire Brewer.” Mr. Giles may have heard this. He was a determined man, and when William in September 1811, instigated probably by Lady Melbourne, discussed with Mr. Giles the advisability of replacing him as Member for St. Albans, Mr. Giles, furious at being looked upon as a mere warming-pan, quoted Lady Melbourne’s admiration of his popularity to William, who repeated it to his mother, and the result was a letter of dignified denial of Mr. Giles’ statements:

From Lady Melbourne to Mr. Giles
Sepr. 1811.

Ever since I have been informed of the discussion, for I will not call it dispute, going on between you & Wm. respecting St. Albans, it has been my determination to keep myself entirely aloof & not to give any opinion on the subject—but since you have chosen to bring me forward in yr. last letter to William I think it only fair to state to you what I must say to anyone who questions me, respecting the compliments you say I paid you upon yr. great strength & great popularity at St. Albans. I must in fairness answer that I have not the least recollection of having done so. I don’t mean to say that it is
not true, because I now think it very probable that you may recall it to my memory by some circumstances connected with it, but really at the present I cannot remember it or anything like it. [“& I have been in the way of knowing so little about St. Albans except from you”—struck out] that it appears odd to me how such a fact [“circumstance” “the only thing”—struck out]. The last time I recollect having mentioned St. Albans to you was when I told you that I had heard you found fault with Jedmund [?] having given voters an Election Dinner, & yr. answer to me was that it was a difficult thing to do as some of those who thought they had a right to partake of it, were not thought proper company for the others & I [“then” struck out] sd. then you ought to give two dinners. I mention this as the only thing I can remember except that at the time of the Election you often stated tht. you had no intention of making an interest for yourself, & that what you were then doing William would profit by at some time, & you never have since yt. hinted to me that you had changed your intentions in this respect. This last part I have mentioned to no-one [“but yourself” struck out] but I thought it fair to tell you what I must say if I am in any way referr’d to. I hate any dispute & hope you will both settle this amicably.

But Mr. Giles had a good memory, and reminded her among other matters of a walk he had taken with her and Lord Melbourne to call on Mrs. Fitzherbert and others. To be seen walking in this company must have been sweet to “the
Hertfordshire Brewer.” We can imagine
Lady Melbourne in her plumed hat and her sweeping skirts leaning on her husband’s arm, but only because it was the fashion of the day—no woman needed a husband’s support less than Lady Melbourne. Giles was shrewd enough to let her see that though his offer to stand down from St. Albans in favour of her sons before the last election had been refused, he had heard that she had privately made inquiries as to the popularity of the sitting Members. She received a letter from him:

Dear Lady Melbourne,

I am extremely vexed with myself for having introduced you into the unfortunate discussions existing between me & William & had I foreseen that the referring to the conversation in question would have had that effect I should certainly have abstained from mentioning a circumstance the aid of which the ground I stand upon does not appear to me to require. But having brought it forward I must endeavour to recall it to your recollection though I may possibly fail from the observation having been made in an accidental and short conversation which perhaps I should not have remembered had not the impression of it been fixed by other circumstances.

The precise time in the last spring I cannot state but you may perhaps recollect my walking with you & Lord Melbourne from Whitehall through the Park I think to St. James’s & then to Mrs. Fitzherbert’s & Lady Sefton’s. During
part of the time some fourth person was with us but who I cannot at this moment recollect. We were all walking together in the Mall opposite the wall of Carlton House. The termination of the Parliament was talked of & some observation was made by the fourth person about St. Albans & the chance of an opposition there. I said I was very safe or something to that effect & you then observed to me that I was very strong and popular there & in a manner that made an impression upon me from my having then lately heard that a sort of enquiry had been making respecting the strength of
Halsey & me & other probable candidates. I do not know that you were acquainted with this & only mention it to account for my perfect recollection of your expression. At the same time it is not my wish to press into this discussion any circumstance that may be thought doubtful, & if the detail I have given does not bring it back to your mind it would be more satisfactory to me to consider the allusion to it as expunged from my letter to William.

The conversation respecting the Dinners was I believe exactly as you state it but this was long anterior to that which I have referred to.

With respect to what was said at the time of or rather previous to the Election you cannot fail to recollect that under an apprehension that my return if obtained would not stand good, I strongly pressed the advantage of my retiring from the Poll in favor of Frederic or George & urged that in such case William might secure the seat for a future occasion. This you know was not approved of & I was of course bound to stand the hazard of the contest. It turned out favour-
ably, and I obtained the seat but most assuredly not according to my understanding as a mere tenant for another, though as I have already said, if the application had been made to me at an earlier period I should without difficulty have given way to William & instead of cultivating an interest & making engagements on my own account should have readily co-operated with him in preparing the way for his future success.

I forbear from entering more fully into the subject because I do not wish to engage you in it or to use arguments to influence your opinion. It is very painful to me to have to discuss such a question at all & there is not anything I so much deprecate as the hazard of interrupting the friendship you have long honoured me with & which I shall always feel for you and your family.

B. King delivered me your message & I hope it will not be long before I have the pleasure of coming to you at Brocket. We shall probably meet on the 16th at Hatfield. Believe me,

My dear Lady Melbourne,
Most faithfully &
respectfully yours
Danl. Giles.
Sept. 11th, 1811.

Whether Mr. Giles met Lady Melbourne at Hatfield does not appear, but there is a slight threat contained in his mention of the visit to the Tory stronghold. It is more than probable, if Lady Melbourne did meet him there, that she devoted herself so much to him and brought him forward
so frequently that he entirely forgot the past incident.

But it was impossible for the wild and wayward nature of William’s wife to control for long her strange and poisoned impulses. It had been in 1812, according to Mr. Vere Foster,1 that Lady Caroline’s attachment to Byron began. True to her character, the attachment and admiration speedily turned to a violent infatuation, and she exhibited her feelings in a most extravagant way. Lord Byron was also Lady Melbourne’s friend and came often to the house to talk to one whom he considered not only the wisest but also one of the most charming women. “Had she been a few years younger,” he wrote, “what havoc might she not have wrought in my affections!” There was therefore no difficulty in Lady Caroline meeting him not only in the world but at home in a natural and easy manner. The state of affairs must have made Lady Melbourne very anxious, and the position almost impossible. Lady Caroline was a difficult inmate in a house—one of her vagaries was to surround herself with a number of pages, whom she alternately beat and caressed. One she hurt most severely, and on seeing the blood screamed—“Oh God, I have killed the page!” The pages were an unusual

1 Vere Foster, youngest son of Sir Augustus Foster and grandson of Lady Elizabeth Foster.

and rather mediaeval element in the households of that time, and they were probably very unpopular with the old and tried servants of the stately and orderly house. Lady Melbourne must have felt that Lady Caroline was becoming intolerable and yet was better under her roof than in a house of her own.

One morning, early in August 1812, Lady Caroline, who had lately been even more wild and eccentric than usual in her behaviour, was visited by her mother Lady Bessborough, who tried to persuade her to come to Roehampton, and remain quietly with her father and mother till William Lamb could join them, and they could all go to Ireland together. While Lady Bessborough was there, Lord Melbourne came in and spoke severely to Lady Caroline on her behaviour, which he said was becoming intolerable. The latter lost her temper and replied so rudely and impertinently that Lady Bessborough flew to call Lady Melbourne. She appeared instantly, but in that moment Lady Caroline was gone so swiftly that even the porter could not stop her.

Her mother drove up and down Parliament Street, hoping she would return. Lady Caroline had completely disappeared. When Lady Bessborough returned, Lord Melbourne admitted that she had threatened him that she would go to Lord Byron, and he had bid her “go and be damned.”

Lady Melbourne immediately accompanied Lady Bessborough to Lord Byron’s house, but
found him alone and as much astonished as they were. Lord Byron promised to try and find her. He received through a hackney coachman a packet of letters from Lady Caroline for Lady Bessborough, and sent them to the latter at Devonshire House, where she was dining, and then by promises and bribes induced the coachman to tell him where Lady Caroline was and take him to her.

Lord Byron found her in a surgeon’s house in Kensington, where she had taken refuge, and having forced his way in told the surgeon that he was the lady’s brother, and brought her almost by force to her mother in Cavendish Square, from where he persuaded her to return to the Melbournes in Whitehall. William promised to receive her and forgive her, and Lady Melbourne seems to have met her half-way with kindness and affection. Lady Caroline was touched, and Lady Bessborough, broken-hearted and ill, drove home to seek peace and quiet in Cavendish Square. How she reached her home, Mrs. Petersen, probably the housekeeper or Lady Bessborough’s maid, told Lady Caroline, with her faithful heart filled with indignation; she took the precaution of enclosing her letter in one to Lady Melbourne, saying:

“Madam, we was all most dreadfully allarm’d last night at Lady Bessbro being found at the bottom of her Carriage in a fit with great difficulty the footmen got her out & oh Madam think of my Horror when I saw her poor mouth
all on one side & her face cold as marble we was all distracted she continued senseless for a length of time we got Mr. Walker & thank God she by degrees got better—but indeed if she is to undergo many more such very miserable days as the few last have been it will Quite Kill her. I have written to
Lady Caroline but fear she is lost to all feeling even for such a Mother. I am your Ladyships Dutyful servant J. H. Petersen.

“Madam, I inclose Lady Caroline’s letter to you for I have said many severe things to her but as I do not know what state of mind & body she may be in this morning I leave it to Your Ladyship to give it to her or not as you think proper. J. H. P.”

J. H. P[etersen to Lady Caroline Lamb]

Cruel & unnatural as you have behaved you surely do not wish to be the Death of your Mother. I am sorry to say you last night nearly succeeded in doing so. She had fallen in a Fit at the bottom of her Carriage & with the utmost difficulty her footmen got her out. Oh, Lady Caroline could you have seen her at that moment you surely would have been convinced how wickedly you are going on. She was perfectly senseless & her poor mouth Drawn all on one side & cold as Marble we was all distracted even her footmen cryed out Shame on you for alas you have exposed yourself to all London you are the talk & [sic] every Groom & footman about the Town. A few months ago it was Sir Godfrey & now another has turnd your Head & made you forget what a Husband you have what an angel Child besides makeing you torture all your kind relations & friends in the most cruel manner.


Your poor Father two was heart broken at seeing the wretched state you had reduced your Mother two we got Mr. Walker quick as Possible & thank God she is better—Lord Bessbro would not let me send for you he said the sight of you would make her worse. You have for many months taken every means in your Power to make your Mother miserable & you have perfectly succeeded but do not quite kill her—you will one day or other fataly feel the wickedness of your present conduct. Oh Lady Caroline pray to God for streanth of mind & resolution to behave as you ought for this is Dreadful.

[J. H. Petersen.]
2 Cavendish Sq.,

I feel by sending you this I offend you for ever but I cannot help it.

The publicity of what had happened made it most desirable that Lady Caroline should leave London. William had forgiven her and, no doubt for the sake of appearances, went away with her, and they joined her father and mother, Lord and Lady Bessborough, who were going to spend some months at their home in Ireland.

Before they started Lady Bessborough saw the Prince Regent, and wrote to Lady Melbourne:

“Now could you imagine, Dear Ly. M., that I had spoken to the P[rince] of Ld. Byr.—he began about my going to Ireland & then told me the whole history of Caro . . . saying Ld. Mel:
had been with him very much out of humour complaining that she drove him mad, & we were almost as bad, that Ld. Byr. had bewitch’d the whole family Mothers & daughter & all & that nothing would satisfy us but making a fool of him as well as of ourselves, & insisting on his asking Ld. Byn. to his house. The P. said all this so rapidly & so loudly (?), interrupting himself now & then to exclaim, ‘I never heard of such a thing in my life—taking the Mothers for confidantes! What would you have thought of my going to talk to
Ly. Spencer in former times!’—that in spite of the subject & the circle I was near laughing. But do not scold Ld. Mel., for he was so very good naturd & so civil that I was quite delighted with him. I could not get away from Ld. Byr., when once he began talking to me—he was part of the time very pleasant & talking of other things—but he did tell me some things so terrifying & so extraordinary!! To be sure if he does mean to deceive he takes the strangest way of doing it I ever knew—unless a shocking notion the P. has, can be true—but I do think it impossible it is too diabolick.

“God bless you.”

Lady Melbourne saw them go with a heavy heart. The journey might be the salvation of Lady Caroline, though Lady Melbourne cherished few illusions now about her daughter-in-law’s character. But it meant a blank space in William’s career, and he was far away from her influence.

She was left alone. She wrote to Lord Byron, reproaching him for the sorrow he had caused.


The answer when it came surprised even her, accustomed as she was to the turns of Fortune’s wheel. She now had the skein in her own hands to unravel, and confident in her powers felt that Fortune had indeed been very kind. Byron wrote to say that his affections were not fixed where she supposed, and that the lady of his choice was Lady Melbourne’s own niece, Annabella Milbanke, daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke and Judith Noel his wife, daughter and heiress of Sir Thomas Wentworth Noel.

Lord Byron to Lady Melbourne
Sepr. 13th, 1812.

You are all out as to my real Sentiments. I was, am, & shall be I fear, attach’d to another, who is I am informed engaged therefore entirely out of my reach. I have never sd. much to her but have never lost sight of her.

As I have sd. so much I may as well say all—the Woman I mean is M[iss] M[ilbanke]. I know nothing of her fortune, & I am told her Father is not rich, but my own would when my Rochdale arrangets. are closed be sufficient for both—my Debts are not 25,000 pd. & the deuce is in it, if with Rochdale & the surplus of Newstead I could not contrive to be as independent as half the Peerage. I know little of her, & have not the most distant reason to suppose that I am at all a favourite in that quarter, but I never saw a Woman whom I liked esteemed & could love so much—but that chance is gone, & I had better not think of her.

Sepr. 19th. Miss M. I admire, & as I said
in my last could love if she would let me, still I cannot believe what you say, that she is not engaged to
E. I have been assured of the contrary, by such good authority. Aunts are not trusted on such subjects. M. M. is a clever Woman an Amiable Woman, & of high Blood, for I have still a few Norman & Scotch inherited prejudices on that score. Whatever you may think, I assure you I have a very domestick turn, & should wish to be married to a Woman whom I could love & esteem & in whom I could place the greatest confidence. Such is M. M. she always reminds me of “Emma” in the Modern Griselda & whom ever I may marry, that is the Woman I should wish to have married—it is odd enough that my acquaintance with Ly. C[owper] commenced with a confidence on my part about yr. Neice.

28th Sepr. I have always openly professed my admiration of yr. neice & have ever been anxious to cultivate her acquaintance but Ly. C[owper] told me she was engaged to E. [unknown] so did several others. Mrs. [George] L[amb] her great friend talk’d in the same strain & was moreover certain that E. would make the best Husband in the world. Under these circumstances I withdrew, & wish’d not to hazard my Heart, with a Woman I was so extremely inclined to Love but at the same time sure could be nothing to me. The case is now different—& upon hearing from a friend of hers that they are coming here, I have put off my journey to Rochdale—& sent my Agent to settle some Business of importance without me. If you should have any means of introducing me to their Society, pray do. I have trusted you with my
secret and am entirely in your power. I do not care about her fortune, & should be happy if the floating capital of which I am now Master, could by some arrangets. turn out to be advantageous to both. Does
Miss M. waltz?—it is an odd question—but a very essential point with me. I wish I had any hopes that it would be possible for me to make myself agreeable to her, but my fears predominate,—& will I am sure give me a very awkward appearance. I wish you would undertake to say a few words for me—could you not say that I wish to propose, but I have great doubts of her.

Excuse my asking this favour but you have always been so kind to me that I trust to your being my friend in this case. Everything rests with M. M. herself for my earnest wish is to devote my whole life to her.