Episode #10: Lord Byron: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

Lady Pendleton, Damian Ashby’s eccentric aunt (see the epilogue to Treasuring Theresa on Susana’s web site), is visiting Susana from the early 19th century. She’s intrigued by life in 21st century Toledo, Ohio, and, of course, Susana is thrilled to have the opportunity to pick her brain about life in Regency England. It certainly gives her a great deal to write about in Susana’s Parlour!

Susana: [to the Reader]:

Lady P and I just finished watching the 2007 BBC movie about Lord Byron, and I thought you might find some of her reminiscences of the original characters as intriguing as I did. [Turning to Lady P] You knew the real Lord Byron, did you not, Lady P? What was your impression of him?

byronLady P:

Oh yes, I was acquainted with the man, as was anyone who was anyone in the ton during the spring of 1812 when he came onto the scene. I could never understand why women were making cakes of themselves over him. He wasn’t all that well-favored, you know, not nearly as attractive as that actor who played him in the film. Although he did have a certain magnetism, I suppose, when he looked at a woman with “the stare,” that is, with hooded eyes. I’m not at all sure what he was conveying with that most peculiar stare, but whatever it was had the effect of making formerly sensible women abandon all pretense of prudence in order to attract his attention.

Susana:

Undoubtedly Lady Caroline Lamb was one of them.

Lady P:

She was the worst of them, but then, she was always somewhat of a loose screw, Susana. Even when she was small—she was eight years old when her mother, Georgiana’s sister, moved the family into Devonshire House to escape her father’s abuse—Georgiana used to tell me about her flights of fancy and frequent mood swings, and when she married George Lamb and moved into Melbourne House, we all hoped that her husband and Lady Melbourne, his mother, a prominent Whig hostess you know, would prove to be steadying influences on her.

Susana:

It didn’t work out that way, though, did it?

Lady P [shaking her head]:

Not at all. You know, Susana, it is never a good idea for a newlywed to move in with her husband’s family. Or the other way round, I’m sure. In this case, Caroline clashed constantly with Lady Melbourne, and it only got worse when Caroline and Byron were so foolish as to allow their affair to become public. Harriet—Lady Bessborough, Caroline’s mother, you know—tried to rein her in, especially after Lord Byron tried to break things off with her, but Caroline was so far gone from reality that she listened to no one. She foisted herself on his friends and begged them to help her win him back. She threatened to harm herself. She neither ate nor slept and was quite wraith-like when her mother and husband finally persuaded her to go to Ireland with them. But even that wasn’t the end of it. Poor Caroline raved over him until the day she died, alternately loving and hating him.

carolinelamb

Susana:

I suppose today she’d be diagnosed bipolar and given medication to help her cope with her illness.

Lady P [frowning]:

Bipolar?

Susana:

Mood swings. You know, when someone is rapturously happy and believes everything is right with the world and doesn’t care if everyone knows it, and then later falls into a serious depression. I’m no psychiatrist, of course, but it does sound to me like she suffered from such an affliction.

Lady P:

Well, she did suffer from some sort of affliction, that much is obvious. And I shouldn’t wonder if Lord Byron didn’t suffer from something similar. He too, was something of a loose screw. Although I can’t really say what he was like as a child. I did hear that his father was something of a tyrant, like Caroline’s.

Susana:

What an interesting thought! But did he exhibit an equal passion for her, at least while their affair was still going full-swing?

Lady P [with a decidedly unladylike snort]:

Oh yes, indeed. Of course, when he first came onto the social scene, he was a Nobody and she the reigning Beauty. No doubt he was flattered when she took an interest in him. They were both poets, you know, possessed of mercurial artistic temperaments. At first, her mad, childlike bravado attracted him, but when Lady Melbourne got her clutches into him and convinced him that Caroline’s antics could make him persona non grata in society, he began to cool toward her.

Susana:

Lady Melbourne? Caroline’s mother-in-law? Why would Lord Byron pay attention to anything she said about Caroline?

Lady P:

My dear Susana, Lady Melbourne was one of the premier Whig hostesses, exceedingly attractive for her age, and it was whispered about that Lord Byron was infatuated with her. Yes, even though she was more than thirty years his senior. It does happen, you know. She had many affairs with prominent men, including the Prince Regent, and her son George bears an uncanny resemblance to him too.

Susana:

So why was she so critical of Caroline, then, if she indulged in adulterous affairs herself?

Lady P [somewhat impatiently]:

The difference between them, my dear Susana, is that Lady Melbourne’s lovers were carefully chosen to increase her influence in political circles. She was also careful to manage them with the utmost discretion. Caroline, well, she had no such scruples. She was the victim of her impulses. And to a lesser extent, Lord Byron was to his as well.

Susana:

I feel so sorry for her. But Lord Byron did not pine away for her, did he?

Lady P:

Not at all. He cut a wide swathe among the ladies of London. [Lowering her voice] It is said that he had an incestuous relationship with his half-sister Augusta, and that her daughter Elizabeth is his.

Susana:

Goodness! For a society so bent on propriety, there was certainly a great deal of scandalous goings-on!

Lady P [sighing]:

Oh yes indeed! It was keeping up appearances that was the important thing. So hypocritical. Why, I always thought it was beyond outrageous when Lady Swindon cast her maid into the streets for being with child when she herself was having an affair with the Duke of Kent. I do hope I was able to instill better principles into my own daughters while they were growing up.

Susana:

Lord Byron eventually married, did he not? I heard that his daughter Ada was the world’s first computer programmer.

Lady P:

Computer programmer? Well, I can’t speak to that, since I have no notion of what that is, except for that machine you use for your writing. But yes, he did marry Annabella Milbank, who was Lady Melbourne’s favorite niece and an heiress besides. And now that I think on it, I do recall that she was thought to be something of a bluestocking, so it is likely that she would have an intelligent daughter. Why, Annabella was better educated than most of the men of the ton; you’d have thought she’d have better sense than to marry a sad rattle like George Byron.

Susana:

Those mesmerizing, hooded stares of his, no doubt.

Lady P:

She probably thought she could reform him. She was quite a devout young lady, I believe. [Shaking her head] Such a shame. Why, I made sure my girls knew better than to attempt such a thing with their husbands. There are ways a woman can influence her husband’s opinions—I can certainly attest to that—but it is far better to choose a mate who doesn’t require a great deal of changing. Do remember that, Susana.

Susana [rolling her eyes]:

Of course, Lady P. [To the reader] That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed Lady P’s reminiscences about the celebrated poet that Lady Caroline called “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

As always, please do comment if you have any questions you’d like to ask Lady P about the late Georgian/Regency era. She does love to chat!

6 thoughts on “Episode #10: Lord Byron: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

    • I owe it all to Lady P, Lindsay! I might have to invest in some good wine, though, or I might lose her to my wine connoisseur friend, who also serves better food and has a nicer house!

      Like

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