LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

In Whig Society 1775-1818
Chapter V.

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
‣ Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
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The vacancy in Hertford caused by Peniston’s death was filled by a Tory named Baker, much to Lady Melbourne’s annoyance. The Marquess of Salisbury, head of the great county family in Hertfordshire, was a Tory, and the Cecil’s candidate carried the day. William had refused to stand—his mind was taken up with other matters—but he was Chairman at the County Meeting, and the Duchess of Devonshire wrote:

Miss Hare writes me word that it was believed that if William had stood he would have carried it. She says—odious Baker, where he can’t show his head he leaves his sting.”

Lady Melbourne, worn out with the fatigue of Peniston’s illness, had retired to Brighton, the Prince of Wales having lent her the Pavilion, and the Duchess says:

“I quite love the Prince for his good nature in lending you his House, & I am sure air and quiet will do you more good than the constant exertion you were forced to here. Everybody is anxious about you & enquiring about you. I shall tell the Prince what you say of the comfort &c., &c.”


There she got another letter from Lord John Townshend, the son of the 1st Marquess Townshend, one of Fox’s friends, who had eloped with Mrs. Fawkener, the niece of the Duchess of Devonshire:

“I can’t help writing to congratulate you on W[illia]m’s speech at the Hertford Meeting, which I hear from all quarters was most judicious & well timed, as well as eloquent & splendid. It played the devil however in one respect, as it prevented my son Fox,1 who is eager on every occasion to spout, from saying a single syllable. He had concluded, & so had I, that there would be nothing but uproar & confusion & addled brains at this meeting, where it was expected that Baker & Flower wd. have had a sparring match: both probably equally absurd; the one contending for the most unqualified adulation of Castlereagh &c., and treating the subject of the omission in the treaty abt. the Slave Trade as too trifling to deserve notice, & the other insisting (as he declared he wd. do) on the necessity of a Vote of censure against Wilberforce & the other hypocritical abolitionists, who have uniformly supportd Ministers & wd. continue to do so, even if they revived the Slave Trade in its fullest Extent tomorrow.

Fox therefore thought there wd. be sport, & an opportunity afforded him of making some pithy observations in reply to two furious wrongheaded antagonists, & he meant to rise, a young Nestor, to compose differences, & to support Wm. Lamb with all the power of his lungs.

1 Fox, son of Lord John Townshend, probably called after his father’s intimate, Charles Fox.


“But as no such opporty. was given, from Wm. Lamb’s prudent & judicious management & irresistible appeal to the Meeting, & all was harmony & union. Fox was very properly as mute as a fish. This is one proof of Wm.’s success. Another & a better is, that Tom Lloyd, in descending from his pulpit on Sunday, ran up to our Pew & grasping me by the hand roared out ‘What a d....d shame it was that you did not come to hear Wm. Lamb t’other day—His speech has done him more than a three years canvas by G—d.’”

Lord John Townshend ended up, as most people who wrote to Lady Melbourne did, by asking her to compass a favour for him through William Huskisson,1 the new Surveyor of Woods, who had married Lady Melbourne’s niece, a daughter of Admiral Mark Milbanke, a few years before.

William had become a frequent visitor at another house outside London, where the brilliant and fascinating sister of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, Henrietta Spencer, wife of Frederick 3rd Earl of Bessborough, welcomed her sister’s guests, and there he met her only daughter Caroline. After a long, and at first fruitless, courtship, he married her on June 6, 1805, a few weeks before his sister Emily’s marriage with Lord Cowper.

1Lord Melbourne told Greville that in his opinion Huskisson was the greatest practical statesman he had ever known, the one who best united theory with practice.


This connexion with the great Whig family must have pleased Lady Melbourne, and she subordinated any anxiety she might feel on the score of Caroline’s mentality to political advantage. She was so accustomed to sway the wills of those about her, that she would hardly expect any difficulty from an unformed girl of hardly 20. Caroline and William would live under her roof in the fashion of the day, just as Maria Fane, the wife of Lord Duncannon, Caroline’s eldest brother, went to live with Lady Bessborough. Lady Melbourne may possibly have discounted the fact that William was desperately in love and might see through Caroline’s eyes instead of her own. It is hard to believe that she could not have stopped the marriage if she had so determined. However, she took care not to look too pleased, so as to place herself in the position of conferring the honour and not of receiving it.

There is an amusing account of a passage of arms between the two mothers-in-law, given in one of Lady Bessborough’s letters to Lord Granville Leveson Gower. It was of course well known that Lady Melbourne was gratified at the great Whig connexion her son was making, but when the engagement was finally concluded she lost no time in showing that she knew full well that there were disadvantages as well as advantages in the marriage, and Lady Bessborough on May 12, 1805, gives an account
of a visit to Lady Melbourne in which the latter gives her various “unpleasant cuts” as Lady Bessborough calls it, telling her that she hopes the daughter may turn out better than the mother; “whether as a plan of subduing me,” concludes poor Lady Bessborough, “I do not know.”

The later history of William’s unhappy wife is best told in her own words to Lady Morgan before her death. Lady Caroline, then near her end, tells Lady Morgan that she had been a trouble and not a pleasure all her life. She recounts how her mother having had a paralytic stroke, she was sent to Italy at the age of 4 to be out of the way, and lived there under the sole charge of a maid Fanny until she was 9 years old. Her grandmother Lady Spencer, who afterwards took charge of her, was alarmed by her waywardness and ungovernable fits of temper, and consulted Doctor Warren. He forbade her to learn anything or to see anyone, for fear that the violent passions and strange whims should lead to madness, though he would never allow that she was mad. She speaks of her intense love of music, which seems to have soothed her as it soothed Saul. Later she tells how she was taken to Devonshire House and lived with the other children there, neglected by their mothers, “served on silver in the morning and carrying their own plates down at night,” and thinking that “the world was divided into dukes and beggars.” Warren was probably right—
she was not mad. She was the product of the corrupt and vicious mentality of the society which had given her birth.

Lady Morgan has left us her picture.

She was tall and slight in her figure, her countenance was grave, her eyes dark, large, bright, her complexion fair. Her voice was soft, low, caressing, at once a beauty and a charm, and was responsible for much of that fascination that was so peculiarly hers. She was eloquent, most eloquent, full of ideas and of gracious, graceful expression, but her subject was always herself. She confounded her dearest friends and direst foes, for her feelings were all impulses worked on by a powerful imagination.

“One of her great charms was the rapid transition of manner which changed to its theme. The chief cause of the odd things she used to say and do was, that never having lived out of the habits of her own class, yet sometimes mixing with people of inferior rank, notable only by their genius, she constantly applied her own sumptuous habits to them.”

“And Lady Caroline was a woman gifted with the highest powers, an artist and a poetess, a writer of romance, 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 not wicked, not even lax, but she was bold and daring in her excursions through the debateable land between friendship and love. If she never fell, she was scarcely ever safe from falling.”


She told how at the age of 15 she fell in love with William Lamb as the embodiment of the views on liberty which she so admired in Fox.

But Caroline knew her own wayward and fitful character only too well, and when William Lamb, deeply enamoured of her, asked her to marry him, she refused, because her temper was too violent. But when he asked her a second time her love conquered her judgment. Her first instinct had been the right one, for the marriage proved most unhappy. Their life was one long quarrel, with intervals of reconciliation. The quarrels grew longer and the reconciliations less frequent. It has always been supposed that Lady Caroline’s fantastic intrigue with Byron was the only ground of complaint that her husband had against her, but some of the ensuing letters will show that her mother-in-law’s sense of propriety had already been shocked by her open delight in the attentions of Sir Godfrey Webster, the former husband of Lady Holland. And yet to her confidante Lady Morgan, Lady Caroline complains bitterly:

“He [William] cared nothing for my morals. I might flirt and go about with whom I pleased. He was privy to my affair with Lord Byron, and laughed at it. His indolence rendered him insensible to everything. When I ride, play and amuse him he loves me, in sickness and suffering he deserts me; his violence is as bad as my own.”1

1 Lady Morgan’s Memoirs. Sidney Lady Morgan, born 1783, died 1850, novelist and poet.


The years 1805 and 1806 are years of death. The noble figures which had led the English nation fell one by one, and it seemed as if the price of victory was the sacrifice of the greatest men of the age. At Trafalgar Nelson fell. From the shock of Napoleon’s victories at Ulm and Austerlitz in 1805, Pitt never recovered and on January 23, 1806, he expired.

At the funeral of Nelson many had remarked the ravages which fatigue had made in Fox’s health. His acceptance of the Seals of the Foreign Office was forced on him as Greville became Prime Minister. He appeared on June 10, 1806, in the House of Commons in order to move certain resolutions preparatory to the Bill for abolishing the Slave Trade, but he was already exceedingly ill. On September 13, early in the morning, it was known that he was dying, and with sweet words of love to Mrs. Fox on his lips, he passed away at a quarter to six in the evening.

Four months before his death, the beautiful woman who had admired him from girlhood died. On March 30, at the age of 49, after two or three days agony, the Duchess of Devonshire left the world which had courted and worshipped her.

Her death must have affected Lady Melbourne deeply, in spite of the composure she affected on all occasions. The only trace of it in her correspondence is a letter she received from the
Duke of Richmond in answer to one she had written to him, urging him to go to town to comfort Lady Elizabeth. It is possible that she, like all the late Duchess’ friends, feared that a marriage would take place between the Duke of Devonshire and his wife’s inseparable companion Lady Elizabeth Foster, and thought that it might be well to show her that there was another Duke available. He, however, declined the suggestion, and wrote from Goodwood saying:

“April 2nd, 1806.

“You are always so kind & good to me that I can never sufficiently thank you, my Dear Lady Melbourne. I am not surprised at Lady Elisabeth’s fortitude for she has a strong mind, but I fear, as you do, that the weakness of Her Body may not be equal to all the Trials she is put to. I should fear it would be particularly distressing to her to have to keep up the Dowager Lady Spencer’s spirits who never was very kind to her. I long to know how she goes on & have written to Farquhar to let me know. I have also written to Lady Elisabeth, but begged she would not take the trouble of answering me. I would readily go to town as you advise could I hope to do any good, but under all the circumstances you know, I should almost fear the contrary. I am also expecting Lord & Lady Bathurst & their Children here to-morrow. Pray let me know how you go on, for with all Your Philosophy and good sense you have a Heart that must suffer dreadfully on such occasions and make the best Health feel its consequences. I am glad you are
gone out of Town for some days to be removed from the melancholy faces you must everywhere meet with in Town.

“Believe me ever your faithfull humble servant,

It was recognized that after the Prince of Wales’ attachment to Mrs. Fitzherbert he went but little to Devonshire House; in fact, Mrs. Fitzherbert told Mrs. Creevy that “he only went into it from motives of compassion and old friendship when he was persecuted to do so.” Mrs. Fitzherbert added that she knew the Duchess hated her.

Lady Melbourne, less impulsive and with more worldly wisdom, had retained the Prince’s friendship by her civility to Mrs. Fitzherbert, who constantly sent her messages in the Prince’s letters.

The Prince of Wales attended the christening of Lady Melbourne’s two grandsons: Lady Cowper’s eldest child, a son, afterwards 6th Earl Cowper, was born in July; and Lady Caroline Lamb’s, also a son, and named Augustus Frederick, in August 1807. He was their only child, and he died in 1836 at the age of 29, still a child in intellect and character. In writing about the date of the last ceremony the Prince becomes jocular—“begs his best love to dear Melbourne,

1 Creevy Memoirs, vol. i, p. 71.

Lady Bessh, not forgetting my Emily and the dear Boys,” and ends:

“Pray tell me whether the little Lambs Poll continues quite black. I do not write to Lady Bessborough as I trust to your saying everything kindest to her (not forgetting the return of a kiss) and explaining and settling everything with her.”