‘Is it not a little strange that almost the first words you ever spoke in confidence to me were concerning Annabella?
I was astonished – overpowered – I could not believe it’
The astonishment expressed by Lady Caroline Lamb in October 1814 to the news that her beloved Byron had not only proposed to her cousin Annabella Milbanke but that she had accepted him.
Given that Caroline had once promised to ‘buy a pistol at Mantons & stand before the Giaour & his legal wife & shoot myself’ upon hearing the rumour of Byron’s betrothal in September 1814 – her reaction to this news was anticipated with some concern!
However, to the surprise of all AND despite her initial disbelief – Caroline’s reaction was one of calm as in her letter to the publisher John Murray she trusted:
‘I trust in God Byron will be happy. he has chosen one who is good and amiable and who deserves well of him.
It is his last chance of keeping clear of what has too often led him astray.’
Those final cryptic words of Caroline can only allude to her knowledge of Byron’s homosexuality and the incestuous affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh – a relationship that he certainly taunted Caroline about during their final meeting in the Autumn of 1814 as she was to write afterwards:
‘…you are safe – the means you took to frighten me from your door are not in vain.’
Before the identity of Byron’s betrothed was known to Caroline, she had written to Murray at his London home in 50 Albemarle Street beseeching him not to show his preference:
‘the beautiful & innocent Lady Byron shall drive to your door – & I picture to myself the delight with which you will receive her…’
However, when it became known that the intended bride was indeed Annabella – Caroline became less circumspect:
‘are you acquainted with my Cousin Annabel. She is very learned and very good & the top of her face handsome…’
Caroline was also to ascribe the nickname of ‘Fulvia’ to her ‘Cousin Annabel’ and when one considers the acrimonious history of the Byron separation in January 1816 and of Annabella’s formidable defence of herself and their daughter Ada, perhaps the quality of deviousness attributed to ‘Fulvia’ had been more than just a precipitous remark!
In her letter to Murray, Caroline had also asked:
‘How has he disposed of the other unfortunates? I speak of them by dozens, you see…’
However of ALL the other ‘unfortunates’ – it is Caroline’s story which continues to fascinate us.
Lady Caroline Lamb Paul Douglass (Palgrave McMillan 2004)
The Life and Letters of Anne Isabella Noel Byron Ethel Colburn Mayne (London: Constable & Co 1929)
The Whole Disgraceful Truth Selected Letters of Lady Caroline Lamb Paul Douglass (Palgrave McMillan 2006)