March 27 1816: Lady Caroline’s Revenge

91fc4cfa-e9f5-49c5-80d2-23c5f9008e90

On March 27 1816, Lord Byron’s former mistress Lady Caroline Lamb visits Lady Byron. Lady Byron took notes of their meeting.  All the dark suspicions that Annabella had about her husband were confirmed by Lady Caroline Lamb. She related stories of Byron’s homosexual practices and shocking incest with his half sister. It must be said that Lady Caroline is not altogether an unbiased, reliable or even a stable witness. What can be said is that after the meeting Annabella believed the accusations, and would do so for the rest of her life.

Minutes of Conversation with LyCL.

March 27. 1816

LyCL’s purpose in requesting the Interview appeared to be to require the burning of her letters to me. I told her I should seal them up, and write on them that in case of my death they should be returned to her. I then desired to know to what those letters alluded. She became greatly agitated, and told me she would constitute me the judge of what she ought to do, having been bound by a solemn promise not to reveal those secrets yet having felt it her duty to have done so before my marriage in order to save me from so dreadful a fate, and moreover that it had been her intention, but his protestation that he would never renew such crimes had prevailed upon her to be silent. I then said that I conceived her promise was released by the infringement of his, and that she might now redeem all by giving me this knowledge, if as important as she signified to the preservation of my Child—that neither on earth, nor in Heaven would she, in my opinion, have cause to repent so disinterested an action. She then confessed as follows, with an unfeigned degree of agitation:

That from the time he came to Bennet Street in the year 1813, Lord B. had given her various intimations of a criminal intercourse between them. but that for some time he spoke of it in a manner which did not enable her to fix it upon Mrs L, thus: “Oh I never knew what it was to love before—there is a woman I love so passionately—she is with child by me, and if a daughter it shall be called Medora”—that his avowals of this incestuous intercourse became bolder, till at last she said to him one day, “I could believe it of you—but not of her”. On this his vanity appeared piqued to rage, and he said “Would she not?”—assured LyCL. that the seduction had not given him much trouble—that it was soon accomplished—and she was very willing—that in their early years they had been separated by Lady Holderness on account of some apparent improprieties. LyC.L. still declining to believe, Ld B. called Fletcher to give him his portfolio at the Albany and threw from it to LadyCL. A number of letters from Mrs L., in which were expressions that must refer to such a connection, amidst much foolish levity—but occasionally there appeared feelings of remorse, and she particularly remembered this: “Oh, B.—if we loved one another as we did in childhood—then it was innocent”—but these feelings apparently became less frequent—and there were crosses + + in such positions as could not be mistaken. Ld B. positively declared this occurrence, and his delight in it, and Fletcher appeared to LyCL. conscious of it. Since that avowal LyCL never suffered any intimacy with Ld B, though she had before been prevailed upon to forgive “other and worse crimes”. Of these she gave the following account: that he had (after touching distantly on the subject at various times, by allusions which she did not understand till subsequently) confessed that from his boyhood he had been in the practice of unnatural crime—that Rushton was one of those whom he had corrupted—by whom he had been attended as a page, and whom he loved so much that he was determined LyCL. should call her page Rushton—which she owned with shame she had done. He mentioned three schoolfellows whom he had thus perverted (N.B. – two of their pictures were burnt with a curious remark).

LyCL. did not believe that he had committed this crime since his return to England, though he practised it unrestrictedly in Turkey. His own horror of it still appeared to be so great that he several times turned quite faint and sick in alluding to the subject. He concluded by threatening her in the most terrific manner, reminding her of Caleb Williams, and saying that now she knew his secret, he would persecute her like Falkland. He then endeavoured to regain her affection, whilst she sat filled with dread, and when he said, “But you love me still”, answered “yes”—from terror. He then obliged her to take the most solemn vow never to reveal.

Mrs W. Webster has since mentioned to LyCL. Lord B’s strange partiality for Rushton in former years, and told her the circumstances of Ld B’s never sleeping without having R. in the adjoining room.

I almost disavowed the belief of Incest—appeared so much agitated by the other subject that I suspect LyCL. discovered her statement to be only a confirmation of my own opinion. I told her Rushton was now with Lord B. Before I went, I repeated in the presence of Mr G. Lamb. that I had declared no belief.

Reasons, London, March 1816.

1 … That he has always spoken of her to me as not a virtuous woman—apparently, and often avowedly, from his own experience, which might, independant of other circumstances, have been supposed to regard her criminality with some person, and of which he had gained the knowledge.

2 – That he has intimated a dreadful secret, and a cause of Remorse between them.

3 – That he has spoken of her at various times with pity as his victim—at others with bitter scorn at her “folly about him”.

4 – That he has appeared terrified and enraged by any accidental word which his conscience might apply to such a fact (instance at Halnaby.)

5 – That once at Halnaby, and again in London, he read me parts of a letter from Lady Melbourne. which I could not interpret otherwise than as referring to an intention which he must have expressed to her of committing this crime. She endeavours to dissuade him from the commission of some “atrocious crime”, saying it was worse than any thing she had ever heard or known of: “It is a crime for which there is no salvation in this world, whatever there may be in the next”. She tells him that whatever he may affect, she knows how susceptible he is to opinion, and can he do that which must utterly destroy his character? She remonstrates with him on the cruelty of depriving of all future peace or happiness a woman who had hitherto, whether deservedly or not, preserved a good reputation—that he must always consider himself as the cause of her misery, and even if their distresses should arise from external causes, they would always reproach themselves for their reciprocal unhappiness—that he was on the brink of a precipice, and if he did not retreat, he was lost for ever. The occasion of the letter regarded a scheme of going away with the person in question (I know, and so do others, that he thought of taking her with him to Sicily – and that she had consented). His comment on Lady Melbourne’s letter was that after all she was a good woman, for there were things that she would stop at. He said that he had followed her advice in part, but not altogether—that he wished he had—with a look of grief and horror. He has told me that Lady Melbourne encouraged his intrigues with Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster, because she was afraid he would get into this worse business.

6 – He has signified that the crosses x x in their letters referred to this dreadful mystery. The first time was on the occasion of my saying quite unsuspiciously that I would mark with crosses some lines of his poetry which I was going to send to him. He turned pale and said “Pray don’t—it will frighten her to death”. He wore a broach of her hair on which were three of these crosses, and she had a similar one of his—these have been often alluded to by him with the same intimations of their nature—and a letter of hers to him, written before my marriage, contains such marks in very questionable situations. 7. His horror and confusion when we first went to Six Mile Bottom were indescribable—he several times told me I was a fool for going—wanted me to go on to London, and wait for him there, letting him visit her alone. (The above reasons regard what has passed privately between him and me. I now come to the circumstances in which her conduct tended to confirm the idea.)

7. – She has never pretended to the character of a virtuous woman in her conversations with me, and has frequently evinced the strongest consciousness of the contrary; and that he could not esteem her on that account {“No man can respect me”). Her expressions of remorse about him have been accompanied by the most [illegible] feeling, and no cause has been signified which could bear any other interpretation “You are my only friend, Gus”—“Ah – I fear I’ve been your worst”.

8. In their intercourse together I have observed every sign of passion, and such as it is scarcely possible to suppose her unconscious of—and at the same time every sort of double-entendre which could confirm suspicion. She seemed fearful of every word he uttered, and fearful of checking him – [Ms. ends – rest missing?]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s