Before there was Bridgerton, there was Lady Caroline Lamb. Beautiful and envied in her early society career, Caroline went from belle of the Town to total outcast in the blink of an eye—all thanks to one of the most disastrous affairs in history.
1. She Had A Disgusting Brush With Death
As the only daughter of the Earl and Countess of Bessborough, Lady Caroline should have had a charmed childhood, if nothing else. Instead, it was a nightmare from the very beginning.
Caroline had an extremely frail disposition, and almost perished from—disgustingly enough—an illness involving worms. Even more unfortunately, the ordeal had a chilling effect on the young girl.
2. She Had A Scandalous Habit
Growing up, Caroline spent idyllic days running around with her scads of equally well-heeled cousins, but this brief period of innocence came to an abrupt halt. Soon the sickly Caroline, perhaps tired of the painful realities of her ailing life, began taking downers like the opiate laudanum with fierce abandon.
Her parents were aghast at the habit, even hiring a special governess just to keep an eye on their naughty little girl. Maybe that’s why they rushed her into the next phase of her life.
3. She Was A Famous Beauty
As she entered her teenage years, Caroline blossomed into an extremely beautiful young woman.
With her enormous family connections and her million-dollar face, no one had any doubt that Caroline would land herself an excellent marriage—provided they could keep her wild side under wraps, of course.
In 1805, destiny came knocking.
It just wasn’t the good kind.
4. She Had A Bizarre Wedding
Just before Caroline’s 20th birthday, she married the Honorable William Lamb, an almost equally well-to-do noble with political ambitions. Even better, it was something of a love match, with the pair sharing a mutual crush.
But this was no fairy tale.
William’s mother Elizabeth, despite pushing for the advantageous match for her son, actually despised both Caroline and her mother. That’s right, Caroline’s new monster-in-law wasn’t above using the young girl for her own ends…and this was a trend that would only continue.
5. She Went Through An Unimaginable Tragedy
At first, William and Caroline’s marriage was as promising as Caroline herself, but when it unraveled, it was utterly devastating. Although Caroline got pregnant very soon after her wedding, the child was stillborn.
Barely 20 years old and already mourning the loss of her child, her life was going to take another turn for the worse.
6. Her Body Betrayed Her
William and Caroline were dedicated to each other (for now), and they kept trying to have another child.
But there was one dark problem. Physically, Caroline wasn’t well-suited to pregnancy and labor, and her body took a long time to recover between bouts.
So by the time she gave birth to a living son, George, in 1807 and then a premature, doomed girl in 1809, her body was ravaged.
And this is when it all began to truly fall apart.
7. Her Son Had Mental Difficulties
Caroline’s young son George had been lucky enough to survive past infancy, but it soon became clear he was severely mentally handicapped. Used to the bustle of family life around her, Caroline went against the grain of the time—which would have seen George packed off to a sanitorium—and continued to care for him at home.
Yet this heartwarming decision had painful consequences.
8. Her Marriage Fell Apart
Caroline was still a young woman, but by now she carried the burdens of someone twice her age. With the stresses of her son’s poor health, her body’s difficulty recovering from pregnancy, and her husband’s rising political career, Caroline began to feel alienated from her marriage. Sadly, this is when her horrible in-laws dug the knife in even further.
9. Her In-Laws Were Cruel
A couple of years of marriage hadn’t endeared Caroline’s mother-in-law Elizabeth to her daughter-in-law one bit. In fact, it got so much worse.
Taking cues from their mother, none of William’s siblings liked Caroline, and sneeringly dubbed her the “little beast”. It was all headed downhill—but no one could have predicted exactly what a catastrophe it would be.
10. She Met An Infamous Rake
By 1812, Caroline was 26 years old, tired of her marriage, and frustrated with her life.
In other words, she was primed to start a scandal, and that’s exactly what she did.
That spring, she met the dashing and infamous poet Lord Byron for the first time at an event. Byron had already made a name for himself seducing women left, right, and center, but when he locked eyes with Caroline, nothing in English society was the same again.
11. She Sent Fan Mail
Reportedly, Byron was immediately smitten with Caroline, while she at least feigned indifference, ignoring his advances at first. In fact, it was around then that Caroline claimed she called Byron “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” a dubious epithet that has stuck with him to this day. But then something shifted.
Displaying a change of heart, Caroline soon wrote Byron a letter gushing about his writing—and Byron’s response set off a chain reaction.
12. A Poet Seduced Her
Lord Byron wasn’t one to stand on the sidelines when there was a woman he wanted. Instead of writing her a polite “thank you” letter back, he took it upon himself to visit with Caroline in person.
Once there, he let out his full arsenal of seduction, and it wasn’t long before vulnerable, emotion-starved Caroline gave in. Within days, the affair was in full swing, and the red flags became obvious.
13. She Played Mind Games
From the very beginning, Bryon and Lady Caroline loved to play games with each other. Despite the fact that pretty much everyone with eyes knew what was going on between them, they loudly criticized each other in public, all while carrying on their affair and presumably sneaking off whenever they could to have “private” time. Soon, it reached a fever pitch.
14. Her Lover Gave Her A Pet Name
To say that Lord Byron and Caroline Lamb were into each other would be the understatement of their century. Byron took to calling her “Caro,” a pet name she quickly insisted everyone call her, too. The poet also dubbed her, “the cleverest most agreeable, absurd, amiable, perplexing, dangerous fascinating little being that lives now or ought to have lived 2000 years ago”.
Yes, Byron and Caroline were that annoying couple at the table. It was going to hit an intense climax.
15. She Was Nearly A Bigamist
Within weeks of first meeting, Byron and Caroline were careening down a very ill-advised path. At one point, Caroline even snuck into Byron’s rooms and begged him to elope with her. Byron, at this point equally obsessed, nearly agreed.
Only a more coolheaded friend—who likely reminded him Caroline was already married—stopped him from going through with it.
But there were other, more sinister obstacles in their path.
16. Her Mother-In-Law Plotted Against Her
In a perverse twist of fate, Lord Byron was very good friends with Caroline’s cruel mother-in-law, Elizabeth Lamb…so if the matriarch didn’t already know about their very public affair through the rumor mill, she certainly found out about it from the horse’s mouth.
Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth loathed the dalliance—and she began plotting Caroline’s demise in earnest.
17. Her Husband Stood By Her
From the moment she got a whiff of the tryst, Elizabeth began campaigning against Caroline to anyone who would listen—especially to her son. It backfired hard.
Although their marriage was naturally strained, Caroline’s husband refused to drop her entirely. Undeterred, Elizabeth kept on with her crusade. Then again, she did have some ulterior motives.
18. She Flaunted Her Affair
Oh sure, Elizabeth didn’t like that Caroline was cheating on her son, that much is true. But perhaps the bigger problem for Elizabeth was that Caroline was so flagrant about it.
After all, Elizabeth had several affairs of her own back in her day, but she prided herself on being consummately discreet with the powerful men she took to bed.
To be fair, Elizabeth had a point; it was Caroline’s lack of moderation that made the next events that much more disastrous.
19. She Got Dumped
Byron and Caroline burned hot and fast, and eventually, there simply wasn’t enough tinder. Indeed, Byron tired of her shockingly quickly:
By August of 1812, after only half a year together, he broke things off.
With Caroline’s world spinning off its axis, she grasped around for anything to make it make sense. The answers weren’t pretty.
20. Her Lover Had A Secret
While Caroline was exploring her passions with Byron, her illicit lover was keeping secrets. Although he was having fun with his mistress, he was also deeply in debt—and very much in search of an available rich woman to marry and settle down with. Someone, in other words, who wasn’t Caroline.
Painfully, his breakup was as much a mercenary move as an emotional one…and the hits kept coming.
21. She Turned Into A Social Pariah
Caroline wasn’t just heartbroken, she was now also damaged goods in the eyes of society—all while, in case you’re wondering, Byron’s reputation suffered almost no damage at all. With nobles turning their noses at her, Caroline’s husband William did what he could to help and packed her off to Ireland to help her recuperate in peace and quiet.
It was a nice idea.
Unfortunately, it went about as badly as it could.
22. She Couldn’t Let Him Go
Caroline was a lovesick ex-girlfriend, and, like many a lovesick exes before and after her, she made a fatal error in breakup protocol: While in Ireland, she began corresponding with Lord Byron again.
For reasons clear only to unserious men everywhere, Byron responded with his own flurry of messages, getting Caroline’s hopes up that there would be a reconciliation.
Spoiler: There most certainly would not. There would, however, be lots of tears.
And, as it happens, blood.
23. She Got A Rude Awakening
Caroline had spent months away from Byron, only returning to London in 1813. It didn’t matter: She was still just as fixated on him. Though she was skin and bones from the stress of her heartbreak, she nonetheless sought him out in person.
His reply stunned and shamed her.
He finally let her know in no uncertain terms that they were through—and then he rubbed salt in the wound.
24. She Got Replaced
Caroline soon found out that while she had been pining for her (literally) Byronic hero, the poet had been getting busy with other women.
Most notably, Byron took up with Jane Harley, the Countess of Oxford, an experienced seductress who was also 14 years older than him.
Unfortunately, Caroline still didn’t quite get the message. The situation deteriorated rapidly.
25. Her Love Insulted Her
With Caroline back in Byron’s London orbit, their breakup went from messy to downright monstrous. Byron began insulting Caroline any way he knew how, both in public and in private.
In a particularly malicious exchange, he commented to his buddy Elizabeth Lamb—you know, Caroline’s mother-in-law—that he was “haunted by a skeleton,” commenting on Caroline’s weight loss while abroad. But Byron was just getting started.
26. She Had A Public Shaming
I’m sure you’re now getting the picture that this was a bad breakup. In truth though, “bad” doesn’t even cover it. The next years of Lady Caroline’s life were agony, with Byron sneering at her any chance he could get, but Caroline still unable to accept that they were never, ever getting back together.
Then one day, at a very important ball to honor the Duke of Wellington, Byron had the audacity to insult Caroline in front of all their peers.
Her unhinged response has lived in infamy.
27. She Became Unhinged
Upon hearing Byron’s insult, Caroline cemented her ruin in the worst way possible. In full view of many of the guests at the soiree, Caroline picked up a nearby glass and tried to cut her own wrists.
Though many assume she did this for its attention-getting effect rather than out of a desire to really harm herself, this didn’t exactly make the situation better. Worst of all, Byron got the last laugh on the matter.
28. She Was The Scandal Of The Century
In the wake of this scene—which you can bet everyone was talking about the next morning and well into their weekends—any people who had leftover sympathy for Caroline quickly changed their minds. Because, you know, now that it seemed that Caroline was truly mentally ill, society was even more scandalized by her behavior.
Ahem, thank you, patriarchy.
Meanwhile, Lord Byron happily added fuel to the fire, quipping about the dramatics: “Lady Caroline performed the dagger scene”. And that was just the first stop on this shame train.
29. She Stalked Byron
Still listening to her heart rather than any semblance of reason, Caroline now amped up her tactics. She began some light stalking of Byron, dressing up as a pageboy and other incognito getups to see if she could gain entrance to his house without him being aware.
When that didn’t work, she resorted to even more desperate and creepy measures.
30. She Wrote A Creepy Message
After one attempted visit to Byron failed, Caroline took matters into her own hands and wrote “Remember me”! on the inside of one of Byron’s books. When Byron stumbled across the secret scribble, he characteristically did not hold back on eviscerating his ex—and he did it in true poetic fashion.
Byron penned some hate verse in reply, which included the lines “Remember thee! Ay, doubt it not.
Thy husband too shall think of thee … Thou false to him, thou fiend to me”. As with everything Byron was telling Caroline these days, it translated to: Leave me the heck alone, married lady. And he had one final insult up his sleeve.
31. Her Lover Married Someone Else
In 1815, Caroline got utterly heartbreaking news. After dumping her, the still-in-debt Byron had been pursuing the heiress Annabella Milbanke as a bride (all while romancing scores of other side pieces, of course). That year—with grave and accurate misgivings about Byron’s suitability as a husband—Annabella finally said yes, and the pair married.
Byron was now officially off the market.
It must have stung immensely for Caroline—and there’s even more to the story.
32. Her Mother-In-Law Struck Again
Horrifically enough, it was Caroline’s own mother-in-law Elizabeth who once more inserted herself into the situation. As it turns out, Anabella was her niece, and Elizabeth even helped out her bosom buddy Byron by acting as a proxy for his first proposal.
It really didn’t seem like it could get worse, even though it did.
But before that, Caroline got to witness karma come for Byron.
33. She Watched Her Ex Destroy Himself
Barely a year into Byron’s union, his marriage imploded in spectacular fashion. Annabella, now certain that Byron was a horrible husband, left him and took their newborn daughter with her.
But oh, there’s more.
Byron’s continued debt, alongside rumors that he had slept with his own half-sister (yes, really), sealed his ruin at long last. After years of getting off scot-free, Byron was now just as much a social pariah as Caroline.
Disgraced, he fled to the continent—and then Caroline got her own personal revenge.
34. She Published A Tell-All Book
In 1816, Caroline published the Gothic novel Glenarvon. Although technically fiction, the novel spilled her secrets. It contained caricatures of some of the biggest movers and shakers in English society, as well as a pitch-perfect rendition of Byron himself.
It might have been cathartic for Caroline, but it turned into yet another disaster.
35. She Was Blacklisted
Although Caroline had put Glenarvon out anonymously, its portraits were so thinly veiled that everyone knew she was behind it. Enter:
Caroline’s final society scandal. One of the powerful women ridiculed in the novel, The Countess of Jersey, took exception to her portrait and had all of Caroline’s memberships to an exclusive chain of clubs revoked.
It was, for all intents and purposes, the last time Caroline was truly “in” society; they all but blacklisted her from then on. And let’s just say Caroline didn’t handle her new free time well.
36. She Got Her Groove Back
Now, Caroline’s Glenarvon period did actually get off to a good start. Not only was the book a commercial—if not critical—success, around this time she also struck up an affair with none other than the Duke of Wellington, fresh off and practically still bloody from his famous victory at Waterloo.
But even so, Caroline found new ways to make her life all about Lord Byron.
37. She Upset Her Ex
One of Lady Caroline and Lord Byron’s particularly toxic quirks was that, long after their breakup, they engaged with each other’s literary efforts, writing poetry to, about, and around each other. In one poem, Byron alluded to Glenarvon by writing, “Some play the devil—and then write a novel”.
But Byron had no idea what Caroline was really getting up to in her writing.
38. She Had A Strange Talent
After months with Byron and then years obsessing over him, Caroline had an eerie and hard-earned talent for mimicking the poet. At one point, she even wrote an extremely accomplished “New Canto” to his most famous work, Don Juan. At other times, though, she used her skills for far less savory means.
In the wake of their breakup, Caroline had once forged a letter purportedly from Byron and then sent it to his publishers, all in a bid to get them to send over a portrait of her ex.
Incredibly enough, it worked. But these shallow victories gave way to wrack and ruin.
39. She Got Gut-Wrenching News
Lady Caroline Lamb published three novels after Glenarvon, but we nonetheless remember her more for her disastrous affair with Byron—in part because she never truly got over the tryst. In 1824, she received her final blow.
That February, Lord Byron passed suddenly of a violent fever while abroad in Greece. The aftermath was earth-shattering.
40. She Mourned Him Deeply
Bryon’s end shocked many of his admirers across Europe, but perhaps no one was as affected as Caroline. When she learned about it, she reportedly fell into a fever, and when she happened upon his funeral procession soon after, she collapsed in the street.
However, these were just omens of more heartbreaking acts to come.
41. She Stopped Caring
After this point, Caroline seemed to lose all desire to appear “normal” to society. She would have fits of rage where she would break things, or else people would witness her out in public parks riding her horse like devils were chasing her.
She also stopped caring about her appearance and would often show up to engagements unkempt. Then she made a final, fateful decision.
42. She Finally Split From Her Husband
Throughout all of this, Caroline’s husband William still stood by her side, always refusing to give in to his family’s wishes that he divorce her and leave her behind for good.
But in 1825—and it seems no coincidence this happened so soon after Bryon’s passing—it was Caroline herself who finally convinced him to grant them a separation. What followed was a complete downward spiral.
43. She Was Hiding A Dark Side
After separating from William, Caroline took up residence in Brockton Hall. But instead of freeing her, this period only released her inner demons. Since her tween years, she had always had a penchant for laudanum, but over the course of her adult life, it had developed into a serious addiction—one that didn’t marry well with her other penchant for drowning herself in drink.
Within years of her separation, the situation turned dire.
44. Her Body Failed Her
In 1827, Caroline was only 41 years old, but her health was so frail that she was already under the supervision of a full-time doctor. Her body had finally revolted against her, and she was suffering from dropsy, what we call edema today, which is a build-up of fluid in the tissues.
It was clear to everyone that the end was near—and Caroline had a last request.
45. She Had One Last Wish
In her last moments, Caroline’s thoughts went to a surprising person: Her own husband William. After the grip that Lord Byron had on her, Caroline finally seemed to shake the dashing poet off in her last years.
Rather than dwelling on her lost love, she asked that William visit her before she passed, saying, “He is the only who person who has never failed me”.
46. Her End Was Tragic
As he had always done, William came to Caroline, traveling a long and dangerous way to be there with her from his post in Ireland as Chief Secretary.
It was a heartwarming reunion—but it was also a death knell.
As if she had been waiting to say goodbye, Caroline passed just a few days after William’s arrival on January 26, 1828. She was only 42.
47. She Missed Out On Becoming A Viscountess
Lady Caroline Lamb’s life started out with so much promise, but it ended depleted and fatigued. Sadly, the years after her passing only underscored this: When she married William Lamb, they had both expected his father would pass soon, turning him into the Viscount Melbourne and Caroline into a Viscountess.
Instead, this happened a mere six months after Caroline’s death. And then came the second blow.
48. Her Husband Became The Most Powerful Man In England
William Lamb had always had an immensely promising political career, but Caroline never got to see how far he would climb beyond his title of Viscount.
Eventually, almost a decade after saying goodbye to his wife, William Lamb became Prime Minister of England. Imagine what Caroline could have done with that title if she’d tried.
49. She Was Too Giving
Caroline’s desires and passions were too huge and wild for the 19th century to handle, and she was unfairly maligned for her mental struggles at a time when women were supposed to be graceful, pretty, and not much more. Even so, none of this excused her creepiest act.
While in the throes of disappointment about Lord Byron pulling away, Caroline got a strange idea in her head.
She wanted to give him a present to remember her by. But the “present” she sent was utterly disturbing.
50. She Sent Her Lover A Shocking Gift
In an effort to declare her love for Lord Bryon while he was abroad, Lady Caroline sent him a clipping of her hair.
But this was no customary golden lock from her head. Incredibly enough, she clipped her hair, er, down there, and packaged it up to him with a note professing her love. Perhaps the goriest detail?
The clippings were bloody.
Looking back, this might have been the real beginning of the end for Byron and Caroline.