It’s Daggers at Dawn!

My dear Ly. M – God knows what has happened – but a 4 in the morning Ly. Ossulstone angry (& at that moment ugly) delivered to me a confused kind of message from you of some scene – this is all I know – except that with laudable logic she drew the usual feminine deduction that I “must have behaved very ill…

Oh dear, it would appear that on another balmy July evening some 205 years ago, the poet Lord Byron had found himself in hot water – again!

Ly. W(estmorland) says “you must have done something – you know between people in your situation – a word or a look goes a great way” &c. &c. – so it seems indeed….

On the evening of Monday July 5 he attended a ‘Small Waltzing Party – 10 o’clock at the home of Lady Heathcote despite his intense dislike for the ‘fashionable Waltz’ on account of his lameness and for his disdain for anything remotely fashionable.

That he had attended a party only days before that had all ‘the refuse of the Regent & the Red book – Bedfords – Jerseys – Ossulstones – Greys & the like’ also did very little to deter him!

And that he might bump into Lady Caroline Lamb, his aggrieved and furious former lover whom he had been anxiously avoiding several days earlier was yet another futile deterrent.

Byron’s most recent paramour Lady Oxford had sailed out of his life with her husband at the end of June and although he had been reunited with his half- sister Augusta Leigh, he was making plans to go abroad again.

And so he went to Lady Heathcote’s party as did Caro who according to Byron’s trusty confidant, his ‘Dear Lady M’ was determined to pique the poet ‘by her Waltzing’.

Piqued or not, something happened to Caro at this party involving a Waltz, blunt words and a sharp weapon according to the people there and with human memory so notoriously fallible – some wild and rather outrageous stories were shared.

What did not happen was the dramatic scene as portrayed in the 1973 film Lady Caroline Lamb with Richard Chamberlain as an unsympathetic Byron wrestling a knife from an hysterical and suicidal Caro as a group of ladies including Annabella Milbanke as the future Lady Byron scream and run for cover.

Professing ignorance of the whole bloody scene, Lord Byron could only say:

I have heard a strange story of C’s scratching herself with glass – & I know not what besides…

What I did or said to provoke her – I know not – I told her it was better to waltz – ‘because she danced well’ but I see nothing in this to produce cutting and maiming – besides before supper I saw her – & though she said and did even then a foolish thing…

She took hold of my hand as I passed & pressed it against some sharp instrument – & said – ‘I mean to use this’ – I answered – ‘against me I presume’ – & passed on… nor do I know where this cursed scarification took place – nor when – I mean the room – & the hour.

Lady Melbourne with her sensibility, poise and distaste for scandal had merely this to say:

She broke a Glass, & Scratched herself, as you call it, with the broken pieces – Ly O(ssulstone) and Ly H(eathcote) – discussed instead of taking it from her, & I had just left off, holding her for 2 Minutes.

However according the Duchess of Beaufort: Caro not only wounded herself in several places but was carried out by several people actually in a straight waist coat.

But it is only fair that we hear from the Lady herself:

He had made me swear I was never to Waltz – Lady Heathcote said ‘come Lady Caroline you must begin, & I bitterly answered  – Oh yes! I am in a merry humour.’

I did so but whispered to Lord Byron, ‘I conclude I may Waltz now’ and he answered sarcastically, ‘with every body in turn, you always did it better than any one. I shall have pleasure in seeing you’.

I did so, with what feelings you may judge.

After this, feeling ill, I went into a small inner room where supper was prepared: Lord Byron & Lady Rancliffe entered after!

Seeing me, he said ‘I have been admiring your dexterity.’ I clasped the knife, not intending anything, ‘So my dear,’ he said ‘yet if you mean to act a Roman part, mind which way you strike with our knife, be it at your own heart not mine – you have struck there already.’ ‘Byron’ I said, and ran away with the knife.

I never stabbed myself….people pulled to get it from me; I was terrified my hand got cut & blood came over my gown..

With Caro’s hysterics, Lady Melbourne’s anguish and the scolding by the ladies of Lady Heathcote’s circle, Byron must have been counting the days until his departure abroad, particularly when the story was published in The Satirist:

‘With horn-handled knife,

To kill a tender lamb as dead as mutton’


However, his departure would not be for another three years and that is for another story!

Sources used: 

Byron’s ‘Corbeau Blanc’ The Life and Letters of Lady Melbourne Ed Jonathan David Gross (Liverpool University Press 1997)

Byron’s Letters and Journals Volume 3 1813-1814 Ed Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1974)

Lady Caroline Lamb Paul Douglass (Palgrave Macmillan 2004)

The Whole Disgraceful Truth Selected Letters of Lady Caroline Lamb Paul Douglass (Palgrave Macmillan 2006)

Lady Melbourne Braves Opinion!

The time is past in which I could feel for the dead – or I should feel for the death of Lady Melbourne the best & kindest & ablest female I ever knew – old or young – but ‘I have supped full of horrors’ & events of this kind leave only a kind of numbness worse than pain…

there is one link the less between England & myself…

Lord Byron

‘Famous in Her Time’ A Portrait of Lady Melbourne by Richard Cosway..

Lady Melbourne was born into this world Elizabeth Milbanke in 1752, the only daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke a wealthy and successful Yorkshire baronet of Halnaby Hall.

Her older brother Ralph who would become Lord Byron’s father-in-law in January 1815 was known disparagingly as ‘old twaddle Ralph’ by the Duchess of Devonshire and as there was certainly no love lost between Lady Melbourne and his opinionated spouse, one suspects that the Hon. Judith Milbanke was spoken of with equal disparagement:


God bless You! my Dear. I shall only add – that from the time we married, the only unhappiness You have occasioned me, has been from seeing the Sway Lady M. has at times had over You – and that before I was able to oppose it, or had the courage to do so. She has pillaged You of tens of thousands – recollect this – and now despise her.

A Portrait of the Milbanke and Lamb Families by George Stubbs in 1769

Educated, attractive and with a talent for ambition Elizabeth Milbanke would soon move away from provincial Yorkshire and by 1769 had married Peniston Lamb, a wealthy, foolish and easy going lawyer and as she worked hard to advance the fortune and the prestige of her family, she would become became one of the most celebrated Society Hostesses on behalf of the Whig Party.

Melbourne House with its tasteful and expensive decor became known as London’s most liveliest and exclusive house; a place for the dazzling parties in which only the powerful and the beautiful were admitted and it was in this milieu with charm and a ruthlessness that Lady Melbourne would cultivate the friendship of the fashionable Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, the connections of the powerful Duke of Bedford and the protection of Lord Egremont.

Intrigue at Melbourne House, Now Dover House in Whitehall, London…

By 1784 Lady Melbourne had made her most distinguished advancement by virtue of the affair with the Prince Regent and although the romance did not last long their friendship would flourish and along with the title of 1st Viscount Melbourne for her naïve spouse, it is also likely that Prinny was the sire of the Melbourne’s third son George Lamb.

Of all of Lady Melbourne’s six children, her first born Peniston Lamb in 1770 was believed to be the only natural son of Lord Melbourne with the rest of his siblings all of dubious and mysterious parentage. A view echoed by her second son William Lamb who was to describe his adored mother as a remarkable woman ‘but not chaste, not chaste.’

Chaste or not, she was undoubtedly a formidable mother to her children whom she nurtured with love while encouraging the Lamb family values of sardonic confidence and the love of a good party and when William Lamb married Lady Caroline Ponsonby who had been born into one of the most powerful Whig families and the niece of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire in June 1805, the ambitious Lady Melbourne was very happy.

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know? A Portrait of Lady Caroline Lamb…

In 1812, Lady Melbourne began a controversial friendship with Byron as the affair with her daughter-in-law and his ‘delirium of two months’ was moving toward a volatile and unhappy ending.

For after visiting Lady Caroline in her first floor apartment in Melbourne House, Byron would often visit the ground floor apartment where Lady Melbourne lived and even though she was old enough to be his mother, she became in time his closest confidant and the recipient and literary voyeur of his most witty and outrageous letters.

Despite the antipathy she felt toward her brother’s wife, she actively encouraged Byron’s courtship with her niece Annabella as the means in which to destroy his love affair with Lady Caroline and she would become increasingly critical about his relationship with half-sister Augusta Leigh.

Vastly obedient?! You are fair, & do not try to deceive  me & in that you have great merit, I confess, – but on “other points” – XXX

I wish I could flatter myself I had the least influence… for I could talk & reason with you for two Hours, so many objections have I to urge, & after all, for what… is it worth while!

We Three! The Hon. Augusta Leigh with Lord and Lady Byron…

Believing a woman’s duty was to provide her husband with his heir and that monogamy within marriage was not the natural state and as such a woman was at liberty to have affairs, only and always with discretion but it was Lady Caroline’s blatant lack of circumspection and not the affair with either Sr. Godfrey Webster or Byron which prompted Lady Melbourne to become her severest critic:


when any one braves the opinion of the World, sooner or later they will feel the consequences of it and although at first people may have excused your forming friendships with all those who are censured for their conduct, from yr youth and inexperience yet when they see you continue to single them out and to overlook all the decencys imposed by Society –

they will look upon you as belonging to the same class…

By 1816 in the aftermath of Byron’s disastrous marriage and the Milbanke family had severed contact with the Melbourne family – a vengeful and isolated Lady Caroline created yet more mischief with the publication of her book Glenarvon.

With the premature death of Peniston Lamb in 1805, William as the 2nd Viscount Melbourne and a political star on the rise who would eventually serve as Prime Minister to the young Queen Victoria; was now under pressure from his family to separate from his volatile spouse or to have her committed to a lunatic asylum.

A Portrait of William Lamb, the Future Lord Melbourne…

In desperation, Lady Caroline was to write to her rattled mother-in-law:

“I am on the brink of another ruin. Half my friends cut me, all my acquaintances are offended – your protection may save – but I shall never ask for it unless freely offered” and such support Lady Melbourne would offer until her death on Saturday April 6 1818 at the age of 66.

And as Lord Byron’s ‘Corbeau Blanc’ was laid to rest in the Lamb family vault at St Ethelreda’s Church in Hatfield on April 14, the reaction to her passing from Lady Shelley would remain as controversial as the lady herself.


The death of Lady Melbourne offers food for reflection to the most frivolous. This lady, beautiful, clever, and well read, married in the flower of her beauty a man who did not care for her in the least.

As a natural consequence she was surrounded by admirers belonging to the highest walks of life. Unfortunately, she was addicted to opium, which broke down her health and dimmed her mental faculties..

Sources Used:

Byron’s ‘Corbeau Blanc’ (The Life and Letters of Lady Melbourne) Jonathan David Gross (Liverpool University Press 1997)

Lady Caroline Lamb This Infernal Woman Susan Normington (House of Stratus 2001)

Melbourne David Cecil (The Reprint Society 1955)

The Uninhibited Byron An Account of His Sexual Confusion Bernard Grebanier (Peter Owen 1970)

The Whole Disgraceful Truth (Selected Letters of Lady Caroline Lamb) Paul Douglass (Palgrave MacMillan 2006)

Further Reading:

 Lady Melbourne Tart of the Week – The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century