“Mad, bad and dangerous to know.”
- Lady Caroline Lamb’s description in her diary of Lord Byron.
Portrait of Lady Caroline Lamb above by Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Lady Caroline Lamb (1785-1828) was a British aristocrat and novelist best known for her affair with Lord Byron in 1812. She was the wife of the 2nd Viscount Melbourne who was Prime Minister in 1834 and 1835-1841.
Although the marriage was originally based on love, the stress of having an autistic child who was cared for at home, a premature daughter who did not survive, long recovery periods and the absences through work of Viscount Melbourne drove a wedge between them.
It was also a period when women having lovers after they had provided an heir was common.
Between March and August 1812 Lady Caroline was involved in a torrid affair with the poet Lord Byron (1788-1824). He was 24 and she was 27.
As Lady Caroline became more possessive of him and began causing scenes in public, Byron called the relationship off. The distraught Lady Caroline was taken to Ireland by her husband but continued corresponding with Byron. On her return to London in 1813 she became history’s first celebrity stalker, constantly following him and making increasing attempts to contact and reunite with him. At one point she disguised herself as a boy to gain entrance to his lodgings. Byron wasn’t interested in getting back together. In July 1813 when Byron arrived at a party with another companion and ignored Caroline, she fell to the floor screaming, tried to cut her wrists with broken glass and stabbed herself several times with a pair of scissors. She was removed in a straitjacket and her position in society was ruined.
Her obsession with Byron lasted for the rest of her life. Revelations by Caroline of Byron’s male lovers and incestuous relationship with his half sister caused a public fallout that made Byron leave England.
Her last years were characterised by mental illness, physical ill health and abuse of alcohol and laudanum. Her estranged husband rushed from Ireland to be by her side when death was imminent, being with her when she died.
Mad, bad and dangerous would also have been an apt description by Lady Caroline Lamb of herself..