Friday, February 6, 2009

Tart of the Week: Caroline Fox Baroness Holland



The Lennox sisters were an infamous quartet of siblings with good upbringing and gossip-worthy lives. Which might make you wonder why you haven't seen their names grace this blog yet. The truth is because of Stella Tillyard's book, there is a lot of information on them which can be quite intimidating to the humble blogger!

The eldest of these Lenoxes was the first to dapple with scandal. Lady Georgiana Caroline Lennox was born in 1723 to the uber-adorable couple, Charles Lennox and Lady Sarah Cadogan. Just as with Georgiana and Harriet, Caroline's lucky family situation instilled in her the belief that marriages should contain love. Unfortunately, this was commonly untrue in aristocratic marriages. Her parents' high sense of rationality and politeness was also instilled upon her. Her family life accustomed her to lots of fun company; so Caroline developed a taste for entertaining and being surrounded by friends. Soon enough Caroline was a prim and proper model of an aristocratic daughter. She was also a bibliophile with an interest in self-improvement. It was only a matter of time before her reputation would be tarnished.

Enter Henry Fox. This ugly squat little man was a a Whig politician and bonafide bad boy. Well, perhaps "boy" isn't the best phrase considering that Henry was 37 when when the 19 year old beauty met him. Not only that but he already had a reputation as a womanizer and gambler. Henry was an unlikely threat to teenage daughters' hearts. Yet, under the layers of fat and bushy black eyebrows was a sentimental book lover and poet looking to settle down. When he met Caroline, the stubborn little man decided that she was his future bride, no ifs ands or buts.

He proposed to Caroline who neither said yes or no and then promptly asked her father for her hand. According to Henry, Caroline had eagerly agreed to his proposal. The Duke of Richmond liked Fox, but only as company that went home at night, not as an in-law. Henry's bold declaration left the Duke furious; Caroline deserved better! Her parents forbade the marriage and figured the whole event would quickly blow over. Henry though, was irate about his marriage plan being ruined. Long story short, Caroline secretly slipped out of the safety of her parent's home one night to secretly wed Henry. She immediately returned to admit the elopement to her parents. She never expected their reaction. They banished her from her childhood home and forbade her of seeing them or her sisters ever again.

This was a devastating blow to the close family. It would be years before Caroline would be united with her beloved sisters. While her scandalous marriage did turn out to be a happy and fruitful one Caroline still felt empty and guilt-ridden for her uncharacteristic act that seemed to have damned her. Still, her doting husband who loved her dearly and treated her as an equal helped her cope. With the birth of their children the Foxes, as Tillyard put it, fell in love all over again. In fact there was a little too much love going on at their house. The spoilt children ran amok and got away with it while the parents watched fondly and the guests looked on, horrified. There is even a story of their son Charles James destroying his father's valued pocket watch in front of guests with no repercussions. Guests got plenty of opportunities to see the Fox circus since people were always over. The household would transform into a gentleman's club by night; picture the frat house from Animal House except with Lady Caroline and two crazy little boys.

By 1774 Caroline's health was failing miserably. Against all expectations, Caroline rallied and continued to survive despite looking worse and worse for wear. Suddenly, during her illness, Henry died peacefully in his sleep. Perhaps, his passing is what made Caroline give up her fight. She died a very gruesome and slow death shortly afterword, complete with swelling and smelling and all those awful aspects. However many were astonished how alive her mind and conversation were in her final moments. Despite her condition, Caroline always had a light about her that shone until the very end.

7 comments:

Ninon said...

Great post!! Caroline was one of my favourites in the book, and I especially liked the part when Fox proposed to her and then, when her parents refused, he just wouldn't give up and wrote lots of letters to convince them..

Heather Carroll said...

He was incredibly persistent! It's also always nice to hear of a happy aristocratic marriage which seemed so rare.

Lauren said...

Lovely post. I love the Lennox sisters, they are just so fascinating. I always wondered about Emily's curious arrangements. She was one lady who's love for her husband and lack of jealousy I admire. But, I must say, I'm glad she had her own liason in the end.

Polonaise said...

Great tart. When Aristocrats was first published, it was the Lennox sisters who turned me into a Georgian Junkie. They and Adam Ant's Stand and Deliver video, that is! (He has a lot to answer for.)

I hope Sarah Lennox will grace the tart list one day too. All the Lennox sisters were so interesting. I'd love to go to Ireland and see Emily's grotto.

Eliza Ward said...

Interesting, thanks for the post! And I love the cute anecdote about little Charles James!! (It wasn't my watch, so to me it's funny!)

Lauren said...

Wait - why did she want to marry him? He seduced her??

Heather Carroll said...

Good question! I think there is a lack of Caroline's reaction at the time, mostly just her parents' and Fox's correspondence back and forth. So it is unclear exactly what she felt. But Tillyard makes it sounds like she was battling conflicting emotions about duty and love.