Thursday, November 5, 2009

Devonshire Progeny: Caro Ponsonby (Lamb)

One of the pitter-pattering sets of little feet scampering around Devonshire House were those of the future Lady Caroline Lamb. Caro was the youngest child of Harriet, Georgiana's beloved sister. Therefore much of Caro's childhood was spent with Aunt Georgiana, Uncle William and the rest of the Devonshire Progeny.

Caro's odd behaviour, which was to make her notorious, didn't just spring up in adult-hood. There was always something a bit off about the child. First of all, she differed greatly (in fact, she looked impish), in appearance and otherwise, from her two brothers; which is likely due to her actually being their half-sister. Although this cannot be solidly proved, it is a likely explanation for the differing personalities.

The formidable Lady Spencer described her granddaughter as "one of the most difficult children to manage." She was bratty, unpredictable, and needed constant attention or else she would become increasingly difficult in order to achieve it, asking silly questions and so forth. At least one time this earned her a spanking from grandma! Even Georgiana recorded that she was tempted to slap Caro after she was rude to Harriet on one ocassion.

A lovely reader, Kristi, and I have discussed Caroline's unique personality and she brought up how Caro had many autistic traits, which I found to be a brilliant theory and one that made a lot of sense. Once when Caro was a young teen, she was traveling by carriage with her parents. Somehow the party got lost in the dark and like many a family vacation of mine, Bessborough (Caro's er...Dad) got angry at Harriet and Caro for being frightened. Shortly afterward the horses got spooked and while Bessborough went to calm them, Harriet realized they were about to fall down a pit, hence the frantic horses. When the dust cleared, figuratively speaking, Caro was gone. She was running through the dark fields to the closest town to get help. The papers had a field day.

Caro was very close to her mother and her dutiful brothers were protective of her. Her unpredictable personality made it difficult for her to make friends. The closest Caro seemed to come with childhood friends was Georgiana's daughter Harryo and Bess' daughter Caroline St Jules, who were all very close in age. Both girls had little patience for Caro's antics and commonly found themselves stuck with Caro on long trips across the continent. It was noticed that Caro seemed to behave better when around Caro St Jules' good influence.

When Harryo got married she neglected to invite Caro, who was very put out. Meanwhile Caro St Jules would forever be glued to her foil when the two both married the Lamb brothers. But that part of Caroline's story is of a more tartly nature.


  1. Autism makes sense considering her inability to understand social niceties. Perhaps she has some sort of mild version of the condition.

  2. Ausbergers (which I probably spelled wrong) is a mild form of Autism. That makes me raise an eyebrow when it comes to Caro.

  3. I've read about people with Asberger's. They can function pretty normally but they have a hard time understanding how to behave and how to read other people. Poor Caro. Must have been hard to have been her in many ways.

    Why was her hair cropped short, btw? Do you know?

  4. Yes it's more of a social disease, and it's harder to diagnose in women than males.

    During the regency or empire period it was fashionable to have hair cropped short a la Titus. It was a tribute to those who had been guillotined -there was a lot of fashion trends dedicated to those guillotined actually. There is actually a painting of Bess with that haircut at the National Gallery in Dublin; of course she wasn't being age-appropriate by having that haircut...but that's Bess for you. The haircut was especially popular with social hostesses in France.

  5. It's Asperger's Syndrome. I'm convinced that Percy Shelley had it, as well.

  6. Thanks for the spelling check (since I was too lazy to do it)! I can see that with ol' Perce too. I need to get my hands on a quick bio of him; one that isn't 700 pages long.

  7. haha, I'm glad I now know how to spell Aspergers! Anonymous, why do you think Shelley had it as well?

  8. I don't think that Shelley's lack of concern about conventional morality was a rebellious pose; I think he really, truly didn't get what the big deal was. He offered both of his wives to his dear friend Hogg, for example, and was perplexed that they weren't thrilled with the notion. There are other episodes from his life where his huge intellect can't make sense of the reactions of those around him, especially after the death of baby Clara.

  9. Again, I have a bone to pick. Have you known many people with Autism? Or Asperger's? Or various other neurological or psychiatric problems? I have. Lots. What's more, I know what it's like to be misdiagnosed by professionals and laymen, alike.

    Austistic patients have trouble relating to others, communicating, and making/ maintaing relationships. Asperger's patients have difficulty interpreting non-verbal cues and non-literal speech. Caro was very communicative and receptive, loved parties, was known for her compassion for others, and was very close to many people (who in turn cared deeply for her, despite what some mean-spirited writers would have you believe). Yes, she was very rebellious, independent, and quixotic, but that does not equal a neurological impairment. Nor should her son's autism cause her to lumped together with him under the same label.

    Now before you argue that she had to have had something wrong with her, let me point you to some more apt diagnoses within the realm of the psychiatric. Caro fits Histrionic personality disorder to a tee! Failing that, there is also a strong possibility she may have had Bipolar I (displaying more manic behaviour than depression). If you know anything about those conditions, I think you'll see my point.

  10. I think you mistake me, Jezebel.

    Yes, I too know many people with Autism and Aspergers, I have had the lovely opportunity to work with them and my mother is a special education teacher, so I am no stranger to these two conditions. The person who suggested these traits (not diagnosis) actually has autism and noticed them after reading a biography of Caro's.

    I am sorry you don't think I gave appropriate credit to historical figure you obviously love and cherish.