Risky Regencies

Fairy Tale Endings (Or Not)

When I was a kid, I loved fairy tales! I liked the fluffy, Disney-fied ones (great clothes! I mean, who doesn’t like Cinderella’s blue dress?), but my favorites were from a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales my grandmother gave me. The ones where the stepsisters chopped off bits of their feet to fit into Cinderella’s slipper, stuff like that. Dark and fantastical, with lots of tangled forests and crumbling castles. And curses, of course. I love curses. I also liked stories from the ballet, where the heroine was usually a ghost or a part-time bird, and there were curses galore, as well as dark wizards and sacrificing for love. They had great clothes, too. But I always liked the dangerous romance of all that more than the bland princes and singing mice of the Disney version. Yeah, I was a weird kid. Probably a weird adult, too, since I still eat up all that stuff with a spoon!

As I get older and read more and more bios of real-life historic couples, I find few (if any) Disney HEAs. If there was an HE at all, it was usually twisting and halting, full of surprises and compromise. Like life itself, I guess, with fewer talking animals and dark omens than in fairy tales. But I often find the darker, more complex the “romance” the greater the story.

There are so many interesting Regency-era couples, but I chose only two to talk about. No Disney wedding endings here, of course! We’re going to look at Lady Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron (a Mess if there ever was one, but I find that whole “Crazy Love” thing fascinating, not having felt anything at all like it since high school. Thankfully). And Charles James Fox and Elizabeth Armistead, because theirs was a twisted path indeed, ending in a deep devotion.

Lady Caroline Ponsonby Lamb was the wife of William Lamb (the younger son of Byron’s friend Lady Melbourne, another fascinating character), the daughter of Harriet Bessborough (Georgiana’s sister–huh, whaddya know, more fascinating characters!), and full of all the creativity and instability (to say the least) her genes would suggest. When she met Byron in 1812, she was 27, with a few wild affairs to her name already. Byron was 24, famous as the melancholy, handsome author of Childe Harold. She read the poem before meeting him, and wrote him an anonymous fan letter, saying “You deserve to be and you shall be happy…” A few days later she set out to meet him at a party at Lady Westmoreland’s, but ran off when she saw him surrounded by other adoring women.

This, of course was the best thing she could have done to get his attention. He was pasionately in love with his lovers–until he was sure of their love, of course. Then not so much. By avoiding the introduction, she made Byron determined to meet her. She didn’t resemble his concept of Ideal Feminine Beauty, being tall, very thin, with short, curling blond hair and hazel eyes. After their first meeting, Byron said “The lady had scarcely any personal attractions to recommend her.” But Caro said “That beautiful pale face is my fate.”

But she also possessed a disregard of opinion that Byron seemed to covet (for all his posturing, it seems like he worried about “what people think” too much to be a true free spirit, at least not until later in his life). She was also exuberantly emotional, intelligent, creative, and well-read. They would read together, discuss poetry–and argue fiercely. Their affair shocked and dazzled London through April and May of 1812. They quarreled in public; when she wasn’t invited to a party he was at, she would wait outside on the street. When she refused to say she loved him more than her husband, he wrote “My God, you shall pay for this, I’ll wring that obstinate little heart.” But the ton hadn’t seen nothing yet. The real drama started when the affair ended.

In summer 1812, Byron was persuaded to leave London–without Caro, who had gotten out of control in her passion. She bombarded him with letters at his home at Newstead; when they were both in London, she snuck into his house disguised as page, ran after him, threatened to stab herself, etc. Finally, her family took her off to the country to recuperate. She held a dramatic bonfire, with village girls dressed in white dancing around the flames while Caroline threw letters and books into the fire. (I might have done this when I was 17, if my parents didn’t have strict rules about open flames in the back yard…)

Anyhoo, now I’ve gone on soooo long here, I think we’ll have to talk about the Foxes next week! In the meantime, as we wrap our Risky Valentine’s week special, who are some of your favorite couples?

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Cara King
14 years ago

I think all my favorite couples are fictional — real people can be so disappointing. 🙂

Interesting post! And I like the pics, too.


Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Cara, you’re too funny and too right. There’s just one couple (friends of ours) that I can think of.

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

“I think all my favorite couples are fictional — real people can be so disappointing.”

Very true! Maybe that’s why I’m so into romance novels 🙂

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

I wonder about Castlereagh and his wife, who, I believe had a loving marriage. But how might it have seemed to her when her husband thought she conspired against him. She apparently had confiscated all the “sharps” (a word we used when I worked at the mental hospital)but he found a small knife she’d forgotten and with it he slit his throat.

14 years ago

You do have a point, Cara. I was lucky enough to have over 14 years of HEA with a fabulous once in a lifetime man. My Dad was stationed in Germany with my Mom’s brothers and saw a photo of her on one of their desks. He asked who she was. When they told him she was their sister he said “You guys are too ugly to have someone that beautiful in your family.” It was the 50’s and young ladies wrote to soldiers. Dad got her address and they started writing to each other. After a year’s correspondence he came home to the States. He arrive in PA on May 3rd, was in Alabama on May 4th. They had one date and were married on May 11th. They were married 40 years when my Dad passed away. I never heard them fight (I’m sure they did, but we kids never saw it.)How confident was he when hr proposed? He bought her engagement ring in Germany AND had a set of German silver flatware engraved with her first initial, maiden name initial and his last name initial.

Another favorite couple of mine are John and Abigail Adams. I have read several books about them and their letters to each other are amazing. How can you not love letters that are signed “I am now as I ever was and ever shall be, yours”

Megan Frampton
14 years ago

I think Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward are a lovely couple.

Janet Mullany
14 years ago

Temeraire and Captain Laurence, the best couple of all time.

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

“Temeraire and Captain Laurence, the best couple of all time.”

LOL! They do have an extraordinary amount of chemistry…

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
14 years ago

Hi Amanda, I wrote about Lady Caroline Lamb on Scandalous Women a few months ago. I don’t know if they are my favorite couple. I still vote for Nelson and Lady Hamilton. Lady Caroine was too desperate and clingy. If anything her relationship with her husband was more romantic, because he refused to seperate from her even when she was embarrassing him. I do love Charles James Fox and Elizabeth Armistead, although for some reason in Amazing Grace they kept refering to him as Lord Charles Fox, when he was always referred to as Charles James Fox.

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