So. Sex. Sex and Waterloo. Well, sex and Brussels in 1815. Okay, sex and the British aristocracy. Now, anybody who is familiar with the ways of the aristocracy in the Regency era knows that most of the more powerful families still made dynastic marriages(I’ll bring the title, honey, you bring the money), which meant that nobody cared much if the combatants…er participants, once the succession was assured, found companionship on the side. Lady Emily Cowper, she of Almack’s fame, was the longtime mistress of Lord Palmerston and married him when her own husband died(at least she waited). Poor Caroline Lamb(I like Caroline. She nursed her brother after Waterloo and took devoted care of her own child, who had been born mentally challenged. Not only that, how can you blame her for outrageous behavior when she was undoubtedly raised in the Duke of Devonshire’s home with her aunt, his wife, and Lady Elizabeth foster, his mistress, and all their combined children). Anyway, poor Caroline was vilified for acting out in public. Her crime wasn’t having the affair with Byron. It was being blatant about it. Her own mother and mother-in-law were just as outrageous. They were just more discreet. Oh, and one more thing. Everybody blames Caroline for the problematic marriage with William Lamb, later the Lord Melbourne so aptly played by Paul Bettany in Young Victoria. I’m not so sure. Here’s a quote about Melbourne’s later life from historian Boyd Hilton. “it is irrefutable that Melbourne’s personal life was problematic. Spanking sessions with aristocratic ladies were harmless, not so the whippings administered to orphan girls taken into his household as objects of charity.”
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But what kind of amazed me was that I’ve always been told that in the Regency period, divorce was the ultimate no-no. That nobody did it. Nobody survived the ignominy. That would also be a no. When you read DANCING INTO WATERLOO, it seems that half the people in Brussels had once been married to their neighbor but run off with the neighbor on the other side. I know that Lady Charlotte Paget, countess of Uxbridge had a difficult time when she arrived in Waterloo after the battle to nurse her husband. After all, he had stolen her from the Duke of Wellington’s brother and been banished from the military for four years for it. But Uxbridge’s first wife divorced him in Scottish courts and turned right around to marry the Duke of Argyll(and yes. Uxbridge married Lady Charlotte). And when Wellington really needed Uxbridge, he called him back in time to fight at Waterloo. But considering the fact that his first mother-in-law(Lady Jersey) was regularly bonking the Prince of Wales (which everyone knew) and his second wife’s first brother-in-law(that would be Wellington–we kinda need a scorecard) was diddling half the female population of the ton without much repercussion, I’m not sure Charlotte could be the only one blamed. If I had the book with me, I’d give you more names. There were certainly more than I’d expected. In fact, I’m kind of amazed that they had the energy left to deal with the French.
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