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LADIES OF THE HAUTE TON 3: ELIZABETH, LADY MELBOURNE

Lady Melbourne features in my first book, Amy, The Story of a Coram Foundling. Amy is the personal maid of Lady Bessborough's daughter Lady Caroline, and after Lady Caroline's marriage to William Lamb in 1805, Amy goes to live with the newly married couple at Melbourne House in Whitehall, where she encounters the formidable Lady Melbourne who is the mother of William.

Elizabeth, Lady Melbourne
Elizabeth, Lady Melbourne

Lady Melbourne was a leading society hostess and Whig supporter who was known for her numerous love affairs and her ambitious plans for her four surviving children.

She was born Elizabeth Milbanke in 1751 to parents Sir Ralph Milbanke and Elizabeth Hedworth. Her brother, also called Ralph, was the father of Annabella Milbanke, who would later marry Lord Byron.

In 1769, she married Whig MP Sir Peniston Lamb, whose merchant father had left him very wealthy, and she soon established herself as a leading society and political hostess. The Lamb's had a London townhouse, Melbourne House in Piccadilly, and a country estate, Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire. Melbourne House was originally in Piccadilly, but they swapped houses with the cash-strapped Frederick, Duke of York, and moved to what became Melbourne House in Whitehall. The Piccadilly property was then sold by the Duke and became the Albany, which still stands today.

 Lady Melbourne with her husband Peniston
Lady Melbourne with her husband Peniston

Lady Melbourne and her husband were never faithful to each other and both carried on numerous extra-marital affairs, and only the Lamb's eldest son, Peniston, was fathered by Lord Melbourne. Of her surviving children, William and Emily Lamb were the product of her affair with Lord Egremont, Frederick Lamb by one of her many lovers, and her youngest George was fathered by the Prince of Wales. Then as a reward for services rendered, Sir Peniston was raised to the peerage as Viscount Melbourne.

She was extremely ambitious for all of her children and had earmarked the boys for political careers, especially her second eldest, William, who she hoped would one day be Prime Minister.

Melbourne House, Whitehall, where Lady Melbourne held court. It still stands and is now the Scottish Office.
Melbourne House, Whitehall, where Lady Melbourne held court. It still stands and is now the Scottish Office.

                                   

Lady Melbourne allowed William to marry Lady Caroline Ponsonby, daughter of the leading Whig, Lord Bessborough, so he could further his political career, but she would later regret the decision, as Lady Caroline was volatile and mentally unstable, the marriage was stormy, and they quarrelled constantly.

After two stillbirths, Lady Caroline gave birth to a son, Augustus, but he had learning difficulties and suffered epileptic seizures all of his life. The Lamb's marriage fell apart, and Lady Caroline embarked on a series of affairs, most famously with Lord Byron, but instead of following Lady Melbourne's example and being discreet about them, Lady Caroline openly flaunted and publicly bragged about her affairs. This led to Lady Melbourne utterly detesting her daughter-in-law, and she sought revenge by having an affair with Byron herself after he had dumped Lady Caroline.

 Lady Melbourne in middle-age
Lady Melbourne in middle-age

Lady Melbourne then arranged a marriage for her daughter, Emily, to Lord Cowper, who was much older but very rich, and she, like her mother carried on numerous affairs throughout her life, most notably with Lord Palmerston who later became Prime Minister. They eventually married after Lord Cowper's death.

Frederick Lamb became British Ambassador to Vienna, and George married Caroline St Jules, the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Devonshire by his long-term mistress, Lady Bess Foster.

Lady Melbourne passed away in 1818, and she was outlived by her husband for 10 years. He died in 1828, just months after her despised daughter-in-law, Lady Caroline died, thereby denying her the title of Lady Melbourne.

Lady Melbourne's dream was eventually fulfilled when, William Lamb, the 2nd Lord Melbourne, became Prime Minister in 1834.

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