Many events that conditioned Lady Caroline Lamb’s childhood took place before her birth or when she was too young to know of them. The most obvious example is the ménage a trois that had begun in 1782, three years before she was born. Newly separated from her husband, Lady Elizabeth Foster met the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire (Caroline’s Aunt and Uncle) in Bath, where they had gone to take the cure for his gout and her “infertility.” Georgiana was worried that she might not be able to produce an heir. The story of Lady Elizabeth’s bad marriage touched the Duke and Duchess, and Georgiana began to call her “sister.” “Bess” Foster became the Duke’s mistress, though also remaining Georgiana’s friend. Bess and Georgiana both became pregnant by the Duke, and in August 1785 the Duchess of Devonshire presented the Duke with their second daughter, whom she named Harriet Elizabeth, in honor of her sister Harriet and Bess. In the meantime, in a village in Italy, Bess Foster gave birth to a little girl whom she named Caroline Adelaide Rosalie (no surname). Thus, two months before she was born, Lady Caroline Lamb acquired an illegitimate cousin exactly her age also named Caroline. Lady Caroline’s obsession with doubling in her fiction, almost certainly stems from her awareness that she had a doppelganger.
The two Carolines grew up in together. When Lady Caroline’s mother, Lady Bessborough, needed to take the cure in Bath for a mysterious illness in the August of 1791, Caroline Rosalie was also there. And when Lady Bessborough accompanied her disgraced elder sister, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, to the continent so she could give birth to her illegitimate child by Lord Howick (Charles Grey, later Earl Grey), the other Caroline went along with her mother Bess Foster.
In Montpellier, in late February 1792, Lady Caroline’s Aunt Georgiana gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, who was given to a wet nurse, who took the infant to live with Charles Grey’s parents. Once again, Bess had done her duty, and Georgiana thanked her by going with her to see the Comte St. Jules to persuade him to lend his surname to little Caroline Rosalie. For unknown reasons, the Comte agreed to share his name just before he died. The secret is buried with him.
In May 1799, Caroline attended her first communion in Westminster Abbey, where she was confirmed along with Caroline St. Jules. In 1805 Lady Caroline married William Lamb, and in 1809, Caroline Rosalie Adelaide St. Jules married William Lamb’s brother George and received from her secret father, the Duke of Devonshire, an amazing dowry of £30,000, , the identical amount that had been given to his eldest daughter, Georgiana, when she had married. Not only that, but the Duke arranged for the newlyweds to receive an annuity of £500 a year. Now there were two Caroline Lambs, and the family took to calling them “Caro William” and “Caro George.”
Unbelievably, the George Lamb and his bride took up residence in Melbourne House, so that the two Caros were forced to “live cordially together without the little jealousies which in their situations are so much to be dreaded,” as Lady Caroline’s Grandmother wrote. The two Carolines were naturally the subject of speculation and assessment. When the future Lady Byron, Anne Isabella (“Annabella”) Milbanke, wrote a character study of Lady Caroline, she also composed one of Caro George. Condemning the former as a master manipulator, she praised the latter as having “strong feeling for the amiability of Truth,” and being “invariably good-tempered” and moderate.
The two Carolines had mostly good relations, despite the obvious inducement to tension, but over time they grew apart, and Caro George eventually became a quiet but effective opponent who worsened Lady Caroline’s already difficult relationships with the Lamb (Melbourne) family. When Lord and Lady Byron were about to separate, Lady Caroline wanted to talk to Lady Byron about their conflict for a variety of reasons, one of which was that she felt guilty for not having spoken up about Lord Byron’s character before Annabella had married him. The interview was conducted in the home of Caro George in 1816. That year, after the publication of the infamous Glenarvon had made Lady Caroline a pariah, Caro George joined other acquaintances and relatives in “cutting” and snubbing Lady Caroline—essentially giving her the silent treatment. When Lady Byron at first seemed to like Glenarvon, Caro George was careful to guide her toward a more acceptable assessment. She joined the campaign to get William Lamb to separate from Lady Caroline, and undoubtedly encouraged her husband to say he would not enter Melbourne House so long as Lady Caroline was still there, nor would he permit his wife. Caro George lobbied Lady Byron to shun Lady Caroline, telling Annabella she had “ruined herself so completely in public opinion by her impudence that no one should try to protect her.”
Despite all this, the two Carolines were on speaking terms in fall 1827 when Lady Caroline approached the end of her life. Caro George remained close to Lady Byron, whom she outlived by two years. Her role in Lady Caroline’s difficult life perhaps only looks strange at the distance of almost two centuries. At the time, everyone seemed to take the doppelgangers for granted.