This post is a continuation of the previous one, concentrating on the character of Regency-era servants when working under duress. I think these details are quite illuminating.
The following anecdotes, unless otherwise noted, come from the letters of Lady Williams-Wynn, (Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn; edited by Rachel Frances Marion Leighton, 1920 – my copy is from archive.org).
In 1820, her ladyship wrote in horrified tones to her daughter-in-law concerning the destruction of Wotton House. This fine Queen Anne mansion in Buckinghamshire was the ancestral home of the politically powerful Grenville family.
Built in the English Baroque style, with square apartments and high ceilings, Wotton’s design readily explains its destruction, although that circumstance was not apparent right away. A fire started in the room next to the nursery and soon flames were shooting straight up through the ceiling. Unfortunately, the copper roof confined the heat and flames to the attic, which ran the length of the mansion, and so the fire spread outwards from end to end of Wotton. The fire then traveled back down into the house by the only avenues of escape–the wooden staircases at either end and down the center of Wotton.
A fire that might have damaged one part of the house ended up burning the whole to the ground.
Lady Williams-Wynn grew up at Wotton. She witnessed many poignant events there, including the untimely deaths of her parents.
“You will easily believe what a pang it has given me to think that all which was associated with my earliest and tenderest recollections should be wiped off from the face of the earth..”
— Lady W.W. to Fanny W.W. Nov. 5th, 1820
Wotton was the home of Lord Temple, son and heir to the duke of Buckingham and Chandos. He, along with his wife and baby daughter, Lady Anna, were in residence at the time of the fire. Their child was only nine months old, having been born earlier in the year in February. Lady W.W. expressed great astonishment that Lady Anna might have died in the fire but for the efforts of his lordship’s valet.
“We are all wonder at hearing from all sides of the peril of the poor Baby without one word being said of its Nurse..”
Imagine the chagrin of poor Nanny. Of all persons present in the house, she should have been the one to rescue her charge. Instead, the business had been left to the valet. One must wonder at Lady Temple’s domestic arrangements for the valet to be present at that particular moment in that part of the house (!)
Such a destructive fire bore investigation and Nanny provided an important clue. It was she, and not the valet, who was the first to see the smoke traveling across the wooden beams of the nursery ceiling. It was she, and not the valet, who picked up Baby and fled. I surmise she delivered her charge into the care of his lordship’s man in order to race back to the nursery to save irreplaceable mementos, such as the child’s christening gown.
Holding the Lady Anna in his arms, the valet could not refuse the hero’s mantle.
Several years earlier, in 1814,* Lady W.W. described the following incident concerning the eccentric daughter-in-law of fellow Whigs, Lord and Lady Melbourne. Apparently, this unfortunate occurrence was all the ton could talk about–the on-dit of that autumn.
The ‘wretched’ Lady Caroline Lamb, as Lady W.W. called her, was already a figure of scandal by the time this latest outrage occurred. Earlier in the year she’d embarked on a well-publicized affair with Lord Byron, having met him in that Whig stronghold, Holland House.
After the affair ended, a surgeon was called to Lady Caroline’s house. One of her pages had suffered a serious injury. Apparently the lad refused to make proper obeisance to her ladyship and received a blow to the head. The offender insisted her instrument of correction was a broomstick and not the poker lying nearby.
In any case, all doubted the boy’s survival.
“It is certainly an extraordinary test of the good humour and kindness of Lord and Lady Melbourne to endure such an inmate, but it is said they do now profess they can bear it no longer.”
It appears Caro’s abusive behavior toward her servants, particularly her pages, was well-known among the ton. Her fellow novelist and confidante, Sydney, Lady Morgan recorded as much in her diary. Caroline did nothing to dispel this, admitting that when she and her page played with squibs, (little firecrackers shaped into balls), the horseplay was often quite boisterous.
On one occasion, the boy threw his squib in the fire. Scolding him, Lady Caroline threw hers at his head.
“It hit him on the temple, and he bled. He cried out, ‘O my Lady, you have killed me!’ Out of my senses, I flew into the hall and screamed, ‘Oh God, I have murdered the page!’ ”
— Lady Morgan’s Memoirs: Autobiography, diaries and correspondence by Sydney, Lady Morgan, ed. W. H. Dixon
Vol II (1863)
“The Page Affair,” as Lady Caroline called it, is very well explained here. Some scholars believe these tales of abuse were really a metaphor to describe Caro’s relationship with Lord Byron–that the “pages,” hers and Byron’s, were their literary creations.
Lady W.W. was not impressed, but Lady Cork, famous for her salons and conversation, was.
She told Lady Morgan, perhaps teasingly, that she meant to send one of her own naughty pages to Lady Caroline to be reformed. She heard the Melbournes’ daughter-in-law was well-qualified in this regard:
“..’tis said she broke her page’s head with a teapot the other day.”
Loyal to dear Caro, Lady Morgan protested the whole thing was quite untrue–a Tory rumor.
Lady Cork didn’t care if the tale was true or not.
“..all pages are better for having their heads sometimes broken.”
*This letter describing the poker incident is undated. The editor placed it among the writer’s correspondence in the fall of 1814.