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Whereas the Grantleys are a bit of a disappointment, Caroline Norton is anything but. She and her sisters, Helen and Georgina, were the daughters of Thomas and Caroline Sheridan , granddaughters of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan (The School for Scandal and The Rivals). The family were good looking (the sisters were known in society as the Three Graces) and talented. They had plenty of rich friends but, unfortunately, they had very little money of their own, a situation made worse when Thomas died of tuberculosis in 1817 when he was 42 leaving four sons, three daughters and only a small pension. THE MARRIAGE When Caroline was fifteen she was sent to Miss Taylor’s, a small boarding school in Shalford, whose girls were invited to walk in Wonersh Park, the home of Lord Grantley and his younger brother George Norton. George caught sight of Caroline and, despite the fact that he had never even spoken to her, was so smitten that he decided they would marry. So it was that in 1827, when she was nineteen, the beautiful, intelligent and witty Whig Caroline Sheridan, somewhat reluctantly married George Chapple Norton, the failed lawyer and Tory MP for Guildford described as being “narrow-spirited, intolerant, slow-witted coarse natured and self-indulgent, with a capacity for cruelty and brutality”. In fact, so unlike any quality possessed by his wife that it seemed to confuse and stun her like a blow when she found herself opposed to it. George was also described as being slow and lazy and late for everything’ which earned him the nickname ‘the late George Norton’. He was also late for his wedding apparently. The Norton marriage was, then, an extremely unhappy one - George subjecting Caroline to severe emotional and physical abuse and their relationship failed to improve, even after their children were born. They had three sons: Fletcher (b. 1829), Brinsley (b. 1831) and William (b. 1833). THE POET, NOVELIST AND PAMPHLETEER Caroline was a recognised poet and novelist whose friends included William Makepeace Thackery and Mary Shelley. When George proved to be incapable of earning a decent living, she began to publish her work in order to support herself and her first son, Fletcher. The success of her work led to her appointment as editor of ‘La Belle Assemblée and Court Magazine,’ a popular monthly women's magazine which gave her a certain degree of financial independence. THE SCANDAL In 1836, now separated from her husband, Caroline became embroiled in one of the most scandalous law suits ever seen in Victorian times when George accused his wife and Lord Melbourne, by then Prime Minister, of ‘criminal conversation’ - adultery. Caroline by the way, as the property of her husband, was unrepresented at the trial and could play no part in trying to defend her reputation. George produced two witnesses, his own servants, and lost his case but Caroline’s reputation was nevertheless ruined.
Caroline Norton by William Etty (1836)
William Etty (1787-1849) Manchester Art Gallery
Sir George Hayter (1832)