WONERSH
© Wonersh History Society - www.wonershhistory.co.uk   (WHS)
HISTORY SOCIETY
CAROLINE NORTON (1812-1887)     
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)
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