Norton, Caroline

BORN 22 Mar 1808, London - DIED 14 Jun 1877, London
BIRTH NAME Norton, Caroline Elizabeth Sarah
GRAVE LOCATION Lecropt, Stirlingshire: Lecropt Kirk Church (Stirling-Maxwell vault)

Granddaughter of the dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan (her father Thomas was his son). When she was sixteen she met George Norton (Lord Grantley's brother) and he fell in love with her immediately. She didn't love him and refused his proposal for marriage. At seventeen she wrote the idylle "Sorrows of Rosalie".

He mother forced her to accept Norton after all and they were married in 1827. She considered him boring and made that clear to him. In return he treated her brutally and frequently beat her. In 1830 Norton lost his seat in Parliament for Guilford. Caroline had met Lord Melbourne in 1831 and Melbourne secured a well paid government job for Norton. In 1836 she left Norton and a trial followed in which Norton tried to prove that she had an affair with Melbourne. He failed to do so and lost the case, but he denied her to see their three children and had the law on his side.

Caroline fought back, writing a pamflet titled "The Natural Claim of a Mother to the Custody of her Children as affected by the Common Law Rights of the Father". This led to a bill into Parliament (introduced by Sir Thomas Talfourd) that passed the House of Commons, but failed to convince the House of Lords. In 1839 she published another pamplet, "A Plain Letter to the Lord Chancellor on the Law of Custody of Infants" and a new bill followed. This Custody of Children Act was accepted by both Commons and Lords.

But Norton sent their children to Scotland so she still couldn't see them. Only when their son William died after a fall from a horse he permitted her to visit the other two children.

In 1840 she published "The Dream, and Other Poems" which gained critical acclaim. In 1845 it was followed by the poem "Child Of The Islands", in which she criticized the social conditions in England. The novel "Stuart of Dunleath" was published in 1851.

More problems followed, since Norton claimed the modest sum of money that Melbourne had left her at his death. Caroline wrote more pamphlets and in 1857 the Marriage and Divorce Act was passed in Parliament.

She had been friends with baronet Sir William Stirling-Maxwell for most of her life, but she could only marry in 1877 after Norton had died in 1875. Caroline's health was already failing and she died a few months after the marriage.

It was believed that Sir William Stirling-Maxwell was buried in Venice in 1878, but as late as in 1990 it was discovered by coincidence that both his and Caroline's coffin were in the Stirling-Maxwell vault in Lecropt (near Keir).

Novels: "The Wife, and Woman's Reward, two prose tales" (1835); "Stuart of Dunleath" (1851); "Lost and Saved" (1863); "Old Sir Douglas" (1867).
Poetry: "A Voice from the Factories" (1836); "The Dream and Other Poems" (1840); "Aunt Carry's Ballads for Children" (1847); "The Lady of La Garaye" (1862).

Related persons
• corresponded with Babbage, Charles
• was influenced by Beecher Stowe, Harriet
• was a friend of Dickens, Charles
• knew Haydon, Benjamin
• was a friend of Kemble, Fanny
• was a friend of Shelley, Mary
• was a friend of Trelawny, Edward John

23/10/1842Lord Melbourne suffers a stroke. After he had been prime minister he had spent time in society but this came to an end after the stroke. He retired to Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire. England seemed to forget him, but Caroline Norton sent him letters in an attempt to cheer him up. She didn't dare to visit him in fear of her reputation. 
1/12/1851Louis Napoleon Bonaparte gives a ball at the Élysée. He was charming and relaxed, allthough he had planned a coup d'État for the next day. One of the guests was Caroline Norton, who was accompanied by the marquis of Douglas. As one of the few, she perceived that Louis Napoleon looked a bit exited. Persigny, Saint-Arnaud, Maupas and Mocquard were all involved in the coup and were all present. Morny had visited the theatre but afterwards he came to the Élysée as well. [Morny, Charles Auguste Louis Joseph, Duc de][Napoleon III Bonaparte]
27/4/1859Christina Rossetti completes her poem "Goblin Market". It was to become her most famous poem and it was illustrated by her brother Gabriel Dante Rossetti. She declared that it was 'just a fairytale' but her readers recognized a complex psychological landcape in the poem. Its publication in 1862 in "Goblin Market and Other Poems" caused a sensation and the critics were enthousiastic. One of them was Caroline Norton in MacMillan's Magazine, who noted ''the versatility, as well as the originality of genius'. The British Quarterly was enthousiastic as well in its edition of July 1862. [Rossetti, Christina][Rossetti, Dante Gabriel]

• Atkinson, Diane, The Criminal Conversation of Mrs. Norton, Chicago Review Press, Chicago, 2013
• Chedzoy, Alan, A Scandalous Woman, The Story of Caroline Norton, Allison & Busby, London, 1992
• Jones, Kathleen, Learning not to be first, the Life of Christina Rossetti, The Windrush Press, Gloucestershire, 1991
• Ridley, Jasper, Napoleon III and Eugénie, Constable, London, 1979
Winkler Prins Encyclopedie (editie 1909), 1909

Nourrit, Adolphe

Published: 01 Jan 2006
Last update: 21 Dec 2023