Bowles, Caroline (1786–1854)

Writer. Born in Hampshire, she was the only surviving child of Charles Bowles (1737–1801), a retired Captain in the East India service, and Ann Burrard (1753–1817). The continuing decline in her family’s finances was reflected in their move from Buckland Manor, Bowles’s birthplace, to the more modest Buckland Cottage. In 1818, Bowles, fearing that she would lose her home due to the mismanagement of her guardian, wrote to Southey asking his advice about publishing her poetry with the aim of earning much-needed cash. This initiated a correspondence that developed into close friendship and literary collaboration, and culminated in marriage on 4 June 1839. Although Bowles’s finances were in the event stabilised by an annuity from a Colonel Bruce, the ‘adopted’ son of her father, she did pursue a literary career. She contributed to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, and published poetry and prose, including Ellen Fitzarthur (1820), Solitary Hours (1826), Chapters on Churchyards (1829), The Cat’s Tail (1830), Tales of the Factories (1833) and The Birth–Day (1836). She also collaborated with Southey on an unfinished poem on ‘Robin Hood’, which applied the metre of the oriental romance Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) to an English subject. Bowles’s relationship with Southey has been the subject of recent debate, though the destruction of part of their correspondence, especially for the crucial period leading up to their marriage, makes it impossible to determine. Certainly their marriage proved unpalatable to three of Southey’s surviving children (Bertha, Kate and Cuthbert), and to some of his friends, including the Wordsworths. Edith May Southey, her husband John Wood Warter, and other friends, such as Landor, took Bowles’s side. Life at Greta Hall during Southey’s final years was uncomfortable, with the house divided between the warring factions. Southey’s ill health and memory loss meant that he was largely oblivious to what was going on around him. The feud continued after Southey’s death in 1843 and ensured the collapse of plans for Henry Taylor to produce a tombstone life of the Poet Laureate. Bowles returned to Hampshire, where in 1847 she published the fragmentary ‘Robin Hood’. She was awarded a pension from the civil list in 1852. On her death in 1854 she left her papers to Edith May and John Wood Warter.