Through Victor Carrel’s intervention, Medora Leigh would eventually escape from the worthless albeit passionate Henry Trevanion but was less fortunate in her ability to secure the sum of £125 a year from her mother Augusta that she and her daughter Marie Violette needed to get by.
Unfortunately, for the impoverished Medora, her mother’s life appears to have been one financial struggle after another as Augusta was to write to the pompous Mr Wilmot:
‘I was born to be a “souffre douleurs” of that I have long been convinced and an illustration of the Fable of the Miller and his Ass!‘Augusta Leigh
The Leigh family had settled a Deed of £3000 on their grand daughter Marie Violette as a provision and although Augusta tired to send what little money when she was able – Medora believed that her mother could do more and now sought to have the Deed reversed in her favour and “begging her influence to obtain the Deed for me” – she enlisted the support of Lady Chicester.
By the summer of 1840 Lady Byron made a welcome reappearance into Medora’s chaotic life and along with offers of kindness and financial support – she was also now informed of the true identity of her reputed and illustrious father.
‘She implored and sought my affection by every means…. I so sincerely felt to repay my affection for any pain she must have felt for circumstances connected with my birth and her separation from Lord Byron…‘Medora Leigh
They had met in Paris and after assuming the guardianship for the care of Medora and Marie Violette; Annabella contacted Augusta:
‘Since last August I am to be considered responsible for the safety and comfort of your daughter Elizabeth Medora..
If it should become known, I am prepared in justice to Elizabeth and myself, to explain fully the reasons for my thus interesting myself in her welfare…
Could I have believed that you had a mother’s affection for her, you would not have had to ask for information concerning your child…
I would save you, if it not too late, from adding the guilt of her death to that of her birth. Leave her in peace!‘
One can only imagine the reaction from Augusta to this letter!
However, Medora was impatient for the financial independence that the Deed would provide her and although she was known as ‘Ada’s sister in all things, as I was really,’ – she was becoming increasingly resentful that she was not afforded the status due to her.
In the Spring of 1842, a suit was filed in Chancery to obtain the Deed from the control of Augusta however, before the case was even heard – Augusta suddenly relinquished the Deed with no offer of explanation over to her daughter at the end of May.
If Medora had hoped that the hearing in Chancery would expose her mother to the scandal of her alleged paternity – she was to be bitterly disappointed and having failed in her endeavour, she now turned upon her aunt and told her:
‘I was her bitterest enemy and threatened every kind of revenge.‘Lady Byron
Eventually, to the relief of all parties, an agreement was reached which would allow Medora to live a quiet life in the South of France with an annual allowance of £150 from Annabella.
However, upon her arrival and no longer willing to accede to Annabella’s demands that she resign the care and control of her life and that of her daughter to the aunt who had warned her of the necessity that she “should be a devoted child to her” – she refused to live within her means, began to drink heavily and to Annabella’s distress was reportedly receiving “rather entertaining company.”
Having failed all attempts at compromise, Medora now returned to England to retrieve the Deed she had left with Ada’s husband the Earl of Lovelace as the means in which to secure the annuity Annabella had previously offered.
Having threatened Lovelace with “recourse to such measure as will place me in possession of it” – and on the advice of her trusty legal representative Stephen Lushington, Annabella promptly cancelled the annuity and ended all communication with her niece.
Accused of being “Unreasonable – most excited – most irritated – changing however from storm to sunshine at every moment” – Medora had finally succeeded in alienating herself from all who could now offer her protection – including her own mother:
‘My Mother Since I was made to understand you could never love me, the child of your guilt, in whom you have seen but a means to satisfy your ambitions, a sacrifice to be made to those you feared, then to throw on the world, destitute, homeless and friendless….
I once more remind you I am your child….
I can only beg you by the memory of my father, the brother to whom you, & the children you love and enrich by my destitution owe all – no longer to forget and neglect what you still owe
Your child Elizabeth Medora Leigh‘
After finally obtaining the Deed from Lovelace, Medora was able to raise £500 and returned to France in the summer of 1844 with her daughter and in the following year she fell in love with a French Cavalry soldier Jean-Louis Taillefer.
Having given birth to their son Jean-Marie Elie in January 1847, Medora and Taillefer married the following year but in a typically Byronic fashion, their domestic happiness was to be short-lived with her death at the age of thirty five on August 28 in 1849 reportedly from Smallpox.
Augusta Leigh Byron’s Half-Sister – A Biography Michael & Melissa Bakewell (London: Pimlico 2002)
Lord Byron’s Wife Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1962)
Medora Leigh; A History and an Autobiography Charles Mackay (General Books 2009)
The Uninhibited Byron An Account of His Sexual Confusion Bernard Grebanier (London: Peter Owen 1971)