As I began my previous tale with an epistolary rant from the Hon. Judith Noel as she championed the separation of her ‘poor Child’ from the ‘unmanly and despicable’ Ld Byron – the drama of which continues to reverberate and divide opinion many years later – it is with a nod to mischief that I hand over the baton once more:
‘For Godsake do not let any consideration for her influence You – for it is owing in a great degree to the settled hatred She has long born to You and Yours…
the Viscountess never forgave Annabella the involuntary Act of coming into the World – which injur’d her dearly beloved Brother & Nephew – and it has been a regular Wish to injure ever since…‘
More than 229 years have now passed since that ‘involuntary Act of coming into the World’ for May 17 is the birthday of Anne Isabella, Lady Noel Byron, the Poet’s ‘Princess of Parallelograms’ and the woman he later said was ‘born for my destruction.’
Born on Ascension Day in 1792 in County Durham, she was the cherished only child of Sir Ralph and the Hon. Judith Milbanke who had lived through a marriage of over 15 years, childlessness and hope in anticipation of the arrival of their ‘’little angel’.
The adored baby was given the prosaic names of Anne Isabella in honour of her royal godmother the Duchess of Cumberland and Mrs. George Baker who had tended to Judith’s confinement at Elemore Hall while the completion of the Milbanke’s new house overlooking the wild coast at Seaham was still underway.
Annabella, the name that she would become universally known by, was baptised at Seaham in August of that year and despite his disappointment, Judith’s brother Lord Wentworth had been one of the first to offer his congratulations on the birth of this ‘little Lassie’ along with her estranged spouse became the heirs to the Wentworth Estates upon the death of her mother in 1822.
As Judith suspected that her talented sister-in-law had always resented the arrival of this heir to the Milbanke riches of Seaham and Halnaby – it is not known if the indomitable Lady Melbourne had fired off a similar congratulatory letter to her delighted sibling!
However, far away from the glamour of the ‘Melbourne Court’, the ‘pretty Spot’ of Seaham Hall would remain Annabella’s favourite home as she enjoyed a childhood of bathing in the sea, clamouring across the rocks, dreaming up stories of dragons and shipwrecks while running across the sands and where she would live in peaceful anonymity until her marriage to a certain poet in January 1815 and from then on her life would never be the same again.
It was during her first visit to London in 1799 that the delightful portrait of Annabella in her 8th year had been painted by John Hoppner – the fashionable artist most favoured by the Northern gentry.
Although this image of Lady B remains a favourite and I have yet to gaze at the original which hangs in the Ferens Art Gallery in the City of Hull – a copy of this delightful portrait can be viewed in the dining room of 13 Piccadilly Terrace – albeit in 12th scale!
For despite Malcolm Elwin’s assertion of the ‘suggestion of complacency’ in this portrait – I see only the image of a graceful child with an expression of determination and strength that remains a touching prophesy of the heartache and triumph that we know will await her.
It is also tempting to wonder if the poignancy of Annabella’s adult life can be glimpsed in the lines of the old English nursery rhyme ‘Thursday’s Child’ as the historical interpretation of the ‘Far to Go’ would be to have favoured her with a long and successful life, blessed with limitless potential.
However, could the ambiguity behind the meaning of this ‘Thursday’s Child’ with the ‘Far to Go’ offer an explanation for the sympathy, misunderstanding and hostility she can still command?
Interestingly, as the house where Annabella died on May 16 1860 at 11 St George’s Place in Primrose Hill, London is also the house familiar to another troubled and brilliant genius, the poet and writer Sylvia Plath who in the spring of 1961 was to compose her only semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar – I shall borrow a line as a tribute to the Birthday Girl:
‘I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.‘Sylvia Plath
Lord Byron’s Wife Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1974)
The Life and Letters of Anne Isabella, Lady Noel Byron Ethel Colburn Mayne (London: Constable & Co Ltd 1929)