As a child I loved to shock others with the tale that I had been abandoned at birth by gypsies and raised en famille with kindly mice in the crypt of an old church.
Alas! The truth is altogether more unremarkable!
For I was born and raised in the ancient City of York – a Yorky who lives by the ethos that a book, a decent cup of tea and a bar of chocolate can ALWAYS make the world a better place.
A dreamer from birth with a taste for history and the irresistible urge to create – by day you can usually find me along with my battered tool box inside my atelier creating away with the radio blaring out and surrounded by shelves of weird creatures, baskets of fabric, tubs of paints, the odd pot of glue, stacks of paper and exotic woods AND usually under the watchful eye of a black feline with an abundance of cattiude!
For with a myriad of those ‘Small Worlds’ now in private collections and with a fascination for ALL things Lord Byron and as I love nothing more than escaping to the year 1815 – my present 12th scale ventures include the ambitious design for another house inspired by the life of my favourite poet.
There is also the publication of a beautiful coffee table book about the ‘Ghost of Piccadilly’ along with the launch of ‘Sincerely Yours’ – a Regency snail mail adventure!
However, and as the sun falls on another day and with the messy apron discarded – I go in search of the dead.
For if I’m NOT musing upon the discovery of a mysterious bundle of long-forgotten ephemera, poring over the details of a tatty burial record or recording an exciting discovery of an elusive ancestor in an old notebook – I will be leading the unsuspecting through the snickelways and secret passageways of York while sharing the tales of those ordinary folk who have ALL been lost to history – until now!
I have been asked on more than one occasion how I can move between two very different worlds – one which indulges my passion for creating all things miniature and the other in which I can be found wandering through cemeteries in a quest to wake the dead.
For me, it’s not a question of ‘why’ but rather ‘why not?’
But WHY Patreon?
Although I love what I do and cannot imagine myself doing anything other than this – I know that in this world of mine, it is impossible to survive on fresh air with only a diet of hope and the occasional box of donated teabags.
Patreon is a membership site for creatives just like me and as my Patron – you will be invited to cross the portal, step into my world and enjoy some unique rewards including first peeks and anniversary gifts.
Whether as a ‘Belted Beauty’ or as a ‘Feathered Footman’ – you will be able to glide effortlessly across the threshold to the year 1815 and watch the creation of a 12th scale abode inspired by the life of the poet Lord Byron unfold!
Or evesdrop on the tribulations of Mrs. S – the formidable housekeeper of 13 Piccadilly Terrace.
AND all with the freedom to cancel or amend your pledge at any time.
As Lewis Carroll once said that “Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality” – why not come along with me and we fight this battle together?
Today, February 27 was the day that my mother was delivered of me some years ago and a few years before that, Lord Byron delivered his maiden speech in the House of Lords.
‘I have traversed the seat of war in the Peninsula; I have been in some of the most oppressed provinces of Turkey; but never, under the most despotic of infidel governments, did I behold such squalid wretchedness as I have seen since my return, in the very heart of a Christian country.
And what are your remedies?
After months of inaction, and months of action worse than inactivity, at length comes forth the grand specific….
Setting aside the palpable injustice and the certain inefficiency of the bill, are there not capital punishments sufficient on your statutes?‘
Yes, indeed on this very day some 209 years ago, our poet spoke out in ‘A Rage Against the Machine’ AND not unlike the US group of the same name who sang Killing in the Name Of which went on to become a most unlikely Christmas hit!
In the infancy of the industrial revolution, manufacturers in the stocking-weaving business had exploited the advances in technology to employ greater uses for new machinery as the looms would deliver goods at a faster and cheaper rate to the detriment of the workers.
As the stocking-weavers found themselves surplus to requirements with wages falling and with 50,000 families reduced to starvation; organised gangs of desperate and hungry men began breaking the manufacturers’ looms led by the mythical ‘King Ludd’.
‘But while the exalted offender can find means to baffle the law, new capital punishments must be devised, new snares of death must be spread, for the wretched mechanic who is famished into guilt. These men were willing to dig, but the spade was in other hands; they were not ashamed to beg, but there was none to relieve them.
Their own means of subsistence were cut off; all other employments pre-occupied; and their excesses, however to be deplored and condemned, can hardly be the subject of surprise.‘
In an effort to bring an end to the industrial unrest, troops were sent to Nottingham to quash the revolt by the Luddites, and as the uprising spread to Lancashire and across Yorkshire; the Government passed the Frame Breaking Act, which introduced the death penalty for frame breaking.
It was during this Parliamentary debate in which Byron made his famous speech:
‘Is there not blood enough upon your penal code, that more must be poured forth to ascend to heaven and testify against you?
How will you carry this bill into effect?
Can you commit a whole county to their own prisons
Will you erect a gibbet in every field, and hang up men like scare-crows?
Byron identified with the Luddite cause and claiming to be as penniless as those he supported, he sought the support of Lord Holland as the leader of the Whigs to address the House and to voice his opposition to the introduction of the death penalty.
‘Or will you proceed (as you must to bring this measure into effect) by decimation; place the county under martial law; depopulate and lay waste all around you, and restore Sherwood Forest as an acceptable gift to the crown in its former condition of a royal chase, and an asylum for outlaws?
Are these the remedies for a starving and desperate populace?
Following the assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in May 1812, the government responded to the rebellion with mass arrests and despite the threat of trial and harsh sentencing, the unrest continued and in 1813 on a cold January day in York, fifteen men were hanged in the shadow of what we know as Clifford’s Tower.
In the years following, the harsh measures of capital punishment or transportation had little effect as the demonstrations for improved wages, frame breaking and riots continued throughout pockets of Middle England, however, by 1816 the Luddite Rebellion was effectively finished.
Although his speech was well received, Byron was to find that he was not suited to the slow daily business of Parliament, the ‘Parlimentary mummeries’ as he was soon to call them, his temperament too volatile and easily distracted as his letter to his friend Francis Hodgson several days later makes clear:
‘…of them I shall mention Sir F. Burdetts. – He says it is the best speech by a Lord since the “Lord knows when” probably from a fellow feeling in ye. sentiments.‘
‘And so much for vanity. – – I spoke very violent sentences with a sort of modest impudence, abused every thing & every body, & put the Ld. Chancellor very much out of humour, & if I may believe what I hear, have not lost any character by the experiment.
As to my delivery, loud and fluent enough, perhaps a little theatrical. – – I could not recognise myself or any one else in the Newspapers….
Hobhouse is here, I shall tell him to write. – My Stone is gone for the present, but I fear is part of my habit. – We all talk of a visit to Cambridge.’
However, the tale of a certain Childe Harold was soon to be unleashed upon London society in the days following but that is for ANOTHER story!
In 2013, a fellow Byronian Christy Fearn published Framed her debut novel about Byron and the Luddite rebellion; signed copies of which can now be purchased from the author.
As French émigré Roman Catholics, Lizette Molyneux and her brother Robert are used to an existence on the edge of their Regency Nottingham community.
But when Robert is arrested for a crime he insists he did not commit, Lizzie must draw on all her strength and courage to help him. Overcoming poverty, prejudice and the unwanted advances of her employer’s son, she unites with the frame-breaking Luddites to free her brother and to rectify social injustice.
Why not treat yourself to a copy? You’ll learn something of the Luddite Rebellion, Lord B AND you’ll enjoy yourself too!
Byron’s Letters & Journals Vol 2 1810-1812, Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1973)
Byron The Making of a Myth, Stephen Coote (London: The Bodley Head 1988)
Life, Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, Thomas Moore (Elibron Classics 2006
On Tuesday February 1 1814, two very significant events occurred with the first being the lethal eruption of the volcano Mount Mayon in the Philippines which was to belch lava and dark ash upwards of thirty feet that would bury one town and kill over two thousand people.
The second significant event to occur on that day was the publication of Byron’s The Corsair which sold 10,000 copies on THE day of publication and a “thing perfectly unprecedented” according to His Lordship’s proud and increasingly successful publisher, John Murray.
Byron’s tale of Conrad, the pirate chief, the dashing romantic with his true love Medora, who performs heroic deeds with chivalry in colouful settings, excited and delighted all who read it in February 1814 including the Princess Charlotte.
Comparisons to the character of the haunted, reckless, brave and enigmatic Conrad and the pale, indiscreet, courageous and dashing Byron were immediate, particularly as Byron had admitted to writing The Corsair “con amore and much from existence”
He continued to encourage this comparison when he sat for Thomas Phillips which has become one of the most iconic images of the swashbuckling hero with that rather strange moustache!
Lone, wild and strange, he stood alike exempt
From all affection and from all contempt
His name could sadden, and his acts surprise;
But they that fear’d him dared not to despise
It is not surprising that Conrad and his heroic tales of wild deeds and of his passionate love for Medora in exotic places was received with enthusiasm by those Regency ladies for within the restraint and tedium of their daily lives, a read of The Corsair must have felt truly liberating!
The Corsair even merits a mention in Persuasion, my favouriteJane Austen novel:
During their stay in Lyme, Anne Elliott and Captain Benwick spend an evening discussing the poetry of Sir Walter Scott and Byron; “trying to ascertain whether Marmion or The Lady of the Lake were to be preferred, and how ranked the Giaour and The Bride of Abydos and moreover, how the Giaour was to be pronounced.
And the following day as Anne was enjoying a stroll along the Cobb in the company of Captain Benwick and those “dark blue seas”, Austen had clearly drawn on the first line from The Corsair which begins “O’er the glad waters of the dark blue sea”
However, on the day of publication, the celebrated poet was ‘snowed under’, as it were within the cozy sprawl of his ancestral pile in Nottinghamshire with his sister, the Hon. Augusta Leigh for company:
From this place there is no stirring till the weather is better – Mrs L is with me & being in ye. family way – renders it doubly necessary to remain till the roads are quite safe….
Yes, Mrs L was indeed in ‘ye family way’ with a daughter born in April 1814 and who would be duly baptised ‘Elizabeth Medora’, however, the story of THIS particular infant is for another tale!
Byron’s Letters and Journals, Ed. Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray, 1973-97)
The Works of Lord Byron (Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 1994)
In the summer of 1821 in a letter to his sister, Augusta Leigh, as Lord Byron lamented the failure of his drama about Marino Faliero, the controversial Doge of Venice who had been executed in 1355 – he was also less than sympathetic to the news that his mother-in-law had recovered from an illness:
‘I had no wish to nourish my detestation of her and her family, but they pursue me like an Evil Genius. I send you an Elegy on Lady Noel’s recovery…
I will reserve my tears for the demise of Lady Noel – but the old b—h will live forever because she is so amiable and useful…‘
As we know that no one lives forever – the Lady Noel was no exception for a mere seven months after Lord B’s most facetious letter – his Mamma-At-Law died on Monday January 28 in 1822.
Byron was not to receive the news of Judith Noel’s death until early March from Augusta and true to his detestation of ‘cant’, his response was brutally frank:
I regret the pain which the privation must occasion to Sir R N & to Ly. B – but I shall not pretend to any violent grief for one with whom my acquaintance was neither long nor agreeable. Still I bear her memory no malice…
Although Byron’s estranged spouse had been with her mother during this final illness at their ancestral pile in Kirkby Mallory in the company of Judith’s devoted husband of over forty years and that her health had long been a ‘source of anxiety and distress’, her death at the age of 71 was undoubtedly a personal tragedy for Annabella and her father Sir Ralph, who was to survive his wife by three years.
In reading through their correspondence, it is obvious that mother and daughter enjoyed something of an uneasy and at times a tempestuous relationship and although Judith would bristle at Annabella’s patronising behaviour, she appears as an astute and formidable character whose absolute loyalty to those whom she loved could easily get her into trouble!
She described herself as a ‘passionate little Devil’ who would broke no quarter with those who threatened the security of her loved ones as Byron was to find to his cost in the tumultuous months of the separation drama in the spring of 1816.
‘I see that Ld B. is playing a deep Game, that he is supported in his schemes by the advice of Lady M. and that Mrs. Leigh will decidedly do all She can for him – and from the basest motives – profit. I think as ill of her as possible…
Ld. B has been for sometime I am convinced acting the part of derrrangement to shield his iniquity – he is no more Mad than I am – but if that pretence is held out, does it follow that his Wife is to be committed to the custody of a Madman, and dangerous and brutal in his madness!
Or is that Madman to have care of the Child?
I am convinced that it is plotted for Mrs. Leigh to take it with an allowance which will be of assistance to her poverty…
The Way in which this letter was sent proves that he either believes, or chuses to imply he believes, that You and I have urged her to Separation…‘
Unfortunately for Sir Ralph, his outspoken spouse also now took aim at his youngest sibling, the indomitable Lady Melbourne, although no shrinking violet herself and who having found herself the target of Judith’s indignation on more than one occasion in the years previously, was now firmly in the cross-hairs of her outraged sister-in-law:
I have further to add that Lady B. saw – Ld B. shewed it her – a letter from the Viscountess written to the Lord, in which are these Words, after speaking well of Lady B.
She adds – “but She has always been used to have her own way and has been flattered into a high opinion of herself – but You must break her of this and subdue her.”
What an infamous Woman She is – if the Lord is to be believed, She sent for him to the House in Wll, expressly to visit Ldy CL and each Lady knew the conduct of the other.
Malcolm Elwin in his fabulous book Lord Byron’s Wife writes that for the Lady Noel, ‘the gloves were off and she was prepared to fight for her daughter and grandchild with tooth and claw.’
I confess to a fondness for the character of Judith Noel with her charming energy, fierce loyalty and her ruthless determination to reverse the fortunes of the badly mismanaged Noel ancestral abode in Kirkby Mallory well into her sixth decade when most would be happy to put their feet up and enjoy the fruits of their hard-earned retirement:
‘I think Money matters are destined to torment us, and at least at present to interfere with all our comforts and happiness – tho’ if we can parry the present evils, better prospects present for future days…
Now I am old and You are Young, and may look forward I hope and pray to a long life – and will profit be the amazing advance in these Estates – which I have reason to believe may be more than doubled.
Every day something comes out to that effect – and I am anxious to investigate the truth, because if so, it will enable us to assist those we most love – during my life and afterwards it will be their own.
I have a good deal of fag on my hands for You Know, every thing rests on my shoulders, both to decide and to execute.‘
However, her willingness to tarnish the reputation of Lady M with an eye to blackmail as she trampled over the memory of Sir Ralph’s deceased brother and that of his blameless nephew affords her no credit.
‘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‘
‘but I can get no information from You… and am rather inclined to believe You have shrunk from exposing this wretch…
God bless you! my Dear. I shall only add – that from the time we married, the only unhappiness You have occasioned me, has been from seeing the Sway Lady M. has at times had over You – and that before I was able to oppose it, or had courage to do so.
She has pillaged You of tens of thousands – recollect this – and now despise her.‘
And it wasn’t only to Sir Ralph that she let fly about the ‘Viscountess’ for even though Annabella had begged Judith to ‘hold your tongue’ as the separation proceedings were at a delicate stage; she too was not immune to another vituperative outburst from her ‘Mam’ about the increasingly battle-weary Lady M:
‘I think it incumbent on You to break with her, that is, cut her intirely – not from resentment so much, as to enable You and Your Friends to contradict the Lies and aspersions She has held out lately…
Now I think it best You should openly alledge this part of her conduct, as a reason why You and Your Parents cannot notice her, hinting at the same time on past conduct. In this Cut, I include Lady C and GL.‘
Ouch! But before we commiserate with the Lady M, it’s just as well to remember that she too was an adroit combatant and was more than capable of fending off the slurs that had been pelted in her direction by her provincial sister-in-law.
‘I only write now that you may fully understand that I am determined not to dispute or quarrel with either of you about any thing that has past, as I should think myself extremely absurd if I did – & as I know that there has been no Coldness on my part or the most distant intention to show either of you any Slight
I feel that I am just as good friends with both of you as I ever have been & if you are not the same it is not my fault.‘
Even though Judith had said of her son-in-law in 1816 that it was ‘not fit such men should live’, she had no difficulty in warming to his only daughter Augusta Ada who having been born at 13 Piccadilly Terrace the previous December AND as her Mama headed off to London to devote the time and energy needed to ensure their separation of ‘bed and board’ from Lord B – the devoted ‘GrandMama’ was once more up in arms – literally!
‘What can He be aiming at? it comes into my head that he thinks me in a bad state, I wish he could see me – he would fear I had taken a new Lease…
I am not very easy about Mrs. Fr returning here with You.She may do some mischief about the Child – by admitting people into the House, perhaps in the night..
I have bought a pair of Pistols, which I shall have in the Room with me – for defence, not Offence – but I am apprehensive of Fraud than Force – tho’ guarded against both.‘
Now, this is ONE GrandMama NOT even Lord Byron was prepared to mess with!
What a gal!
Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 8 1821 Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1978)
Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 9 1821-1822, Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1979)
Lord Byron’s Wife, Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1974)
The Fifth Baron Byron was NOT the grandfather of our poet as purported by Alexander Larman in his sloppily researched tome Byron’s Women which was published to enormous fanfare in 2016 but rather THE great-uncle.
For it was upon his demise that George Gordon Byron inherited the peerage along with the glorious ancestral abode of Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire.
The infamous title of the ‘Wicked Lord B’ was bestowed upon William Byron following the illegal sale of the family estates and ruining what little was left in revenge against his only son and heir for having had the temerity in true Byronic style to marry his cousin.
He was also said to have pushed Lady Byron into a pond, attempted the abduction of an actress before his marriage, ordered the slaughter of a thousand deer, and ran up enormous debts for horse racing and cock-fights.
It was also alleged that in a pique of anger, William Byron shot his coachman to death and having thrown the corpse into the carriage where his long-suffering wife was probably cowering in fear – he then mounted the box and rode off.
However, what is irrefutable about THIS Lord Byron is that he ordered Newstead Park to be stripped of all park land, a prize collection of family portraits was auctioned, a fabulous brass eagle was sold to Southwell Minster and that on Saturday January 26 1765 he murdered his neighbour and friend William Chaworth of Annesley.
The two Williams as gentlemen of the Nottinghamshire Club had been enjoying a weekly tradition of dinner at the Star and Garter Tavern in Pall Mall, London when they began to bicker about the best way of preserving game.
Wagers were set, the quarrel became serious, a challenge was offered and in an empty room lit only by a “poor little tallow candle” the two Williams drew their swords to which Byron promptly ran him through.
William Chaworth died the following day, naming his mistress as the beneficiary of his hastily dictated Will and Byron was sent to the Tower of London and brought to trial before his peers at the House of Lords on Tuefday, April the 16th, 1765.
‘Your Lordfhip is unhappily brought to this Bar to anfwer a heavy and dreadful Accufation, for you are charged with the Murder of a Fellow Subject.
The Solemnity and awful Appearance of this Judicature, mulft naturally embarrafs and discomofe your Lordfhip’s Spirits, whatever internal Refource you may have in Conscience to fupport you in your Defence.
How fay you, William Lord Byron, Are you guilty of the Felony and Murder whereof you ftand indicted, or not guilty?‘
Upon Byron’s reply of “Not guilty”, Sir Fletcher Norton for the prosecution alleged that:
‘It ftates, that Mr Chaworth faid, the noble Prifoner’s Sword was half-drawn when he turned from the Door, that, knowing his Man, he immediately whipped out his own, and had the firft Lunge at his Lordfhip, when Lord Byron fhortened his Sword, and run him through, and than faid, with an Oath, I have as much Courage as any Man in England…‘
Sir Fletcher Norton
Byron was to question several of the witnesses over the two days of testimony that had been heard at Westminster Hall and addressed the Court in his own defense:
‘My Lords, this is my melancholy Story. I cannot pretend to call any Witneffes in Support of thofe Parts of it, which relate to what paffed during the few Minutes whilft we were in private. But as the Declarations of the Deceafed are admitted as Evidence, your Lordfhips will compare the broken Accounts collected by thofe Gentlemen who difcourfed with him, with fuch Circumftances as my Memory and Knowledge tell me are exactly true.‘
‘Wicked’ Lord Byron
After the Houfe had adjourned to the Chamber of Parliament, Byron was was declared “Not Guilty of Murder but Guilty of Manslaughter” and after payment of the fees was duly released.
Despite his disgrace, Byron eventually returned to society, and having accrued large debts, he became a figure of hatred not only for his tenants, and also that of his family for as his daughter Caroline stipulated in her Last Will and Testament in 1784 that her legacy to her “dear Mother” was not to be subjected to the “debts, receipts, control or intermeddling of Lord Byron”.
The Wicked Lord would also outlive his son and grandson whose death in 1794 from cannon fire in Corsica would ensure that ‘the little boy in Aberdeen’ would become the next heir.
Many years later when our poet lived at Newstead Abbey – his neighbour Mary Ann Chaworth of Annesley Hall became his ‘Morning Star of Annesley’
Tis fifty years, and three to boot,
Since, hand to hand, and foot to foot,
And heart to heart, and sword to sword,
One of our Ancestors was gored.
I’ve seen the sword that slew him; he,
The slain, stood in a like degree
To thee, as he, the Slayer stood
(Oh had it been but other blood!)
In kin and Chieftainship to me.
Thus came the heritage to thee
The Duel 1818
I have also seen the ‘sword that slew him’!
Byron was to write to J. J. Coulman from Genoa in July 1823 in response to some inaccurate reports about Byron’s history and he was to share some thoughts about ‘The Wicked Lord’:
‘As to Lord Byron, who killed Mr. Chaworth in a duel, so far from retiring from the world, he made the tour of Europe, and was appointed Master of the Stag-hounds after that event, and did not give up society until his son had offended him by marrying in a manner contrary to his duty.
So far from feeling any remorse for having killed Mr. Chaworth, who was a fire-eater (spadassin), and celebrated for his quarrelsome disposition, he always kept the sword which he used upon that occasion in his bed-chamber, where it still was when he died.
It is singular enough, that when very young, I formed a strong attachment for the grand-niece and heiress of Mr. Chaworth, who stood in the same degree of relationship as myself to Lord Byron; and at one time it was thought that the two families would have been united in us….‘
Byron’s Letters and Journals, Ed. Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray, 1973-97)
The Trial of William Lord Byron of Rochdale for the Murder of William Chaworth (Initial Gale ECCO Print Edition)
January 25 is the celebration of Burns Night and despite a fabulous a supper of Haggis – I had to refuse the ‘wee dram’ of fine Scotch whiskey on offer, although I did join in with the hearty rendition of Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot which wrapped up the evening rather nicely.
Born on January 25 1759, Robert Burns remains Scotland’s best loved Bard and has a colourful reputation as a womaniser, poetical genius, and hard drinker who experienced poverty, sudden fame, debt and an early death but he also reminds me of someone I have been known to write about!
And although Lord Byron was to make a number of references to Burns in his letters and journals; I can find no mention of this most famous of songs.
‘For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne‘
But after the fall-out of one of his most famous love affairs (and no matter how special the whiskey blend!) it would be difficult to imagine Byron holding hands and singing along with the subject of today’s post – THE Lady Caroline Lamb!
For on this day in 1828, Lady Caroline died at the age of forty two and it’s probably fair to say that even with the passage of time, opinion remains as divided about her in death, as it was in life!
For some she has been portrayed as the archetypal ‘bunny boiler’, a Regency ‘Alex Forrest’ character who stalked and terrorised poor Byron through the streets of London in the style of Fatal Attraction and yet for others she remains a misunderstood character with a hint of fragility, a talented ‘Lady of Letters’, whimsical artist, poetess and author.
Byron was to use a number of adjectives in which to describe Caro Lamb with some of the most notable being that she was in equal terms:
The word ‘monster’ was the one that he would use MUCH later!
Having met in the heady month of March in 1812 as Byron had woken to find himself ‘famous’ and brief though their affair was – they have remained intertwined throughout history like Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy.
She once said that Byron’s ‘beautiful, pale face’ was her ‘fate’ and this has proved uniquely prophetic for despite their scandalous affair, Caro was also a cousin by marriage to his future spouse and the daughter-in-law of the indomitable Lady Melbourne – all of which adds a touch of frisson to her life.
The shrewd Lady M would soon became a discreet confidant of Byron and as the recipient of his most witty and outrageous letters, she would do all she could to destroy the affair which had humiliated her family while encouraging his courtship of her niece Annabella Milbanke – despite the misgivings about the nature of the troubling relationship with his sister Augusta Leigh.
Believing that a woman’s duty was to provide her husband with his heir and that monogamy within marriage was not the natural state; it was Caro Lamb’s blatant lack of discretion and not the affair with Byron which had enraged Lady M.
For as Caro was to write to Byron in June 1814:
‘Think of my situation how extraordinary! – my mother in law actually in the place I held – her ring instead of mine – her letters instead of mine – her heart – but do you believe either she or any others feel for you what I felt…‘
She never fully recovered from Byron’s rejection and by 1816 during the aftermath of his disastrous marriage and subsequent exile abroad, the isolated Caro in an act of revenge and duplicity created yet more mischief with the publication of her novel Glenarvon with the tale of a tempestuous love affair with a badly disguised Byronic character.
Caro’s cuckold of a spouse was a rising political star who would eventually serve as Prime Minister to the young Queen Victoria but under pressure from his ambitious family, he was now faced with a choice of either a marital separation or to have her committed to a lunatic asylum.
In desperation, Caro penned a letter to the exasperated Lady M that she was:
‘on the brink of another ruin. Half my friends cut me, all my acquaintances are offended – your protection may save – but I shall never ask for it unless freely offered..
I will never do any thing more that can harm William but when you turn us out of doors which Lord Melbourne has pledged himself to do…
I owe it all to publish as far as I can without involving those I love a full explanation of my conduct, a full refutation of the calumnies that have been spread against me & my infamous book – and an exact account of Lord Byron’s conduct for the last four years…‘
Surprisingly, the hand of friendship was extended to Caro but with the death of Lady M in April 1818, Caro would once again find herself dangerously isolated.
In the years following and although she continued to lavish attention on her only son Augustus and paint exquisite sketches, the fights with William continued as her passion for mischief remained undiminished and when exiled to Brocket Hall, Caro became increasingly ill, the cause of which would be eventually diagnosed as dropsy – but admitting to having “drunk a whole bottle of wine which I bought for myself all at once...” will surely not have helped matters!
And as I write this, a delicious image of Caro making her way to the local liquor store comes to mind…
In the winter of 1827 and in a desperate attempt to help her, Caro was brought to Melbourne House where less than sixteen years earlier she had presided over the court of Childe Harold as London’s most ‘correct waltzer’ during those halcyon days of 1812 and after an emotional reunion with William and her adored Augustus who had only recently arrived from Dublin she died at Melbourne House on Friday January 25 1828.
She was reunited with the other star player in the drama of 1812 when laid to rest along side the remains of Lady M in the Lamb family crypt at St Ethelreda’s Church in Hatfield and one of her final letters was to Lady Holland who had also enjoyed something of a walk-on part during that first Byronic season:
‘I can only write one line to thank you for your generous conduct – will you accept from my heart my deep regret for the past – it makes me most unhappy now…‘
However, for all of the anguish, violence and mischief from their brief affair, is it too much to suppose that with the passing of time, Byron could now enjoy a hearty rendition of Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot and that Caro would be happy to echo that sentiment?
Now here’s to the memory of that wonderful plate of delicious Haggis and Tatties with another large helping of Tipsy Laird I simply had to finish!
Byron’s Letters and Journals, Ed. Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray, 1973-97)
The Whole Disgraceful Truth Selected Letters of Lady Caroline Lamb Paul Douglass (Palgrave Macmillan 2006)
‘I must see my agent to-night. I wonder when that Newstead business will be finished. It cost me more than words to part with it – and to have parted with it!
What matters it what I do? or what becomes of me? – but let me remember Job’s saying, and console myself with being a “living man”.
I wish I could settle to reading again, – my life is monotonous, and yet desultory. I take up books, and fling them down again. I began a comedy and burnt it because the scene ran into reality; – a novel, for the same reason. In rhyme, I can keep more away from facts; but the thought always runs through, through…. yes, yes, through.
I have begun, or had begun, a song, and flung it into the fire. It was in remembrance of Mary Duff, my first of flames, before most people begin to burn. I wonder what the devil is the matter with me! I can do nothing, and – fortunately there is nothing to do…
I have dined regularly to-day, for the first time since Sunday last – this being Sabbath, too. All the rest, tea and dry biscuits – six per diem. I wish to God I had not dined now! It kills me with heaviness, stupor, and horrible dreams; – and yet it was but a pint of bucellas, and fish. Meat I never touch, – nor much vegetable diet. I wish I were in the country, to take excercise……..
Oh my head – how it aches? – the horrors of digestion! I wonder how Buonaparte’s dinner agrees with him?
My head! I believe it was given me to ache with.
Poor Byron! He doesn’t appear to have enjoyed this November day does he?
Despite the gloominess and self-pity that is evident from the extract from his journal, I admire his honesty and after the week that I have just had with more worry and sadness, I can empathise with his feelings on that chilly November evening!
Byron was noted for his open manner and of his tendency to admit his feelings of despondency, sorrow or his word of choice – melancholy. For his poetry is noted for it, his private journals speak of it and he was often candid about his ‘constitutional depression of Spirits’ in letters to his friends.
Although the study of genetics was unknown in Byron’s time, he always believed that he was ‘doomed’ by the fact that he was a in the words of his mother a “true Byrrone”
Despite his charm, his father was considered a fickle profligate and adulterer and with an irate temper, extreme moods and bouts of depression; Byron’s mother Catherine Gordon was more than a match for ‘Mad Jack’ as he was known throughout society.
In the light of his parents’ temperaments and that death by suicide is hinted at on ALL sides of Byron’s unique family; it is perhaps NOT surprising that Byron was frequently one unhappy chap!
One November I visited Bath Abbey and was able to locate a memorial stone on the wall in the Gethsemane Chapel in memory of Byron’s maternal Grandfather and namesake George Gordon who died from drowning in the Avon Canal in Bath on Saturday January 9 1779.
Was his death intentional? Or could he have simply decided to go for a swim in the freezing waters on a cold January day?
Whatever happened on that fateful day, George Gordon was buried in Bath Abbey under a ‘Mr. Pierce’s stone by the font’ on Friday January 15 1779.
I was not aware that he had been laid to rest in Bath Abbey at the time of my visit; probably due to the suspected cause of his death and in 1779, death by suicide was considered a mortal sin and as such a burial would not have been allowed on consecrated ground.
As you can see most of the decorative swag on this marble monument has been broken off and removed and it’s interesting to wonder if Catherine brought Byron to this spot to reminisce about her father as she shared the pride of her Gordon ancestry:
‘My mother was precise on points of genealogy like all the Aristocratical Scots.‘
AND as I was getting up close and personal with my camera in this confined space; the abbey guide was watching me like a hawk – lest I chip off another bit to hoard as a Byron keepsake perhaps?
In a profound letter to John Murray on September 20, 1821 from Ravenna, Byron was to write:
‘You know – or you do not know – that my maternal Grandfather (a very clever man & amiable I am told) was strongly suspected of Suicide – – (he was found drowned in the Avon at Bath)……..there was no apparent cause – as he was rich, respected – & of considerable intellectual resources – hardly forty years of age – & not at all addicted to any un-hinging vice. – It was however but a strong suspicion – owing to the manner of his death – & to his melancholy temper……
I had always been told that in temper I more resembled my maternal Grandfather than any of my father’s family – – that is in the gloomier part of his temper – for he was what you call a good natured man, and I am not. –‘
Interestingly some 37 years later on the same day, Byron’s wife Annabella and their month old daughter Ada Augusta would leave 13 Piccadilly Terrace for the last time and the infamy surrounding the failure of this short marriage would be the catalyst for his departure from our shores a few months later.
As the ‘pint of bucellas’ Byron refers to in his November journal IS actually a pint of wine – this may offer an explanation for his low spirits as it would surely be enough to give anyone an aching head!
As for my low spirits? Well, I need only to reach for that large bowl of chocolates nearby…
Byron’s Letters and Journals, Ed. Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray, 1973-97)
‘…. for it was to avoid troubling you upon it that I finally determined to remain an absent friend rather than become a tiresome guest. If I offend it is better at a distance…‘
Described by the late, great Byron Scholar, Peter Cochran as a ‘masterpiece of circumlocution’ – Byron’s second proposal of marriage in September 1814 would lay the foundation stone for his eventual exile from our shores in 1816.
An opinion also shared by his last love, the Contessa di Guiccioli who was to speak of Byron’s marriage as having had:
‘exercised such a deplorable influence over his destiny, that it is impossible to speak of it succinctly, and without entering into details; for this one great misfortune proved the fruitful source of all others..‘
Contessa di Guiccioli
Having accepted his proposal of marriage and with a courtship facilitated by the aid of the mail coach, Annabella would not meet her betrothed until November of that year and after his hasty departure from Seaham prior to their wedding, she would soon be reconsidering the painful truth of her betrothed’s words and of his apparent determination to ‘remain an absent friend’!
‘My only anxiety is to learn that you are coming….
What can I say to hasten your journey? I am scolded every day for your absence, besides feeling it most myself…‘
Annabella and Byron were married at her family home Seaham Hall on January 2 1815 and a mere 54 weeks later, their brief marriage would implode at their London home in Piccadilly Terrace with accusations of cruelty, drunkenness, sodomy and incest.
Throughout the intervening years, criticism of Annabella has often been unjust and the examples of her ‘cold and analytical manner’ and her ‘tortured’ style of writing have been cited to support the argument of her unsuitability as Byron’s bride.
And now with the use of published material and contemporary photographs – Wedlock’s THEDevil! is THE story of Annabella’s courtship with the most famous Poet of our age and that far from being cold and dispassionate – the hopes and dreams of this young woman can be revealed.
Byron’s Letters and Journals Volume 4 1814-1815, Ed Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1975)
Lord Byron’s Wife Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1962)
‘I have your second letter, and am almost too agitated to write – but you will understand.
It would be absurd to suppress any thing.
I am and have long pledged to myself to make your happiness my first object in life.
If I can make you happy, I have no other consideration.
I will trust to you for all I should look up to – all I can love.
The fear of not realizing your expectations is the only one I now feel.
Convince me – it is all I wish – that my affection may supply what is wanting in my character to form your happiness.
This is a moment of joy which I have too much despaired of ever experiencing – I dared not believe it possible, and I have painfully supported a determination founded in fact on the belief that you did not wish it removed – that its removal would not be for your good.
There has in reality been scarcely a change in my sentiments. More of this I defer.
I wrote by last post – with different feelings!
Let me be grateful for those with which I now acknowledge myself
Most affectly yours.
Lord Byron’s Wife Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1962)
‘You were good enough in your last to say that I might write “soon” – but you did not add often – I have therefore to apologise for again intruding on your time – to say nothing of patience. – There is something I wish to say – and as I may not see you for some – perhaps for a long time – I will endeavour to say it at once…
In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you…
Will you marry me?..
Oops, I appear to have mixed up three marriage proposals here!
Lord Byron’s, Mr Darcy’s and mine!
For there I was with my worn copy of Wedlock’s the Devil – a collection of Byron’s letters from the years 1814-1815 with pages marked by my ‘Pride & Prejudice’ bookmark, a hastily bought souvenir from Bath and as I was reading the letter written by Byron on this very day, September 9 1814 – I confess that my attention wandered to the alluring and haughty figure of Mr Darcy in conversation with a certain Miss Bennet and somehow the words from his first marriage proposal became embroiled with what would also turn out to be Byron’s second marriage proposal to Annabella Milbanke…
‘A few weeks ago you asked me a question – which I answered – I have now one to propose… Are the “objections” – to which you alluded – insuperable? – or is there any line or change of conduct which could possibly remove them?
still I neither wish you to promise or pledge yourself to anything – but merely to learn a possibility which would not leave you the less a free agent.‘
But it’s hardly a declaration of ardent love and enduring passion, is it?
Which is all rather ironic when one considers Byron’s reputation as the great Romantic poet!
He would appear to write with a dread of being accepted and as with Mr Darcy, this, his second proposal would be immediately accepted and by September 18 the die was cast.
‘My dear Moore, I am going to be married – that is, I am accepted, and one usually hopes the rest will follow…
Things may occur to break it off, but I will hope not…
I must, of course, reform thoroughly‘
Unlike Mr Darcy and Miss Bennet however, Byron and Annabella were to be denied their happy-ever-after for by January 1816, a mere sixteen months later, Annabella had returned to her parents with the baby Ada and their brief marriage dissolved into bitterness, innuendo, scandal and exile.
However, that is another story, or possibly several more!
Several years ago, like Annabella Milbanke I also received a proposal of marriage from another aspiring Man of Letters; delivered not in person nor indeed by mail coach but courtesy of the fax machine!
‘for it was to avoid troubling you upon it that I finally determined to remain an absent friend rather than become a tiresome guest – if I offend it is better at a distance..‘
However, MY Man of Letters was at the time some several thousand miles away in the Middle East and fortunately my story has turned out very differently!
Sources Used: Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 4 1814-1815 Ed, Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1975)
Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice An Annotated Edition Ed, Patricia Meyer Spacks (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 2010)
‘Books of Travel are Expensive and I Don’t Want Them.’
When asked for her opinion about the famous Regency doyenne Lady Caroline Lamb- the actress Sarah Miles replied that Caro “was a woman born out of her time and was forced to suffer hugely because of it.”
As I too was born ‘out of my time’ – I have a fond heart for Regency history and it is no secret that I also have a passionate interest in the life of the poet Lord Byron.
However, as much as I adore Byron’s poetry and letters and remain intrigued by his unique and fascinating life – I also believe that his image as the original Regency ‘bad boy’ has been complimented by the scandal surrounding his brief marriage and which would precipitate his journey into exile.
The Ramblings of a Regency Recondite are the tales of one who has followed in the footsteps of Byron as he lived and loved.
From the cobbled streets of Aberdeen and the ruined majesty of Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire and to the elegant colonnade of Melbourne House in London until his departure from our shores in April 1816.
Although Caro Lamb is remembered for her glorious and difficult life – I confess that all I have suffered have been the windswept train stations, the occasional motorway queue, the inclement weather and the inability to read a map correctly!
Yet despite the frustrations of transport delays, weariness and a frequent diet of suspect food familiar to most travellers – I have relished the opportunities to visit the wonderful places that are tinged with the history of Byron.
‘If I valued fame, I should flatter received opinions, which have gathered strength by time, and will yet wear longer than any living works to the contrary…‘
These were the thoughts expressed by Byron in his November 1813 journal entry as this fashionable ‘literary lion’ pondered the question of his fame.
I have been reading the book by Ghislaine McDayter Byromania and the birth of Celebrity Culture which places Byron and the heady years of stardom as the patriarch of all of our modern celebrities and so in addition to being a brilliant and irreverent poet, and despite his own cynicism on the matter – Byron is also honoured as the first ever celebrity!
However, it is another celebrity who I’m also scribbling about in this month of August – the wonderful Marilyn Monroe who died one balmy and mysterious evening in 1962.
Despite being born two centuries apart, both MM and Byron were considered beautiful and fabulous – despite some ferocious changes in mood, an indulgence for reckless affairs, disastrous marriages and a fondness for alcohol.
They were in their time pursued and adored by legions of fans and both would die at the ripe old age of thirty six.
However, another striking parallel between Byron and MM is that both are still recognised for their portraits in iconic dress.
There is the familiar portrait of Byron painted by Thomas Phillips in 1813 dressed in the Albanian costume that he had bought during his Grand Tour.
Byron would later gave the costume to the beautiful heiress Margaret Mercer Elphinstone and confidante of the Princess Charlotte of Wales for a fancy dress ball in May 1814 and in an playful letter with a hint of sexual innuendo from his bachelor pad in London; he writes:
‘I send you the Arnaout garments – which will make an admirable costume for a Dutch Dragoon – The Camesa or Kilt (to speak Scottishly) you will find very long – it is the custom with the Beys and a sign of rank to wear it to the ancle – I know not why-but so it is – the million shorten it to the knee which is more antique – and becoming – at least to those who have legs and a propensity to show them…
I have sent but one camesa – the other I will dispatch when it has undergone the Mussulman process of ablution…
It is put off & on in a few minutes – if you like the dress – keep it – I shall be very glad to get rid of it – as it reminds me of one or two things I don’t wish to remember…
To make it more acceptable – I have worn this very little – & never in England except for half an hour to Phillips.‘
The costume along with Byron’s letter was treasured and can now be seen on display at Bowood House and Gardens in Wiltshire, the home of Margaret’s daughter Emily through her marriage to the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, Earl of Shelburne.
AND then there is THE white ‘Subway Dress’ worn by MM for the 1954 film The Seven Year Itch and which went under the hammer in Beverly Hills for $5.6 million pounds!
MM’s signature dress owned by the actress Debbie Reynolds was auctioned in June 2011 along with a vast collection of other famous Hollywood memorabilia including Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Tramp Hat and Judy Garland’s ‘Red Ruby Slippers’…
BUT $5.6 million? Wow!
Sources used: Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 3 Ed Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1974)
Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 4 Ed Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1975)
‘I thought my dear Augusta that your opinion of my meek mamma would coincide with mine… But she flies into a fit of phrenzy, upbraids me as if I was the most undutiful wretch in existence, rakes up the ashes of my father, abuses him, says I shall be a true Byrrone, which is the worst epiphet she can invent.
Am I call to this woman mother?‘
In the hagiography which often passes for the writing of Byron’s life, Catherine Gordon Byron is something of a Marmite figure – for you will either love OR hate her!
However, my hatred of Marmite is equal to the fondness that I have for the story of this most ‘Amiable Mamma’ who Byron once described as
‘Atender and peremptory parent who indulged me sometimes with holidays and now and then with a box on the ear.’
Catherine Gordon was born in 1764 in the Castle of Gight, in the shire of Aberdeen to Katherine Innes and George Gordon, the 12th Laird of Gight and her ancestry could lay a proud claim to the descent from the sister of King James II ; a wild race noted for their ferocious battles, treacherous deeds, suicide and murder.
In 1820 while living in Europe and in a letter to his publisher John Murray, Byron alluding to his mother’s ‘haughty’ pride in her Gordon ancestry, described her as:
‘being precise upon points of genealogy like all the Aristocratical Scots – She had a long list of ancestors like Sir Lucius O’Triggers most of whom are to be found in the Old Scotch Chronicles – Spalding – & in arms & doing mischief‘
For it was with the suicide of her father who had been found drowned in the Avon Canal in Bath on January 9 1779 that the ‘romping good-humoured girl of sixteen, inclined to corpulency’ became the 13th and final Laird of Gight and with a passion for dancing and with a temper to match, the wealthy, outspoken and superstitious Miss Gordon was introduced to Bath society in 1785.
Her presence was to be quickly noted by John ‘Mad Jack’ Byron who despite his grief for the death of his wife Amelia, Baroness Conyers and the plight of his motherless daughter Augusta; was in desperate need of a wife who could continue to support him in the manner to which he had become accustomed.
The naive and romantic Catherine was united in Holy Matrimony to the feckless and charming John Byron on Friday May 13 1785 at St Michael’s Church in Bath and with no marriage settlement in place, all Byron had to do was to agree to take the name of Gordon and then he could make free with his wife’s money – all £22,580 of it.
O where are ye gaein’, bonny Miss Gordon, O where are ye gaein’ sae bonnie and braw. Ye’ve married, ye’ve married wi’ Jonny Byron, To squander the lands of Gight awa‘
For not only had Catherine married an upstart Englishman but by the winter of 1787 and with the lands of Gight squandered ‘awa’ Catherine now ‘big with bairn’ could now only follow her cruel and dissipated husband to Chantilly in France in an effort to escape his creditors.
As the birth of her child approached, Catherine returned to England and having surrendered the care of the five year old Augusta to the girl’s pious grandmother Lady Holderness; the impoverished young mother-to-be moved into a furnished room at 16 Holles Street to await her lonely confinement.
And it was here that on Tuesday January 22 1788 she gave birth to a boy who was born with a caul over his head, a deformity of the right leg and with the prosaic names of George Gordon in honour of her father.
Catherine would return to her homeland of Aberdeen with her ‘dear son George’ as a toddler and after the death of ‘Mad Jack’ on August 2 1791 in Valenciennes, she devoted herself to the well being of her ‘ill-deedie laddie’ denying him nothing despite his mischievous nature, her tightened purse strings and short temper.
Their provincial and happy life in Aberdeen came to an end in August 1798 as Catherine and her son, now the 6th Lord Byron would leave Scotland to take possession of Newstead Abbey in Nottingham, the ancestral abode of the Byron family since the Reformation.
And by all accounts their first season at Newstead was an idyllic one despite the dilapidated mansion with a leaky roof and the bare grounds stripped of all woodland and Byron would plant an oak tree in the garden which he would later celebrate in verse:
when I planted thee deep in the ground,
I hoped that thy days would be longer than mine;
That thy dark-waving branches would flourish around,
And ivy thy trunk with its mantle entwine.
And as he, with his boys, shall revisit this spot,
He will tell them in whispers more softly to tread.
Oh! surely, by these I shall ne’er be forgot;
Remembrance still hallows the dust of the dead.
With Byron now a Peer of the Realm, Catherine would be increasingly marginalised over time as the decisions concerning the health and education of her son were the responsibilities of his guardian Lord Carlisle and the attorney John Hanson and with maternal pride and fond concern frequently mistaken for ignorance, fickleness and tedious embarrassment as Dr Glennie attested:
Mrs Byron was a total stranger to English society and English manners… a mind almost wholly without cultivation… and not endowed with powers to retrieve the fortune and form the character and manners of a young nobleman, her son.
There is no doubt that Catherine as a woman of volatile opinion and expansive feeling was probably her own worst enemy, but then life had been hard for her and without the benefit of a supportive network and financial security, who are we to judge?
As Byron moved through adolescence frequently bored of school, in need of cash and always willing to challenge authority; the relationship with his mother was to become ever more explosive and unpredictable and in a series of letters to his ‘dearest Augusta’, he lets forth with invective, which although amusing, suggests a cruel attitude which affords him little credit.
‘I have at last succeeded, my dearest Augusta, in a pacifying the dowager, and mollifying that piece of flint which the good Lady denominates her heart. She now has condescended to send you her love, although with many comments on the occasion, and many compliments to herself. But to me she still continues to be a torment, and I doubt not would continue so till the end of my life… It is a happy thing that she is my mother and not my wife, so that I can rid myself of her when I please‘
And with Byron full of teenage angst and pockets full of ready cash obtained by dubious means; the ‘good Lady’ was far from pleased:
‘That Boy will be the death of me and drive me mad! I never will consent to his going Abroad. Where can he get Hundreds? Has he got into the hands of money lenders? He has no feeling, no Heart.
This I have long known he has behaved as ill as possible to me for years back, this bitter Truth I can no longer conceal, it is wrung from me by heart-rending agony.
I am well rewarded, I came to Nottinghamshire to please him and now he hates it.
He knows that I am doing everything in my power to pay his Debts and he writes to me about hiring Servants and the last time he wrote to me was to desire that I would send him £25.0.0 to pay his Harrow Bills which I would have done if I had had as much as he has – three hundred – I am glad I did not, but it shows what he is, God knows what is to be done with him, I much fear he is already ruined at eighteen!!!
Great God I am distracted I can say no more.‘
As Byron made plans to travel abroad with his friend John Cam Hobhouse, he was also planning to uproot his mother from her cosy home at Burgage Manor in Southwell to Newstead Abbey, a cold, damp ruin which promised social isolation and more than one visit from the bailiffs.
However, despite the acrimony in which they had parted, Catherine was also to be the recipient of Byron’s most beautifully witty and picturesque letters that were written as he travelled throughout the East.
‘If I wed I will bring you home a sultana with half a score of cities for a dowry, and reconcile you to an Ottoman daughter in law with a bushel of pearls not larger than ostrich eggs or smaller than walnuts.’
Her reply is equally witty in return and there are delicious hints that mother and son would surely have enjoyed some lighthearted times together.
‘A thousand thanks for your long letter which amused me much. I see you are quite charmed with the Spanish Ladies. For Heavens sake have nothing to do with them. They make nothing of poisoning both Husbands and Lovers if they are jealous of them or offend them. The Italian ladies do the same. I will however agree to your marrying a very pretty very sensible rich Sultana, with half a Million to her fortune not less, and also a Bushel of Pearls and diamonds. No other is worthy of you nor will she be received by me.‘
Despite her ill-health, she valiantly tried to maintain the upkeep of the Abbey throughout the long winter of 1810 and 1811 and continued to juggle her son’s debts while in constant fear of a bailiff removing her belongings.
Hutton the Bailiff and two of his men arrived from Nottingham. How is this? I thought this business would have been settled… I did not think you would let this come on me… They say the things must be sold immediately. P.S. For God(s) sake do not let me live in this state…
Catherine Gordon Byron
Catherine died at the age of forty six on Wednesday August 1 1811 at Newstead Abbey surrounded by her devoted servants and as her son was travelling from London poste haste to be by her side after borrowing ‘forty pounds’ from John Hanson as he didn’t have the funds to undertake the journey from London.
‘My poor mother died yesterday! I heard one day of her illness, the next of her death – Thank God her last moments were most tranquil… I now feel the truth of Mr Gray’s observation, ‘That we can only have one mother.’ Peace be with her!
Every thing is doing that can now be done plainly yet decently for the internment.‘
On Friday August 9 , her remains were interred to the Byron family vault in the Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire and thirteen years later in 1824, she would be reunited with her ‘Dear son George’ and granddaughter Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace in November 1852.
Byron’s biographer John Galt was moved to write charitably of Catherine some years after her death:
Notwithstanding her violent temper and other unseemly conduct, her affection for him had been so fond and dear, that he undoubtedly returned it with unaffected sincerity and from many casual and incidental expressions which I have heard him employ concerning her, I am persuaded that his filial love was not at any time even of the ordinary kind.
Byron and His World, Derek Parker (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd 1968)
Byron’s Letters and Journals Volume One, Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1973)
My Amiable Mamma A Biography of Mrs. Catherine Gordon Byron, Megan Boyes (J.M. Tatler & Son Ltd 1991)
‘The last sad rites to the illustrious dead were performed upon the remains of this great poet at four o’clock on Friday evening last, in the family vault of the church of Hucknall Torkard, in this county, close to the ancient demesne of the Byons, who held Newstead Abbey for centuries…‘
Then and Now What the Papers Said About the Death of Lord Byron
On this day, July 16 AND an incredible 26 years ago I celebrated the safe arrival of my youngest son Tom and in 1824 a further 197 years ago, the church of St Mary Magdalene in the town of Hucknall in Nottingham welcomed the safe arrival of Byron’s remains for burial after his death at the age of 36 on April 19 in the town of Missolonghi in Greece.
‘Ten o’clock being the time fixed for the procession to leave Nottingham, the great bell at St Mary’s tolled at that hour…’
A quarter before eleven o’clock, the hearse, adorned with the large sable plumes, drawn by six black horses, each bearing a plume of feathers on his head, was ordered to the front of the Blackmoor’s Head Inn, for the purpose of receiving the body of his Lordship, which, on being brought out and placed therein, the first mourning coach and six came up, in which was put the urn, containing the heart, &c., covered with a black silk velvet pall ornamented with escutcheons of the Byron arms, on a white ground
The utmost silence prevailed during this ceremony. The arrangements having been completed, at eleven o’clock the procession set out…
At half past eleven o’clock, a number of the undertaker’s men arrived, and immediately began to clothe the pulpit and reading desk with black cloth. A large seat next to the pulpit, together with communion table and rails were also covered with black cloth.
An eschutcheon of the poet with the motto, ‘Crede Byron’ underneath, was hung in front of the pulpit below the cushion. All these preparations were finished by half past one, at which hour the minute bell began to toll.
The church and little village were crowded to excess at this hour, and all eyes were fixed on the road which the procession had to pass… Although the procession left Nottingham at 20 minutes past eleven and had only seven miles to traverse, it did not reach Hucknall church until half-past three o’clock.
The Rev. Chas Nixon, the vicar, who was in attendance all day, immediately repaired to the church yard where he received the body…
At a quarter before four o’clock the procession entered the church.
The body and urn being brought in, and placed on two trestles fixed in the aisle, the mourners passed to the seats prepared for them. The coronet and cushion were then placed upon the case of feathers.
The Rev. Chas Nixon, the vicar, clothed in his white surplice, then read a part of the beautiful service of the Church of England’ and in a few minutes the undertaker and his attendants slowly removed the coronet supporting it on the cushion at the head of the tomb, whilst the clergyman read the remainder of the service.
The coffin was then gradually lowered, and placed on an old leaden coffin…. The original intention was that it should have been laid upon his mother’s coffin, but the mutilated and decayed state of the latter rendered that impossible; it rests, however, exactly next to it, with the case containing the urn at the head.
Around the vault stood Col. Leigh, chief mourner (the present Lord Byron was said to be indisposed at Bath); next to him, Mr Hobhouse and Mr Hanson; then Lord Rancliffe and Colonel Wildman; the Household of the deceased in the rear.
The whole ceremony was finished at 20 minutes past four o’clock.
The One wish of the late distinguished poet is gratified by his remains being deposited in his native land, and in the tomb of his ancestors, and in his own words, to mingle with ‘The crush’s relics of their vanished might.’
However, before I become TOO carried away with this wonderful evocative account of Byron’s funeral and the moving processional scenes of the crowds of ordinary people who attended him to his grave – I am reminded of a letter written by Byron to his faithful publisher John Murray in the summer of 1819:
‘I am sure my Bones would not rest in an English grave – or my Clay mix with the earth of that Country: – I believe the thought would drive me mad on my death-bed could I suppose that any of my friends would be base enough to convey my carcase back to your soil – I would not even feed your worms – if I could help it.’
AND on that note, I’m off to see if I can enjoy a large slice of birthday cake!
‘My dear Ly. M – God knows what has happened – but a 4 in the morning Ly. Ossulstone angry (& at that moment ugly) delivered to me a confused kind of message from you of some scene – this is all I know – except that with laudable logic she drew the usual feminine deduction that I “must have behaved very ill...’
Oh dear, it would appear that on another balmy July evening some 205 years ago, the poet Lord Byron had found himself in hot water – again!
‘Ly. W(estmorland) says “you must have done something – you know between people in your situation – a word or a look goes a great way” &c. &c. – so it seems indeed….’
On the evening of Monday July 5 he attended a ‘Small Waltzing Party – 10 o’clock at the home of Lady Heathcote despite his intense dislike for the ‘fashionable Waltz’ on account of his lameness and for his disdain for anything remotely fashionable.
That he had attended a party only days before that had all ‘the refuse of the Regent & the Red book – Bedfords – Jerseys – Ossulstones – Greys & the like’ also did VERY little to deter him!
And that he might bump into Lady Caroline Lamb, his aggrieved and furious former lover whom he had been anxiously avoiding several days earlier was yet ANOTHER futile deterrent.
Byron’s most recent paramour Lady Oxford had sailed out of his life with her husband at the end of June and although he had been reunited with his half- sister Augusta Leigh, he was making plans to go abroad again.
And so he went to Lady Heathcote’s party as did Caro who according to Byron’s trusty confidant, his ‘Dear Lady M’ was determined to pique the poet ‘by her Waltzing’.
Piqued or not, something happened to Caro at this party involving a Waltz, blunt words and a sharp weapon according to the people there and with human memory so notoriously fallible – some wild and rather outrageous stories were shared.
Have you ever seen the dramatic scene as portrayed in the 1973 film Lady Caroline Lamb with Richard Chamberlain as an unsympathetic Byron wrestling a knife from an hysterical and suicidal Caro as a group of ladies including Annabella Milbanke, THE future Lady Byron scream and run for cover?
Unfortunately, and however delightful to image – that scene was just another example of creative license!
Professing ignorance of the whole bloody scene, Lord Byron could only say:
‘I have heard a strange story of C’s scratching herself with glass – & I know not what besides…
What I did or said to provoke her – I know not – I told her it was better to waltz – ‘because she danced well’ but I see nothing in this to produce cutting and maiming – besides before supper I saw her – & though she said and did even then a foolish thing…
She took hold of my hand as I passed & pressed it against some sharp instrument – & said – ‘I mean to use this’ – I answered – ‘against me I presume’ – & passed on… nor do I know where this cursed scarification took place – nor when – I mean the room – & the hour.‘
Lady Melbourne with her sensibility, poise and distaste for scandal had merely this to say:
‘She broke a Glass, & Scratched herself, as you call it, with the broken pieces – Ly O(ssulstone) and Ly H(eathcote) – discussed instead of taking it from her, & I had just left off, holding her for 2 Minutes.’
However according the Duchess of Beaufort, poor Caro
‘not only wounded herself in several places but was carried out by several people actually in a straight waist coat.‘
But it is only fair that we hear from the Lady herself:
‘He had made me swear I was never to Waltz – Lady Heathcote said ‘come Lady Caroline you must begin, & I bitterly answered – Oh yes! I am in a merry humour.’
I did so but whispered to Lord Byron, ‘I conclude I may Waltz now’ and he answered sarcastically, ‘with every body in turn, you always did it better than any one. I shall have pleasure in seeing you’.
I did so, with what feelings you may judge.
After this, feeling ill, I went into a small inner room where supper was prepared: Lord Byron & Lady Rancliffe entered after!
Seeing me, he said ‘I have been admiring your dexterity.’ I clasped the knife, not intending anything, ‘So my dear,’ he said ‘yet if you mean to act a Roman part, mind which way you strike with our knife, be it at your own heart not mine – you have struck there already.’ ‘Byron’ I said, and ran away with the knife.
I never stabbed myself….people pulled to get it from me; I was terrified my hand got cut & blood came over my gown..’
With Caro’s hysterics, Lady Melbourne’s anguish AND the scolding by the ladies of Lady Heathcote’s circle, Byron must have been counting the days until his departure abroad, particularly when the story was published in The Satirist:
‘With horn-handled knife,
To kill a tender lamb as dead as mutton’
However, his departure would not be for another three years AND that is for another story!
Byron’s ‘Corbeau Blanc’ The Life and Letters of Lady Melbourne Ed Jonathan David Gross (Liverpool University Press 1997)
Byron’s Letters and Journals Volume 3 1813-1814 Ed Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1974)
Lady Caroline Lamb Paul Douglass (Palgrave Macmillan 2004)
The Whole Disgraceful Truth Selected Letters of Lady Caroline Lamb Paul Douglass (Palgrave Macmillan 2006)