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Stone Me! Such a Pretentious Poseur!

‘P.S. – Torwaltzen has done a bust of me at Rome for Mr Hobhouse – which is reckoned very good – he is their best after Canova – & by some preferred to him. – I have had a letter from Mr. Hodgson – maudlin & fine feeling – he is very happy – has got a living – but not a child – if he had stuck to a Curacy – babes would have come of course because he could not have maintained them. – –

Remember me to all your friends, &c. &c…..

An Austrian officer the other day, being in love with a Venetian – was ordered with his regiment into Hungary – distracted between love & duty he purchased a deadly drug which dividing with his mistress both swallowed – The ensuing pains were terrific but the pills were purgative – & not poisonous – by the contrivance of the unsentimental apothecary – so that so much suicide was all thrown away….

Only Byron could ‘P.S’ such a fabulous letter with a tale of two futile suicides, the disadvantage to his friend who is now no longer a poor and potentially propagating Curate and of himself being immortalised in stone..

Hobhouse inspired by his love of classical antiquity had commissioned the fashionable Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen to make a portrait bust of his ‘dearest friend’ during their visit to Rome in May 1817.

Image Courtesy of the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen

One wonders if he had to try hard to persuade his ‘dearest friend’ to actually sit for Thorvaldsen as the first meeting between the artist and Byron was one of wry amusement on the part of one and studied indifference by the other.

The inauspicious start did little to deter Thorvaldsen from his task despite the challenges Byron presented.

‘When I was about to make Byron’s statue; he placed himself just opposite me, and began immediately to assume quite another countenance to what was customary to him.

Will you not sit still? said I; but you must not make these faces.

It is my expression, said Byron. Indeed? said I, and then I made him as I wished, and everybody said, when it was finished, that I had hit the likeness.

When Byron, however, saw it, he said, “It does not resemble me at all; I look more unhappy”.

He was, above all things, so desirous of looking extremely unhappy..

Image Courtesy of the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen

Unhappy or not, Byron’s reaction to the bust was also one of wry embarrassment as he was later to write:

‘I would not pay the price of a Thorwaldsen for any human head and shoulders….a bust looks like putting up pretensions to permanency…

Lord Byron

Perhaps he was also thinking about the myth of Medusa, another troubled and irreverent beauty:

‘Even you, Medusa, should you seek your reflection, shall turn to rock the instant you see your face…

Despite Byron’s reaction to his likeness, Hobhouse was delighted with Thorvaldsen’s work and anticipating his friend in the style of a Roman conqueror he proposed that the bust should be decorated with a laurel wreath across the brow.

However, the reaction from the bemused poseur was emphatic:

‘I protest against & prohibit the “laurels” – which would be a most awkward assumption…. – but I won’t have my head garnished like a Xmas pie with Holly – or a Cod’s head and Fennel – or whatever the damned weed is they strew round it…

Lord Byron

I think that Byron was quite right not rest upon his laurels – besides a laurel wreath would only have hidden all of those wonderful curls!

However, in typical Byronic fashion, he was NOT immune to the admiration for another bust – far from it!

‘The Helen of Canova (a bust which is in the house of Madame the Countess d’Albrizzi, whom I know) is without exception, to my mind, the most perfectly beautiful of human conceptions, and far beyond my ideas of human execution

Lord Byron
‘Bust of Helen’ by Antonio Canova (1811) Image Courtesy of Accademia Galleries Venice.

For as a guest at the Venetian salon of Countess Albrizzi in 1816, he came across Antonio Canova’s ‘Ideal Head of Helen’ on display in all of her finery and his delight for Canova’s genius would later inspire the following lines:

In this beloved marble view,
Above the works and thoughts of Man –
What Nature could – but would not – do
And Beauty and Canova can!

Sources used:

So Late into the Night (Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 5) Ed, Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1976)

The Byronic Image The Poet Portrayed, Robert Beevers (Olivia Press 2005)

The Works of Lord Byron Letters and Journals. Vol. IV. Ed, Rowland E. Prothero (London: John Murray 1900)

To the Vale of Graves…

That eye which had gleam’d as in flashed from Heav’n, –

Whose glances by angles and demons seem’d given. –

It anxiously gaz’d, but its language and lights

As they faded were seal’d from mortality’s sights.

In the days following the news of Lord Byron’s death in Greece on April 19 1824; his young widow had written a poem which tells of her sorrow that on his death bed her exiled spouse had asked that a message be brought to her – a message the faithful valet William Fletcher had been unable to understand.

The effort was made, but all, all, was in vain

And dark is that page which he sought to explain…

And some 36 years later on the day before her 68th birthday and with her beloved granddaughter and namesake Anne Isabella Noel King by her side; Annabella died in the early morning hours of Wednesday May 16 1860 while staying at 11 St George’s Terrace in Primrose Hill, North London from Bronchitis and Pleurisy after suffering from the effects of a prolonged illness throughout most of the Spring and NOT from breast cancer as is often erroneously reported.

In a poignant letter to the ‘other’ Mrs Lamb, the ‘Caro George’ of the glittering season of 1812 and the last remaining member of the Melbourne clan; she had been told:

My darling suffered very much, except the few hours before the end. The end was in sleep, which passed into the sleep of death – gently and calmly.

It is at Kensal Green Cemetery in West London on May 21 1860 that Annabella was laid to rest and despite the incorrect spelling of her first name and that she had been born in the home of her mother’s great friend Isabella Baker at Elemore Hall, her simple and elegant grave can be discovered in the shadow of the enormous Dissenter’s Chapel.

And it was on a glorious afternoon in October as I took a stroll through this fabulous cemetery to FINALLY find my way to the grave of Byron’s spouse.

I use the word FINALLY as this grave was not one of the easiest to find, hidden as it is by an impressive display of several large obelisks and some rather flamboyant monuments.

The grave itself is in very good condition despite the blanket of bramble and the rather nice ferns struggling to make themselves seen.

As I was making my way carefully around the grave trying to avoid the large holes in the ground while trying not to trip over the odd piece of  broken monument which lay scattered about – I was surprisingly affected by the lonely appearance of this grave despite it’s beauty.

I also thought of how far away she rests from her devoted parents Judith and Ralph who rest in the churchyard of All Saints at Kirkby Mallory and that of her only daughter Ada who had been reunited with her father some 8 years previously in the Byron Vault at the Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.

But far from the scenes of his birth and his youth,

that breath of sweet song died away in the south.

And silent and lone was the vale of the graves

There were none to divine the last tokens he gave! –

However despite having no family near, Annabella is by no means alone as her good friend the author and art critic Anna Jameson is near and she is surrounded by various members of the Lushington clan including Sophia, Mary and Amelia sisters to the ‘Gentlemanlike, clear-headed and clever’ attorney Dr. Stephen Lushington who had acted so decisively for her during the separation saga of 1816.

Reminders of her place in the Byron orbit are everywhere throughout the 72 acres of this cemetery as both the poet’s chum John Cam Hobhouse and his publisher John Murray are buried here along with a Byron servant and niece or three who are scattered nearby.

Byron’s ‘Dearest Sis’ the Hon. Augusta Mary Leigh is also resident here, however her remains along with those of her spouse are enclosed in a lead lined coffin within the huge vaulted catacomb beneath the Dissenter’s  Chapel; which has a delicious touch of irony when you consider her sorry tale of debt, feckless children and scandal.

As a spot in the catacombs has always been more expensive and prestigious than a burial within the grounds of a cemetery, they have long been considered to be the most exclusive resting place for those in the higher echelon of the social strata; however, I was astounded upon reading the final paragraph of The Kindness of Sisters by David Crane.

For having made no secret of his hostility toward Lady B, he writes of her ‘crusade against the Byrons’ and that the very style of her grave both visible and proud indicates her triumph against the hapless Augusta Leigh who finds herself ‘tucked away on the bottom shelf’ in the darkness of the catacombs.

As I can really find no answer to this absurd contretemps which appears indicative of the misunderstanding surrounding the poet’s spouse and which still dominates so many years later – I am happy to let the lady herself have the last word:

The one truth then reveal’d, that might save and might bless, – 

That hallowed last link ‘twixt, the living and dead. –

‘Twas all speechless and void; – and that word was not said.

Sources Used:

The Kindness of Sisters Annabella Milbanke and the Destruction of the Byrons David Crane (London: Flamingo 2003)

The Real Lady Byron Joan Pierson (London: Robert Hale 1992)

Thursday’s Angel Child HAS Far to Go!

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

Sources used:

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)

Blest Her! The Angel Suffers No More…

Your barbarous and hard hearted Brother has I am too firmly persuaded broken the heart that was devoted to him – and I doubt not will have pleasure in the Deed. She will not long exist, so he may glory in the Success of his endeavors.

She is dreadfully ill and was last night and this day in a State which terrifys me – tell Lord Byron this if you please.

Wonder not that I write Strongly, who could see that Suffering Angel Sinking under such unmanly and despicable treatment, and not feel?

Ld Byron is sending her Parents also with Sorrow to the Grave – let him glory also in that – and that he had three Lives to answer for at that great account, as much as if he had plunged his Dagger in our hearts – indeed that would have been a short suffering compared to a broken Heart…

… Oh! my God! how has my poor Child been sacrificed! not only to a wicked, but unmanly Creature! her only Error, too strong an attachment to him, and how has he rewarded it!”

Lady Noel

The agitated author of this letter was the Hon. Judith Noel to Augusta Leigh in the dying days of January 1816 as the marriage separation between her beloved only daughter and Lord Byron became increasingly acrimonious and as the latter prepared for a life in exile far away from the marital home of 13 Piccadilly Terrace in London.

Luckily for Byron’s ‘Dearest Sis’ – this letter was never sent AND also for Annabella as Judith had been quite mistaken in her distraught prediction about her ‘poor child’s’ imminent demise for NOT only did Annabella survive her estranged spouse by some 36 years but also that of both her parents, the Hon. Augusta Leigh AND even that of her only daughter Ada who would die in her thirty-sixth year in November 1851.

One day before her sixty-eighth birthday and with her beloved granddaughter and namesake Anne Isabella Noel King by her side; Annabella died in the early morning hours of Wednesday May 16 1860 while staying at 11 St George’s Terrace in Primrose Hill, North London from the effects of Bronchitis and Pleurisy after suffering from a prolonged illness throughout most of the Spring and NOT from breast cancer as is commonly argued.

In a poignant letter to the ‘other’ Mrs Lamb, the ‘Caro George’ of the glittering season of 1812 and the last remaining member of the Melbourne clan – Annabella the Younger was to write:

“My darling suffered very much, except the few hours before the end. The end was in sleep, which passed into the sleep of death – gently and calmly.”

Interestingly, the house where Annabella died is also a house familiar to another troubled and brilliant genius, the poet and writer Sylvia Plath.

In the spring of 1961 Plath composed her only semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar in the study of 11 St George’s Place at the invitation of friends and which tells of the story of Esther Greenwood who haunted by the presence of death becomes increasingly ill with depression and makes several attempts at suicide.

The Bell Jar is arguably a roman à clef as the protagonist’s struggle with mental illness with that of Plath’s own descent into clinical depression is strikingly apparent and in the month following the publication of this novel here in the UK and after several failed attempts; Plath would eventually take her own life in February 1963.

In a letter to her mother, Plath had justified writing the book as the means in which to ‘picture my world and the people in it as seen through the distorting lens of a bell jar’.

And when one considers the life that Annabella had lived through with the letters, journals and poetry that she and others have left us for posterity against a tide of hostility, ignorance and disparagement which she still meets with many years after her death – I wonder if she would recognised herself through this distorted lens?

And would she would have been sympathetic to that immortal line: “Sometimes just being a woman is an act of courage”…

Sources used:

Lord Byron’s Wife Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1974)

The Real Lady Byron Joan Pierson (London: Robert Hale 1992)

MAY You Marry in Haste?

Mr Farquar of Doctor’s Commons has a copy of the certificate of my marriage which he got from Bath…..I was married however on the 12th or 13th May (I don’t know which) – 1785 at St. Michaels Church, Bath (and St Michaels Parish I suppose but I don’t know for certain) and this is all I can inform you about it.

Catherine Gordon Byron

It is interesting that Byron’s mother should have been unsure as to the precise date of her fated marriage to John Byron in the year 1785.

With her Scottish ancestry for omens and superstition perhaps Catherine’s confusion is understandable for she did indeed marry ‘Mad Jack’ Byron on Friday May 13 and by all accounts their brief marriage was a disaster.

And even though our last May Friday 13 was in 2016 – I can STILL remember a day not entirely free from mishap much like the fated Catherine Gordon Byron some two hundred and thirty four years ago!

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 had been 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 and weeks later the marriage by License of ‘John Byron Esq… a Widower’ of less than one year to the young and naive spinster was held in the beautiful ‘Parifh’ Church of St Michael in Bath – the town synonymous with the romance of my favourite Jane Austen novel Persuasion.

Their marriage was ‘folemnized’ in the presence of two of Catherine’s friends who despite being anxious for her welfare had been unable to halt her dash into the charismatic and feckless orbit of John Byron 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.

The star of their ill-starred union would be born on January 22 in 1788 but by then most of Catherine’s wealth had been swallowed up by her husband’s wild spending or by his creditors.

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’

In August 1791 John Byron died in France and Catherine was left to raise her son ‘Geordie’ alone with only the meagre allowance that had been salvaged from what remained of her wealth in addition to her strong will and determination to do all that she could for her only child :

George is well….but at present he is my only comfort and the only thing that makes me wish to live..’

Catherine Gordon Byron

However, on Monday January 2 1815 Catherine’s ‘only comfort’ was to star in his own ill-starred marriage to Annabella Milbanke at Seaham Hall in County Durham having presented his bride with the wedding ring that had once belonged to his mother.

Clearly, the Gordon trait for fearing bad omens and superstition was ignored – AGAIN!

Sources used:

My Amiable Mamma A Biography of Catherine Gordon Byron Megan Boyes (J.M. Tatler & Son Ltd. 1991)

I HAVE Suffered! Can This EVER Be Known?

My own Sweet Sis – the deeds are signed – so that is over. – All I have now to beg or desire on the subject is – that you will never mention not allude to Lady Byron’s name again in any shape – or on any occasion – except indispensable business….

Lord Byron

This was to be one of Lord Byron’s last letters to his ‘Dearest Augusta’ as he made plans to leave his home and his life in England behind him.

He had signed the deed of separation on the afternoon of Sunday April 21 1816 signifying the end of his brief year-long marriage to Annabella and from the fatherhood of his five-month old daughter Ada.

He left 13 Piccadilly Terrace on April 23, St George’s Day, bound for Dover and finally departed from England on Thursday April 25 and was never to see Augusta, Annabella or Ada again.

The Byron separation had been one of bitterness, legal wrangling, innuendo, veiled threats and finally a plea for a ‘private arrangement’ and the winner undoubtedly was Annabella who in January 1816 had demanded:

‘to pursue such measures as may be necessary to effect a secure & final separation between Lord Byron and myself…  I am more convinced of the escape I have had, and the impossibility of ever regretting the step I have taken.

All I have suffered can never be known.

Not knowing precisely what Annabella had suffered during her marriage was to precipitate in scandalous rumour, vitriol and exile for Byron, the unfortunate loser and which brings us to the fifth and final possible reason.

Upon receiving the notice from Sir Ralph Milbanke that his daughter was insistent upon a separation from him, Byron had asked for confirmation from Annabella herself who duly replied with the following charge:

‘that total dereliction of principle, which, since our marriage, you have professed and gloried in…

Lady Byron

Augusta was also to hint at this charge in a letter sent to Annabella about her concern for Byron’s well-being as their separation was being increasingly played out in public and much to Byron’s disadvantage:

‘There are reports abroad of a nature too horrible to repeat….Every other sinks into nothing before this MOST horrid one… This MOST dreadful report! – who knows what it may urge him to do.

He said to me last night in an agony ‘Even to have such a thing said is utter destruction & ruin to a man & from which he can never recover’

I am alas! but too well convinced you are acting from Duty – From Principle. Surely even the truth is better concealed if possible….

But what was this mysterious truth that led Byron to a total dereliction of principle?

His angry former mother-in-law was to say of him that it was ‘not fit such men should live’ and the poet Thomas Campbell in his defence of Annabella was to say:

‘It concerns morality and the most sacred rights of the sex that she be acquitted of any share in the blame, which was Byron’s and Byron’s alone.

Even Lady Caroline Lamb had something to say about Byron’s ‘dereliction of principle’ in her one of her many farewell letters to him:

‘I do not believe I never will believe you can have had the heart to suffer me to be so treated – what I have gone through – it is neither my wish or intention to repeat…

henceforward you are safe – the means you took to frighten me from your door are not in vain.

On February 22 1816 after a private interview with her legal advisor Dr Stephen Lushington, Annabella was to reveal something so shocking that separation from Byron was inevitable and that it must forever remain unknown to the rest of the world and it had the desired effect!

Byron was forced into acquiescence and exile and as the ’cause’ of the separation was not revealed, rumour and innuendo was to prevail and very much to his discredit.

In Byron’s time adultery was commonplace, his two closest female confidants, Lady Oxford and Lady Melbourne had given birth to children of questionable paternity and incest was more of a murkier issue for although morally wrong, it was not yet considered to be a crime.

However, homosexuality and the act of sodomy were certainly considered to be criminal behaviour.

The threat of the gallows was a very real one and suspected sodomites were frequently pilloried in front of a baying, angry crowd with dreadful consequences.

Could this have been the pivotal reason for Annabella’s determination for a separation after a marriage of only a year?

And could this explain why she was almost unremitting in her campaign to ensure that Byron remained the ‘guilty party’ and thus the unsympathetic character forced into exile?

George Colman, the author of Don Leon certainly believed this to be so!

Me thinks ’twas yesterday as both in bed

We lay: her cheeks were pillowed on my breast,

Fondly my arms her snowy bosom pressed.

Love no denial found, desire no stay.

That night it was, when tired of amorous play,

She bade me speak of wonders I had seen.

“And thou, dear Anna, think’st thou I can see

Without longing all these charms in thee?

Then turn thee round, indulge a husband’s wish,

And taste with me this truly classic dish”

Ah, fatal hour, that saw my prayer succeed,

And my fond bride enact the Ganymede….

‘Tis true, that from her lips some murmurs fell –

In joy or anger, ’tis too late to tell;

But this I swear, that not a single sign

Proved that her pleasure did not equal mine.

Colman was the theatrical manager at Drury Lane and a wonderful writer of comedy who considered Byron a friend and as they got drunk together on more than one occasion and he had an intuitive understanding of the complexities of the Byron marriage and the subsequent separation – perhaps his poem offers us a tantalising hint of what happened all those years ago.

Sources used:

Don Leon The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York

Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 5 (So Late into the Night) Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1976)

Lord Byron’s Marriage The Evidence of Asterisks, G. Wilson Knight (Routledge and Kegan Paul 1957)

Lord Byron’s Wife, Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1974)

The Uninhibited Byron An Account of His Sexual Confusion, Bernard Grebanier (Peter Owen 1970)

The Whole Disgraceful Truth, Paul Douglass (Palgrave MacMillan 2006)

I Am YOUR Child!

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.

The Grave of Elizabeth Medora Taillefer née Leigh (1814-1849) at Versols-et-Lapeyre in Aveyron, Southern France.

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.

Sources used:

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)

I Once More Remind You…

I received a most kind and affectionate letter from Lady Byron, and money, with offers of protection for myself and my child, and the power of quitting a neighbourhood which was most painful to me.

This was in August 1840. I willingly and joyfully accepted these offers….

Lady Byron, proposed that I should accompany her to Paris, and remain with her for a time I did so… Fontainebleau…. Lady Byron informed me of the cause of the deep interest she felt and must ever feel, for me. Her husband had been my father…

The author of this missive is one Elizabeth Medora Leigh writing about the kindness of her aunt Lady Byron who had just informed her that her father was none other than the celebrated poet AND uncle, Lord Byron.

Born on this day April 15 in 1814, Elizabeth Medora was the fourth child of the Hon. Augusta Mary Byron and Colonel George Leigh and arguably THE most notorious.

Although the author Richard Edgcumbe in his book Byron The Last Phrase published by John Murray in 1909 advanced the theory that Medora was the natural daughter of a love affair between the poet and his childhood idol Mary Chaworth Musters – that is for another story entirely!

Gifted to the ‘Miss Byron from her affectionate Friend M. Elgin’ in 1782, Augusta recorded the births, marriages and deaths of her seven children in her family bible:

Elizabeth Medora Leigh born at the Six Mile Bottom April 15th 1814. Christened there, May 20th 1814 by the Revd. C. Wedge. Sponsors – The Dss. of Rutland Mrs. Wilmot & Lord Byron.

Six Mile Bottom was the Leigh family home in Newmarket and from 1813 until March 1815, Byron had enjoyed regular visits with his sister and her children in the frequent absence of the colonel who as an indiscriminate gambler and crony of the Prince Regent was more often to be found at one of the many racetracks dotted throughout England.

Like her reputed and famous father, Medora was to be a woman known by many names.

In a letter to Byron written when Medora was nearly nine months old Augusta had written:

My dearest B + 

As usual I have but a short allowance of time to reply to your tendresses + …..

La Dame did talk so – oh my stars! but at least it saved me a world of trouble – oh! but she found out a likeness in your picture to Mignonne who is of course very good humoured in consequence +

As ‘Mignonne’ is a reference to Medora, this letter is often cited as evidence of Byron’s paternity with the other that Medora had been named after his heroine in The Corsair – a poem published to great success in February 1814.

However, Medora  was also the name given to a very successful horse owned by none other than the Duke of Rutland and whose spouse was the godparent to the infant Medora.

Whatever the inspiration for her name, Byron’s attitude towards the reputed daughter by the woman he ‘most loved’ remains obscure; for throughout the winter of 1815 until April 1816 and as his marriage rapidly imploded, Augusta had also been living at Piccadilly Terrace in London and it would appear that she had brought only her eldest child, the favoured Georgiana as company.

Presumably, little Medora at just a year old was left in the care of her nurse along with her two siblings.

And after the brother and sister had said their farewells on Easter Sunday prior to his departure from England in 1816, he penned the following note:

P.S. – I can’t bear to send you a short letter – & my heart is too full for a long one – – don’t think me unkind or ungrateful – dearest A – – & tell me how is Georgey & Do – & you & tip – &  all the tips on four legs or two – ever & again – & for ever thine

Lord Byron

‘Do’ is yet another name for Medora and as Tip was Augusta’s dog, we can but hope that the poor creature was known only by that particular name otherwise this may offer the most reasonable explanation yet for Augusta’s seemingly chaotic home!

Although Byron died in Greece in April 1824, Medora’s story really only begins in 1826 when at the age of twelve, she and her mother were the only guests present at the marriage of Georgiana to her third cousin Henry Trevanion at St James’ Palace in London.

However, by the time that Medora was sixteen years old she was pregnant with Henry’s child and rather than risk disgrace, the Trevanions along with Medora left for Calais and it was here that she gave birth to a boy who was born prematurely and later removed from her care.

Although Georgiana had blamed herself for the seduction of her sister, Medora continued to live with the Trevanions and in 1831 with Medora pregnant – she was finally removed from her sister’s care by their father Colonel Leigh and taken to Lisson Grove in London:

At 12 o’clock at night we were driven I know not whither until we arrived at a house where I was given into the charge of a lady.

The windows of the room into which I was put were securely nailed and fastened down, and there were outside chains and bolts, and other fastenings to the door.

There was a show and ostentation of a prison…

Incredibly, Medora and Henry Trevanion were to flee to the Continent shortly to an old chateau near Morlaix in France and in May 1834 she gave birth to their daughter Marie Violette.

The impoverished Henry was soon forced to return to England for money, however, upon his return some six weeks later; Medora had a change of heart:

Then I saw remains of what I had thought wholly extinguished – his passionate attachment to me. But I was no longer a child – I was twenty one; and two years’ experience had enabled me to know how to resist…

A Portrait of Elizabeth Medora Leigh circa 1843

With the onset of tuberculosis and with no means in which to support herself or her daughter; Medora sought the assistance of Victor ‘Mr C’ Carrel in order to free herself from Henry:

I asked his aid to free me from the cruelty of one whom I had never really loved, and who by his conduct every day convinced me more and more of his worthlessness.

My greatest wish was to die away from him.


Sources used:

Augusta Leigh Byron’s Half-Sister – A Biography Michael & Melissa Bakewell (London: Pimlico 2002)

Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 5 Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1976)

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)

Lady Melbourne Braves Opinion!

The time is past in which I could feel for the dead – or I should feel for the death of Lady Melbourne the best & kindest & ablest female I ever knew – old or young – but ‘I have supped full of horrors’ & events of this kind leave only a kind of numbness worse than pain…

there is one link the less between England & myself…

~ Lord Byron

‘Famous in Her Time’ A Portrait of Lady Melbourne by Richard Cosway

Lady Melbourne was born into this world Elizabeth Milbanke in 1752, the only daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke a wealthy and successful Yorkshire baronet of Halnaby Hall.

Her older brother Ralph who would become Lord Byron’s father-in-law in January 1815 was known disparagingly as ‘old twaddle Ralph’ by the Duchess of Devonshire and as there was certainly no love lost between Lady Melbourne and his VERY opinionated spouse – one suspects that the Hon. Judith Milbanke was spoken of with equal disparagement:

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 the courage to do so.

She has pillaged You of tens of thousands – recollect this – and now despise her.

A Portrait of the Milbanke and Lamb Families by George Stubbs in 1769

Educated, attractive and with a talent for ambition Elizabeth Milbanke would soon move away from provincial Yorkshire and by 1769 had married Peniston Lamb, a wealthy, foolish and easy going lawyer and as she worked hard to advance the fortune and the prestige of her family, she would become became one of  the most celebrated Society Hostesses on behalf of the Whig Party.

Melbourne House with its tasteful and expensive decor became known as London’s most liveliest and exclusive house; a place for the dazzling parties in which only the powerful and the beautiful were admitted and it was in this milieu with charm and a ruthlessness that Lady Melbourne would cultivate the friendship of the fashionable Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, the connections of the powerful Duke of Bedford and the protection of Lord Egremont.

Of all of Lady Melbourne’s six children, her first born Peniston Lamb in 1770 was believed to be the only natural son of Lord Melbourne with the rest of his siblings all of dubious and mysterious parentage. A view echoed by her second son William Lamb who was to describe his adored mother as a remarkable woman ‘but not chaste, not chaste.’

Chaste or not, she was undoubtedly a formidable mother to her children whom she nurtured with love while encouraging the Lamb family values of sardonic confidence and the love of a good party and when William Lamb married Lady Caroline Ponsonby who had been born into one of the most powerful Whig families and the niece of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire in June 1805, the ambitious Lady Melbourne was very happy.

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know? A Portrait of Lady Caroline Lamb…

For after visiting Lady Caroline in her first floor apartment in Melbourne House, Byron would often visit the ground floor apartment where Lady Melbourne lived AND even though she was old enough to be his mother – she became over time his closest confidant and the recipient and literary voyeur of his most witty and outrageous letters.

Vastly obedient?! You are fair, & do not try to deceive  me & in that you have great merit, I confess, – but on “other points” – XXX

I wish I could flatter myself I had the least influence… for I could talk & reason with you for two Hours, so many objections have I to urge, & after all, for what… is it worth while!

Despite the antipathy she felt toward her brother’s wife, she actively encouraged Byron’s courtship with her niece Annabella as the means in which to destroy his love affair with Lady Caroline and she would become increasingly critical about his relationship with half-sister Augusta Leigh.

We Three! The Hon. Augusta Leigh with Lord and Lady Byron…

Believing a woman’s duty was to provide her husband with his heir and that monogamy within marriage was not the natural state and as such a woman was at liberty to have affairs, only and always with discretion but it was Lady Caroline’s blatant lack of circumspection and NOT the affair with either Sr. Godfrey Webster or Byron which prompted Lady Melbourne to become her severest critic:

when any one braves the opinion of the World, sooner or later they will feel the consequences of it and although at first people may have excused your forming friendships with all those who are censured for their conduct, from yr youth and inexperience yet when they see you continue to single them out and to overlook all the decencys imposed by Society –

they will look upon you as belonging to the same class…

By 1816 and in the aftermath of Byron’s disastrous marriage and after the Milbanke family had severed contact with the Melbourne family – a vengeful and isolated Lady Caroline created yet more mischief with the publication of her book Glenarvon.

With the premature death of Peniston Lamb in 1805, William as the 2nd Viscount Melbourne and a political star on the rise who would eventually serve as Prime Minister to the young Queen Victoria; was now under pressure from his family to separate from his volatile spouse or to have her committed to a lunatic asylum.

A Portrait of William Lamb, the Future Lord Melbourne…

In desperation, Lady Caroline was to write to her rattled mother-in-law:

‘I am 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’

Lady Melbourne would offer such support until her death on Saturday April 6 1818 at the age of 66.

And as Lord Byron’s ‘Corbeau Blanc’ was laid to rest in the Lamb family vault at St Ethelreda’s Church in Hatfield on April 14, the reaction to her passing from Lady Shelley would remain as controversial as the lady herself:

The death of Lady Melbourne offers food for reflection to the most frivolous. This lady, beautiful, clever, and well read, married in the flower of her beauty a man who did not care for her in the least.

As a natural consequence she was surrounded by admirers belonging to the highest walks of life. Unfortunately, she was addicted to opium, which broke down her health and dimmed her mental faculties..

Sources Used:

Byron’s ‘Corbeau Blanc’ (The Life and Letters of Lady Melbourne) Jonathan David Gross (Liverpool University Press 1997)

Lady Caroline Lamb This Infernal Woman Susan Normington (House of Stratus 2001)

Melbourne David Cecil (The Reprint Society 1955)

The Uninhibited Byron An Account of His Sexual Confusion Bernard Grebanier (Peter Owen 1970)

The Whole Disgraceful Truth (Selected Letters of Lady Caroline Lamb) Paul Douglass (Palgrave MacMillan 2006)

Further Reading:

 Lady Melbourne Tart of the Week – The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century

We Three? ‘Tis a Pity!

‘There were three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded

Diana, Princess of Wales

By April 1816 Annabella having already contemplated the vagaries, distress and challenge that her brief marriage of one year to Byron had brought her and having made her decision to leave in February 1816, the ‘Suffering Angel’ was to remain formidable in her resolution and the process towards Annabella’s desire to be ‘securely separated’ from Lord Byron over 200 years ago was reaching an increasingly bitter, fraught and heart breaking conclusion.

Despite Annabella’s consistent avowal that she would not return to him, Byron had continued to object to the separation throughout the cold months of February and March with his belief that she had been manipulated by the demands of her parents and with mischief from her former nurse and governess Mrs Clermont.

In 1816 the laws for divorce were complicated and in the absence of the legality of a wife’s right to defend and assert her desire for a separation, the Courts usually awarded rights, property and children to the husband and it was with this in mind that as Annabella’s legal team were preparing depositions in support of her claim and despite her ‘horrors of the Law’, she was to write to her mother on Monday March 4 1816:

‘Well – nothing but war remains. All offers of amicable arrangement have been refused… It is a bad job – for I shall lose the cause…

My opinion of the best course to pursue is this – to put in the strongest statement to Court, and then to delay proceeding, so as to tire him out… So I don’t think he can well escape – and yet he is so artfull that I despond about it at times..

Augusta Leigh, Byron’s half-sister who had continued living with him at Piccadilly Terrace as the war toward separation raged further on was just as despondent:

‘All going on as bad as possible – a Court inevitable I fear & the Citation will be out immediately.

I’m nearly dead with worry & finding I can do no good I will not stay any longer…

there will come out what must destroy him FOR EVER in this world – even what will deprive him of all right to his Child, & so blast his character that neither Sister nor Wife who has lived under the same roof with can ever be considered as they have been again!

At Annabella’s insistence and against the advice of her lawyer, a meeting was arranged between the scared sister and the wronged wife on Friday March 15 and directly after this meeting with her ‘dearest Augusta’ – Byron’s objections to the separation were suddenly dropped.

But what of this mysterious ‘citation’ that had driven Augusta to distraction and brought Byron ‘to terms’?

A Performance from ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore

For let us now consider a possible fourth reason that would explain Annabella’s insistence on a separation, Augusta’s fear and Byron’s sudden capitulation.

On Easter Sunday in 1816 as the preparations for the wedding of the Princess Charlotte to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg were being made and the negotiations for Byron separation were drawing to a close and as Annabella was in London gleefully passing onto her mother the newspaper reports that were favourable to her – Byron was making plans to leave England, saying farewell to his sister Augusta and firing off a missive to his estranged spouse:

‘More last words – not many – and such as you will attend to – answer I do not expect – not does it import – but you will hear me. – – I have just parted from Augusta – almost the last being you had left me to part with – & the only unshattered tie of my existence – wherever I may go – & I am going far – you & I can never meet again in this world – nor in the next – let this content or atone…..

recollect that though it may be advantage to you to have lost your husband – it is sorrow to her to have the waters now – or the earth hereafter – between her & her brother. – She is gone

For over two hundred years the exact relationship between Lord Byron and and his half-sister Augusta Mary Leigh has been clothed in mystery, fear, controversy, scandal and anger.

That they loved each other is without any doubt and Annabella certainly had NO doubts that their love was also an incestuous love.

The inspiration for this post has come from ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore written by John Ford in 1629 – a play which has continued to delight, intrigue and disgust and which tells the story of an incestuous love between Giovanni and his sister Annabella with plenty of disaster, murder, lust, vengeance, greed AND an interfering nurse!

 Interestingly, besides the recognisable human emotions, the character of Annabella, a brother and sister, these are not the only parallels to the Byron story for their story also included the interfering nurse, a certain Mrs Clermont who as Annabella’s devoted and scheming former governess was bitterly satirised in Byron’s poem The Sketch.

However, the tale of Mrs Clermont and her intrigues is for another post!

As the character of Giovanni is warned about his sinful love for his sister he replies that his ‘passion remains beyond his control’ and by November 1813 as Byron was writing to Lady Melbourne of the consequences of his attachment to yet another married woman, the Lady Frances Webster Wedderburn – he was to conclude with a telling line:

“C (aroline) would go wild with grief that – it did not happen about her – Ly. O (xfor)d would say that I deserved it for not coming to Cagliari – and – – poor – she would be really uncomfortable – do you know? I am much afraid that that perverse passion was my deepest after all….”

Lord Byron

During the Regency, adultery was commonplace and homosexuality a sin punishable by death, and the charge of incest although considered morally repugnant was not against the law and the colourful history of the Byron family shows a frequent propensity to addictive and reckless behaviour including a predisposition to marriage among cousins and incest as the letters from Byron’s father ‘Mad Jack’ Byron to his sister Frances Leigh clearly indicate.

Whatever the truth or importance of Byron’s relationship with his sister Augusta I shall let Byron have ‘more last words’:

‘What do you mean? – what is there known? or can be known? which you & I do not know much better? & what concealment can you have from me?

I never shrank – & it was on your account principally that I gave way at all – for I thought they would endeavour to drag you into it – although they had no business with anything previous to my marriage with that infernal fiend – whose destruction I shall yet see…


Sources used:

Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 2 Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1974)

Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 3 Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1974)

Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 5 Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1976)

Lord Byron’s Wife Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1962)

A Pinch OR a Punch St Patrick?

Céad Míle Fáilte! I wish you one hundred thousand welcomes in Gaelic for today is St Patrick’s Day!

Yes, it is THE day for Irish cheer, shamrocks, parades, some consumption of alcohol that could include a glass or several of Guinness, the famous Irish Stout and also for ‘pinching’ someone who is not wearing anything in the colour green!

On St Patrick’s Day in 1814 some 207 years ago and although it is more than likely that Byron would also have enjoyed some consumption of alcohol during the course of the day – we cannot be sure if he actually ‘pinched’ anyone, however delightful the idea is!

But what we do know is that he was without any doubt ‘punching’ somebody on that day!

And with a little help from the UFC World Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez who has been suitably adorned for this post, why not join me as I take a peek inside Byron’s journal to discover who he was fighting with on this St Patrick’s Day?

I have been sparring with Jackson for exercise this morning; and mean to continue and renew my acquaintance with the muffles.

My chest, and arms, and wind are in very good plight, and I am not in flesh. I used to be a hard hitter, and my arms are very long for my height (5 feet 81/2 inches.)

At any rate, exercise is good and this the severest of all; fencing and the broadsword never fatiqued me half so much…

Yes, Byron was sparring with none other than John ‘Gentleman’ Jackson – the celebrated English pugilist of the late 18th century.

For having beaten one Daniel Mendoza in April 1795 to win the title of the Champion of England, he had established a boxing academy at 13 Bond Street in London which was to prove very popular for the fashionable and nobility throughout those early halcyon years of the 19th century.

Standing Before Number 13 Bond Street London…

Byron’s journals are peppered with references to Gentleman John who he had nicknamed the ‘Emperor of Pugilism’ for besides the instruction in boxing, Jackson was also his friend, fashion guru and his Greyhound’ fixer’ as this missive from December 1808 shows:

My dear Jack, You will get the greyhound from the owner at any price, and as many more of the same breed (male or female) as you can collect.

Tell D’Egville his dress shall be returned – I am obliged to him for the pattern. I am sorry you should have so much trouble, but I was not aware of the difficulty of procuring the animals in question.

I shall have finished part of my mansion in a few weeks, and if you can pay me a visit at Christmas, I shall be very glad to see you…

It would also appear that Jackson was rather adept in the procurement of Lamb’s Conduit-Street Remedy as another of Byron’s ‘Dear Jack’ missives tells us:

… I also wish you to obtain another bottle of that same Lamb’s Conduit-Street remedy, as I gave the other to a physician to analyze, and I forgot to ask him what he made of it…

It’s taken me some time but as a consequence of a ‘lucky’ search thread on Google yesterday, I have finally discovered the secret of this Lamb’s Conduit-Street remedy in the annals of an obscure copy of the Monthly Gazette of Health; Or Medical Dietetic, Antiempirical, and General Philosophical Journal…

He will, however, have this advantage, for, after such a course of discipline, he will come out fresh, and sleek as a racer; and no one will deny that the loss of superfluous fat, is a great gain to a heavy man, and the frequent advertised “secret remedy against corpulency,” sold in or near Lamb’s Conduit Street, may, probably turn out to be something in this way.

As Byron battled against weight gain throughout his entire life and with a well-read copy of a Treatise on Corpulence in his extensive library; this could offer an explanation for Byron’s fervent wish to get his mitts on a bottle of the stuff.

Wilma Paterson’s Lord Byron’s Relish is a wonderful little book and which includes Byron’s quote of being a ‘Leguminous-eating Ascetic’ feasting on a diet of green vegetables and biscuits

In 1821 and as Byron was beginning his journal of Detached Thoughts during his time in Italy – he was still musing about his former endeavors as a pugilist:

I was an excellent swimmer – a decent though not dashing at all a rider – (having staved in a rib at eighteen in the course of scampering) & was sufficient of fence – particularly of the Highland broadsword – not a bad boxer – when I could keep my temper – which was difficult – but which I strove to do ever since I knocked down Mr. Purling and put his knee-pan out (with the gloves on) in Angelo’s and Jackson’s rooms in 1806 during the sparring and I was besides a very fair Cricketer…

Lord Byron

I wonder if the boxing gloves on display at Newstead Abbey are the ones responsible for displacing poor Mr. Purling’s knee cap?

However, I shall end this St Patrick’s Day post with an Irish Toast that Byron would surely approve of:

My friends are the best friends

Loyal, willing and able.

Now let’s get to drinking!

All glasses off the table!

Beannachtam na Femle Padraig!

Sources Used:

Byron’s Letters and Journals In My Hot Youth Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1973)

Byron’s Letters and Journals Alas! The Love of Women Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1974)

Byron’s Letters and Journals In the Wind’s Eye Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1979)

Lord Byron’s Relish The Regency Cookery Book Wilma Paterson (Glasgow: Dog & Bone 1990)

Bravo! Artful BUT Perfectly Incompatible!

On any given day if you were to go in search of me and upon discovering that my atelier was closed – you would probably find me at home in my ‘Den’ surrounded by piles of books reading about Lord Byron or scribbling in my research book.

And ALWAYS with the radio playing!

Unlike Byron who professed to Lady Melbourne that his friendship with a certain Lady Forbes was formed on a ‘mutual hatred of music’, I love music and I’ve been re-listening to the album The Defamation of Stickland Banks by Plan B on my somewhat dilapidated CD boom box.

The album tells a fictitious tale of Strickland Banks, a sharp-suited British soul singer who has found fame with a bitter-sweet love song Love Goes Down, but then loses everything when he finds himself in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

I have long loved the energy and originality of this album and my favourite song is Stay Too Long and the lyrics remain rather apt at this time for our broken-hearted poet as the turmoil of his marital separation from Annabella continued to dominate his life over two hundred years ago.

In January 1816 having left her spouse and returned to the protection of her parents who duly offered their support in her resolution for a legal separation – Byron was never to learn the reason for her refusal to return to him and despite his letters asking her to state the reasons for leaving him; no explanation was ever offered.

On the charges to be preferred against me – I have twice been refused any information by your father and his advisers: it is now a fortnight – which has been passed in suspense – in humiliation – in obloquy – exposed to the most black and blighting calumnies of every kind – without even the power of contradicting conjecture and vulgar assertion as to the accusations…

Lord Byron

John Cam Hobhouse, a life-long friend of Byron remained angered by Annabella’s refusal to state her reasons for leaving her spouse and the separation she had initiated would result in scandal, innuendo and exile for Byron.

Had Lady Byron condescended to state to either of Lord Byron’s intimate associates the general outline of her grievances, or even her resolutions respecting a separation, she would have secured her object without any of those difficulties which were thrown in her way by the violent proceedings of her family and friends. 

But this measure would not have coincided with the resolution taken to impress upon the world that his Lordship was a monster.

Hmm! ‘to impress upon the world that his Lordship was a monster’

The wonderful little book by Anne Fleming The Myth of the Bad Lord Byron believes that Annabella was extremely successful in her resolution to portray Byron as a monster as in 1816 he became a popular hate figure in England and even though he is a national hero in Greece and a beloved figure in Albania – the perception still remains of a ‘bad man.’

Claire Clairmont, Byron’s former lover and mother of Allegra was also to describe Byron as a ‘monster’ BUT that is for another story!

Let us now muse over another possible reason for Annabella leaving her monster of a spouse…

Imagine if you will the delicious idea of Lord and Lady Byron as participants in the Quiz Show Mr & Mrs in which they must each answer 3 questions!

Question 1: 

To Lady Byron – If Lord Byron could choose one of the following for a pet, would he choose:

A dog?

A macaw?

A parrot?

All of these?

Lady Byron would probably hope for NONE of the above as she was never known to wish for or own any animal throughout the course of her life, HOWEVER Byron loved animals and was the master of several strange and large menageries throughout the course of his life including ten horses, five cats, a crow, eight dogs AND five peacocks!

Sadly, There’s No Houseroom for Lord Byron’s Beloved Boatswain…

Question 2:

To Lady Byron – which would be the perfect supper party for his Lordship:

An intimate supper with his wife?

A formal supper party hosted by Lord Holland?

A rowdy supper party with his friends?

None of these?

Lady Byron would answer, more in hope than reality for ‘An intimate supper with his wife?’ despite Byron’s opinion that:

I have prejudices about women: I do not like to see them eat.

Lord Byron

Question 3:

To Lady Byron – when his Lordship is busy with the writing of a new poem, does he prefer:

The solitude of a quiet room?

To write his poem while at the Cocoa Tree Club?

Use the library of his publisher John Murray?

To write at home in a study along side his wife?

I do not like to be interrupted when I am writing. Lady Byron did not attend to these whims of mine.

Lord Byron
The Joy of a Quiet Library?

Lady Byron’s reply is probably NOT to be guessed at!

Question 4:

To Lord Byron – on any typical morning would Lady Byron prefer to:

Make a house call on Lady Melbourne?

Draw a person’s character on paper?

Write a letter to Lady Caroline Lamb?

Go to church?

She had the habit of drawing people’s characters after she had seen them once or twice. She wrote pages on pages about my character, but it was as unlike as possible.

Lord Byron

Should it ever happen that he and I offer a heartfelt worship together – I mean in a sacred spot – my worship will then be almost worthy of the Spirit to whom it ascends…

It is not the poet – it is the immortal Soul lost or saved!

Lady Byron

Byron was to later say ‘She married me from vanity and the hope of reforming and fixing me’ and in 1814 upon hearing the news that Byron was to marry;  Lady Caroline Lamb remarked that he would:

never be able to pull with a woman who went to church punctually, understood statistics and had a bad figure.

Lady Caroline Lamb

Question 5:

To Lord Byron – for supper would Lady Byron prefer to eat:

Lobster salad?

A mutton chop?

Two or more mutton chops?

None of these?

As Lord Byron believed that ‘A woman should never been seen eating…..unless it be lobster sallad’ – his answer would be superfluous AND we have been reliably informed in a letter to her parents that the lady herself would prefer to eat: ‘Two or more mutton-chops and frighten the waiters!’

Anyone for Lobster Salad and Champagne?

Question 6:

To Lord Byron – what of the following does your Ladyship prefer to do for amusement:

Accompany you to Drury Lane Theatre for a performance by Edmund Kean?

Attend the opera with Lady Melbourne?

Collect her ‘sentiments’ on paper?

Attend a morning waltz party hosted by Lady Caroline Lamb?

Lady Byron was scathing of Byron’s interest and responsibilities of his work at the Drury Lane Theatre referring to him as the ‘Manager’ as she was to write to her father:

I asked Lady Melbourne to go with me – for as the Manager is always trotting about behind the Scenes, I should not like to be alone.

Lady Byron

And as she was also to say that ‘I have no love of music’ and that visits to the Opera were ‘a considerable fatigue to me’ and of Lady Caroline’s Waltzing Party in which:

‘Waltzing was in vain attempted to give animation; music was listened to as a duty.’

Lady Byron

So there you have it!

perfectly incompatible couple!

Ironically, Byron and Annabella had at least two common interests which included a dislike for music and for the Waltz which was the fashionable dance of 1812  and they would meet at a Waltzing Party hosted by Lady Caroline at Melbourne House.

However, that is for ANOTHER story!

And as the negotiations about their separation reached an impasse in March 1816, Annabella was still collecting her sentiments’ on paper:

Well – nothing but war remains. All offers of amicable arrangement have been refused…. They say I shall be justified to the World…. 

My opinion of the best course to pursue is this – to put in the strongest statement into Court and then to delay proceeding, so as to tire him out –

So I don’t think he can well escape – and yet he is so artfull that I despond about it at times.

Maybe Byron was not so much an ‘artful’ spouse but simply an incompatible one!


Sources Used:

Contemporary Account of the Separation of Lord and Lady Byron, John Cam Hobhouse Broughton (Kessinger Publishing 2010)

Lord Byron’s Wife, Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1962)

The Life of Lady Byron, Ethel Colburn Mayne (London: Constable & Company Limited 1929)

The Myth of the Bad Lord Byron, Anne Fleming (Old Forge Press 1998)

The True Story of Lord and Lady Byron, ED J.M (Elibron Classics 2010)

To Lord Byron, George Paston and Peter Quennell (London: John Murray 1939)

Most Flattered? Beware the Ides of March!

Lady Caroline Lamb amused me very much by her attempted quotations from Julius Caesar which I imagine she knew nothing of till she saw it acted… I was not pleased with William Lamb’s manners, which I think very consequential…

Lady Byron

On Sunday March 15, Annabella having dined at Melbourne House and with no allusion to either the fashions worn nor to the food enjoyed treated her mother with observations on the character of her cousin by marriage, Lady Caroline Lamb.

Ly Caroline has asked me to a party at her house on Thursday, not a very numerous one, and she told me with more consideration than I should have expected from her character that Lady Holland would be one of her company, and she thought it right to mention this, as you were absent, lest I might inadvertently be led to do what you would not approve….

If I am asked to be introduced to Lady Holland’s acquaintance, I shall certainly decline, but I think you will agree with me that no one will regard me as corrupted by being in the room with her…

Lady Holland’s great ‘crime’ was to have been divorced, otherwise known as a ‘common Woman’ and someone whom Judith Milbanke certainly did NOT approve of!

Lady Melbourne was very kind and seemed really anxious to promote my wishes, but nobody appears more sincerely friendly than Mrs. Lamb. Indeed I think her too kind-hearted to be quite fashionable…

For despite this missive of reassurance to her ‘Mam’ and with Judith’s vocal dislike for her sister-at-law – it’s probable she would not have been impressed with Lady M’s solicitude towards her ‘barley-sugar’ daughter.

In 1816 after Annabella’s marriage to Byron had imploded and Judith came out fighting to protect her daughter’s interests in the separation proceedings; she would soon have cause to regret Lady Melbourne’s ‘anxious promotion’ of her daughter’s wishes throughout that heady Season of 1812.

Well, honour is the subject of my story.

I cannot tell what you and other men

Think of this life: but, for my single self,

I had as lief not be as live to be

In awe of such a thing as I myself…

Julius Ceasar

Sources Used:

Lord Byron’s Wife Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1962)

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Plays and Poetry (Flame Tree Publishing 2011)

Cheers! I Could Murder a Drink!

When Lady Byron left London AND her husband in January 1816 she sent him the following note:

Dearest B., We arrived here safely – the child is the best of travellers.

Now do leave off the abominable trade of versifying, and brandy, everything that is nau – –

Lady Byron

Byron was always the first to admit with brutal honesty that he had NOT been the ‘most agreeable’ spouse having admitted as much in a letter to his father-in-law Ralph Milbanke in February 1816:

During the last year I have had to contend with distress without and disease within. Upon the former I have little to say – except that I have endeavoured to remove it by every sacrifice in my power; and the latter I should not mention if I had not professional authority for saying that the disorder that I have to combat, without much impairing my apparent health, is such as to induce a morbid irritability of temper…..

Lord Byron

Throughout the autumn of 1815 and in early 1816 – Byron’s ‘disorder’ was a diagnosed liver complaint causing soreness in his face and head along with severe pain in his loins and the ‘distress’ to which he refers were his ‘pecuniary embarrassments’.

He was also probably admitting to being something of a drunk!

He had been juggling debts, money-lenders and extravagant expenditures from his precocious and wild teenage years as this frantic letter from his distressed mother in March 1806 to his inept attorney John Hanson beautifully illustrates:

That Boy will be the death of me and drive me mad!……Where can he get Hundreds? Has he got into the hands of money lenders? He has no feeling, no Heart….

He knows that I am doing everything in my power to pay his Debts and he writes to me about hiring Servants….God knows what is to be done with him, I much fear he is already ruined at eighteen!!!

At the time of his marriage to Annabella in January 1815, he was juggling debts amounting to an eye watering sum of £30,000 AND that’s in HIS time!

Now, in OUR time, that would be a debt of some trifling £2,670,000. However I digress.

In 1816 and as the Marriage Settlement was de rigeur for the settlement of a dowry and the agreement of the proposed marital income and pin money – Byron had agreed not only to the sale of the ancestral home of Newstead Abbey but he also settled the generous sum of £60,000 on his future wife.

With the offer from Annabella’s father Sir Ralph of £20,000, Byron would in addition settle £300 a year for Annabella’s exclusive use – her pin money.

However, during their brief 54 week marriage and as Newstead Abbey remained unsold and with no sight of Annabella’s promised Milbanke fortune – Byron’s settlement of £60,000 would only materialise with the eventual sale of the Byron ancestral pile in November 1817.

And with his marriage, Byron’s numerous creditors came a’knocking believing that as he had married a heiress, he would now be in a position to settle his debts particularly as this newly married couple had moved into the very grand house belonging to Elizabeth Cavendish Duchess of Devonshire at 13 Piccadilly Terrace.

However, their lifestyle could arguably be described in the words of one of JFK’s detractors, of ‘all style and no substance.’

By autumn 1815 and as the bailiff beckoned along with the sale of his precious library and several threatened executions – Byron in his worry and torment behaved as many have done before…

Yes, he got drunk AND frequently!

‘Man, Being Reasonable, Must Get Drunk; The Best of Life is But Intoxication.’
His Lordship’s Supper in the Dining Room of Newstead Abbey…

Throughout the Regency, the amount of alcohol consumed by Byron and his society would appear to be truly eye-watering amounts by today’s standards, however it would seems that in this winter of discontent he would take his alcohol intake to a new level.

With his finances in such a desperate state he probably drank himself to brandy oblivion as the means of escape and as such his moods became ever more erratic and violent.

His moods by all accounts were ‘ferocious’ and he was beside himself at the idea of a bailiff  present at Piccadilly Terrace at the same time as Annabella’s midwife during her accouchement in early December.

As Annabella had never known what is was to be short of money, she seemed unable to understand his feelings of humiliation and horror with the demands for money he simply did not have:

When he did stay at home himself, it was to drink Brandy – & he would then dismiss me to my room in the most unkind manner. He told me he must either have his brandy or his mistress…

He had for many months professed his intention of giving himself up either to women or drinking and had asked me to sanction these courses, adding however that he should pursue them whether I gave him leave or not.

Accordingly for about three months before my confinement he was accustomed to drink Brandy & other liquors to intoxication, which caused him to commit many outrageous acts, as breaking & burning several valuable articles, and brought on paroxysms of rage or frenzy – not only terrifying but dangerous to me….

During the separation, Byron was to later admit to his friend Hobhouse and Scrope Davies that:

he may have been bereaved of reason during his paroxysms with his wife…

Evidently, he was often so drunk that he could not remember what he had said during these frequent brandy ramblings and Annabella, an assiduous note-taker, believed that they were convincing evidence that her husband was guilty of the following crimes:

insanity, dreadful crimes, flagrant infidelity, unnatural behaviour and unmitigated violence.

She was even said to have convinced herself that Byron was even guilty of murder!

Murder was the idea suggested to my mind. He said another time at Halnaby that many a man who had committed murder walked about unsuspected, & added with trembling horror & mystery, ‘I know some.’

Lady Byron

During his brandy ramblings. Byron would drop not so subtle hints of his ‘hereditary madness’ and which the naive Annabella took to be the truth, which was all rather unfortunate for prior to his marriage Byron had received from Lady Melbourne a copy of Annabella’s wish list that one of the essential qualities required of her ideal husband must NOT include any hint of insanity!

Perhaps Byron’s brandy soaked ramblings were arguably rambled more in mischief than in reality and in the nightmare of mounting debts with little income AND shackled to a serious wife – he only served to stoke the flames of his notorious black humour.

For with outrageous confessions, wild theatrical gestures, ‘nau’ behaviour and copious bottles of brandy available with a captive audience of one, perhaps this was simply Byron’s way of reacting to his monetary difficulties?

However, despite this Byronic coping mechanism – his captive audience would stock-pile these brandy ramblings as the ammunition needed to justify her separation from him.


Sources Used:

Lord Byron’s Wife, Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray, 1962)

My Amiable Mamma, Megan Bowes (J.M. Tatler & Son Ltd, 1991)