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Biography of Lord Byron

Portrait of Lord Byron

George Gordon, Lord Byron was a nineteenth century Romantic poet.

When and Where was George Gordon, Lord Byron Born?

Born as George Gordon on 22nd January 1788, Holles Street, London, England. (The original building has been demolished and is now a John Lewis department store).

Family Background:

Lord Byron was the son of Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron and his second wife, Catherine Gordon, a Scottish heiress. Catherine was the 13th Laird of Gight, having inherited the Gordon family estates although, much to Jack’s disappointment, her wealth was tied up in land. Gight Castle is near Methlick in Aberdeenshire. 

Education:

Aberdeen Grammar School. Harrow School. Trinity College, Cambridge.

Timeline of Lord Byron:

1788: Byron and his mother leave “Mad Jack” Byron shortly after the birth and move to live in lodgings in Queen Street, Aberdeen.

1791: Death of his father on the 2nd August in France. The family’s income was now much reduced and Byron and his mother move to 64 Broad Street, Aberdeen.

1792: Byron was sexually assaulted aged five by a family servant, May Gray, although this wasn’t discovered until he was ten when he told the family solicitor and Gray was instantly dismissed.

1798: He becomes 6th Baron Byron of Rochdale on the death of his Great Uncle. He visits Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire for the first time.

1799: He moves to London in July with John Hanson, his business agent and in September attends Dr Glennie’s School in Dulwich Grove.

1801: Byron goes to Harrow School.

1803: Newstead Abbey is leased to Henry Edward Yelverton. On the 21st July his mother rents Burgage Manor in Southwell. Byron falls in love with a neighbour Mary Chaworth and refuses to go back to Harrow School.

1805: Byron plays in the first Eton versus Harrow cricket Match at Lords Cricket Ground in London on the 2nd August. He goes up to Trinity College, Cambridge on the 24th October.

1806: In July he is writing poems at Burgage Manor but quarrels with his mother and leaves for London.

1807: In January his second volume of poetry “Pomes on Various Occasions is privately printed. He begins a lasting friendship with John Cam Hobhouse and Scrope Davies back at Cambridge but leaves for good in December.

1808: “Hours of Idleness” is ridiculed in the Edinburgh Review. In July and August he visits Brighton with John Hobhouse and Scrope Davies.

1809: He takes up his seat in the House of Lords on the 13th March. He leaves England on the 2nd July with Hobhouse to travel in Europe and on to Greece. He visits Missolonghi and Athens in December.

1810: He moves on to Turkey where he visits Constantinople and Patras.

1811: He returns to England via Malta and lands on the 14th July. Death of his mother on the 1st August. He takes up residence a 8 St Jame’s Street, London on the 28th October.

1812: Byron makes his maiden speech in the House of Lords on the 27th February and opposes the Framework Bill. He becomes immediately famous on the publication of the first parts of “Childe Harold”. On the 25th March he sees Annabella Milbanke for the first time. He then has affairs with Lady Caroline Lamb, a novelist who was married to Lord Melbourne (who was later to become Prime Minister) and Lady Oxford who was known as a patron of the Reform Movement (which was in reality the left wing of the Whig Party). On the 21st April he makes his second speech in the Lords in favour of Catholic emancipation. In October Annabella declines his proposal of marriage.

1813: On the 9th January he takes up lodgings at 4 Bennet Street. On the 1st June he makes his last speech in the Lords about Major Cartwright’s Petition. He has an affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh who arrives in London in June. He again begins corresponding with Annabella Milbanke in August.

1814: “The Corsair” sells 10,000 copies on its first day of publication. On the 2nd April he visits Augusta Leigh at her home in Six Mile Bottom in Cambridgeshire and visits Hastings with her in July. On the 15th September Annabella Milbanke finally accepts his marriage proposal and on the 29th he leaves for Seaham in County Durham, where she lives, but stays with Augusta Leigh on the way. He makes a brief return to London and then stays with Augusta for Christmas before returning to Seaham on the 30th December.

1815: He marries Annabella Milbanke on the 2nd January, at Seaham Hall, which is on the County Durham coast 7 miles to the south of Sunderland. Lord and Lady Byron spend their honeymoon at the Noel family estate at Halnaby. On February the 10th Byron’s complicated financial affairs require him to return to London but Annabella refuses to be left behind. The couple stay for a fortnight at Six Mile Bottom with Augusta which is the first time the two women have met. Once back in London they reside in the lodgings Hobhouse has found for them at 13 Piccadilly Terrace, which is owned by the Duchess of Devonshire. In April Augusta arrives at Piccadilly Terrace. On the 7th April Byron meets Walter Scott. Annabella leaves on the 10th April to care for her sick uncle but Byron insists she returns to London as soon as her mother arrives at Seaham. On the 17th April Lord Wentworth dies and according to his will the family change their name from Milbanke to Noel. Byron takes on the name of George Gordon Noel Byron. In June Byron, now a member of the management at Drury Lane theatre, introduces the American George Ticknor to the actress Sarah Siddons. In July he tries to sell the Newstead and Rochdale estates at auction but they do not Rach the required price and his financial situation has now grown to be desperate. In September Byron writes to Samuel Taylor Coleridge asking him to write a play for Drury Lane and also says he admires the latters poem “Christabel”. In November bailiffs arrive and force him to settle his debts. On the 10th December Annabella gives birth to Augusta Ada. Birth of Byron’s daughter Augusta Ada on 10th December.

1816: After a winter of erratic behaviour Lady Byron believes her husband to now be mad and has Dr Baillie attend him without his knowledge. The Doctor says that a time apart will improve his condition and she leaves to live with her parents at Kirkby Mallory in Leicestershire on 15th January. On the 15th April Augusta Leigh in the late stages of pregnancy leaves for her lying in at Six Mile Bottom. A Deed of Separation between Byron and Annabella is eventually signed on the 21st April. On the 23rd April Byron leaves for Dover with Doctor Polidori but bad weather delays their departure from England until the 25th. They stay at Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp and visit the battlefield of Waterloo near Brussels on the 4th May. they then travel down the River Rhine from Cologne. On the 13th of May Claire Clairmont stays at the Hotel D’Angleterre in Geneva with the Shelleys. On the 20th May Byron’s party reach Basel in Switzerland and finally take up residence in the Villa Diodatti on the shores of Lake Geneva on 6th June. Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley had met for the first time on the 27th May. Byron has an affair with Claire Clairmont, the step sister of Mary Shelley who becomes pregnant. On the 14th or 15th of June, confined to the house due to bad weather Byron, Polidori, Claire and the Shelleys read Coleridge’s “Christabel” and agree to write ghost stories. (From which comes Mary Shelley’s famous “Frankenstein”). There are many boat rides on the lake taken that summer but Byron refuses to see the pregnant Claire alone. The Shelley party return to England in August. Byron and Hobhouse then tour northern Italy and the Alps visiting Milan and even rowing to Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore to see where Napoleon Bonaparte slept. On the 6th November they arrive in Verona and finally reach Venice on the 10th.

Villa Diodati
Villa Diodati on the shore of Lake Geneva where Byron, Shelley and Mary Shelley entertained each other with horror stories and Frankenstein was “born” (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1817: Birth of Allegra, his daughter by Claire Clairmont on the 12th of January. Byron arrives in Rome on 29th April and meets Hobhouse again. On the 28th of May he returns to Venice and continues his liaison with Marianna Segati. On the 14th of June he moves to the Villa Foscarini just outside of Padua. In August he begins a romance with Margarita Cogni while still seeing Marianna. On the 13th of November Hobhouse and Byron return to Venice with the poet taking up his old rooms with the Segatis and Hobhouse living across the street.

1818: On the 7th January Hobhouse leaves for London carrying with him the manuscript of “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” – Part Four. He takes charge of Allegra. On 25th January he meets the recently married Countess Teresa Guiccioli at Countess Albrizzi’s home. In late February Byron becomes ill with gonorrhea. On the 9th March Claire Clairmont has her daughter baptised at St Martin’s in the Fields, London as Clara Allegra Byron. On the 28th April Byron insists that Claire and the Shelleys (now back in Italy) send the baby Allegra to Venice in the company of a nurse and in August he places Allegra in the care of the Hoppners. On the 23rd August Shelley meets Byron to discuss Allegra and the two ride horses on the Venice Lido. In October Hanson finally arrives in Venice with papers to sign for the sale of Newstead Abbey.

1819: In April Byron begins an affair in Venice with Countess Teresa Guiccioli. On the 10th June Byron arrives in Ravenna where the Countess lives and visits her every day. In August Teresa is again ill and Byron accompanies her to Venice where she lodges in his rooms. In November her husband arrives to take her back to Ravenna where she again falls ill and Byron is asked to visit her there. He is in two minds about whether to return to England or visit Ravenna but finally arrives in Ravenna on Christmas Eve.

Bridge of Sighs
Bridge of Sighs in Venice (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1820: Byron moves to live in Ravenna, Italy in the upstairs rooms of Count Guiccioli. Countess Guiccioli is separated from her husband after he suspects her of infidelity. She goes to live with her father and brothers and the Pope grants formal separation on the 6th July. Byron attends meetings of an Italian revolutionary society called the Carbonari and becomes honorary chief of the Turba (Mob) faction. In September he tells Shelley that he will no longer communicate with Claire Clairmont directly.

1821: Worried about the unstable political situation in Italy Byron sends Allegra to the Capuchin convent in Bagnacavello although Claire protests and says she should have been sent to an English boarding school. On the 22nd June his servant Tita is arrested for after quarrelling with an officer. On 10th July Pietro Gamba, one of the leaders of the Carbonari is arrested and sent int exile. In August Teresa moves to Florence. On the 6th August Shelley arrives in Ravenna and encourages Byron to move to Pisa where he is now staying. Shelley also encourages Leigh Hunt to come to Italy to establish his literary periodical. Byron arrives in Pisa in October. Teresa visits Pisa in November and visits Byron every day. On the 14th November at the invitation of Shelley Lord Mavrcordatos sees Byron and awakens his interest in Greek independence from the Turks.

Leaning Tower of Pisa
The Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa with leaning bell tower which Shelley and Byron would have climbed (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1822: On the 3rd January Byron sits for a marble bust by Lorenzo Bartolini. On the 14th January Edward Trelawny arrives in Pisa and convinces Byron to have a boat built to sail in the Bay of Spezia. On the 5th February a copy of “The Courier” arrives containing Robert Southey’s reply to Byron’s “Two Foscari”. Byron comes into an extra inheritance after the death of Lady Noel. Claire Clairmont arrives in Pisa and tries to free Allegra from the convent but later Allegra dies of typhoid fever on the 20th April. Shelley drowns in a boating accident aboard his boat “Don Juan” off Livorno, Tuscany on 8th July. His body washes ashore on the 18th July near Via Reggio and after some administrative delays is finally cremated on the seashore on the 16th August. Mary Shelley leaves for Genoa on the 11th September and Byron, Teresa and the Leigh Hunts follow shortly afterwards. In October John Hunt publishes The Liberal with Byron’s “Vision of Judgement” prominently featured. He goes on to publish six parts of Don Juan and other works but is attacked for libel against the King.

1823: “Heaven and Earth” appears in the second issue of The Liberal. On the 5th April Edward Blaquiere, a representative of the London Greek Committee and Andreas Luriottis from the Greek Government arrive to talk to Byron about the war in Greece. On the 29th April Byron himself is elected a member of the London Greek Committee. In June he orders helmets and uniforms for himself and others for an expedition to Greece. Byron finally sails to Greece with Trelawny and a party of friends and servants on the 15th July and Teresa, comforted by Mary Shelley, goes back to Ravenna with her father. The ship The Hercules docks at Leghorn on the 21st July and he finally arrives in Argostoli harbour, Cephalonia on the 3rd August. On the 5th August he meets with Colonel Napier the British Governor of the Island and gives money to aid the Greeks. On the 6th September Byron moves to Metaxata and hears news on the war. In November short of money the Greek Government ask Byron for a loan to send a fleet to the mainland. On Boxing Day Byron leaves Metaxata to go Argostoli. and stays with Charles Hancock while waiting to depart for Missolonghi. On the 30th December his party reaches Zante and then sail onwards under cover of darkness. However his supply boat is captured by the Turks but Byron’s boat Misitco hides in a creek until the coast is clear.

1824: On the 2nd January Byron meets up with other escort boats at Dragomestre. His supply boat is released by the Turks and arrives in Missolonghi on the 4th January at noon and at 11pm Byron himself arrives in the harbour to a 21 gun salute. On the 13th January he takes command of the Suliote corps and has to pay for the food and wages of 600 men. Threatened by Turkish ships the Greek fleet has to leave Missolonghi on the 19th January. On the 25th January Byron is commissioned to command the 3,000 troop expedition to Lepanto but finds the Greeks have no money to pay for it and he ends up footing the bill. On the 15th February Byron is taken ill with symptoms not unlike an epileptic seizure. Doctors apply leeches the next day but can then not stop the flow of blood until 11 pm but he gradually recovers thereafter. Missolonghi is shaken by an earthquake on the 21st February. Byron also hears that Don Juan has been a success back in England. On the 18th March Greek officials at Kranidi invite him there to become Governor-General. Bad weather prevent his letters to Athens from getting through. On the 25th March Byron again has to bail out the Greek government financially again and on the 30th he is awarded citizenship of the town of Missolonghi. On the 5th April Byron helps end the siege of Missolonghi. On the 9th April he goes out riding in the evening in the rain and begins to suffer fever and rheumatic pains. On the 10th, feeling slightly better, he again goes out riding but suffers headaches and joint pain. On the 12th April he is advised by doctors to take a hot bath but he refuses to be bled. By the 14th he is delirious. On the 16th April doctors finally bleed him suspecting rheumatic fever. At 6pm on the 18th April he is heard to say “I want to sleep now” and then falls into a coma finally dying at 6pm the following evening.

When and Where did he Die?

19th April 1824. Missolonghi, Greece of fever. His remains were brought back to England by Leicester Stanhope who had joined him in Greece fighting for the cause.

Age at Death:

36.

Written Works:

1806: “Fugitive Pieces”. (printed privately).
1807: “Poems on Various Occasions”. “Hours of Idleness”.
1808: “poems Original and Translated”
1809: “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers”. “Imitations and Translations from the Classics, with original poems”.
1811: “Hints from Horace”. “The Curse of Minerva”.
1812: “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” (Cantos 1-2).
1813: “The Bride of Abydos”.
1814: “The Corsair”. “Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte”. “Lara”.
1815: “Collected Works”. “Hebrew Melodies”.
1816: “Monody on the Death of Sheridan”. “Poems on his Domestic Circumstances”. “The Prisoner of Chillon”.  “The Siege of Corinth”. “Parisina”. “Fare Thee Wel”. “Sketch from Private Life”.
1817: “Childe Harold” (Cantos 3). “Beppo”. “The Lament of Tasso”. “Manfred”.
1818: “Childe Harold” (Canto 4).
1819: “Don Juan” (Part 1-2)
1820: “The Prophecy of Dante”. “Marino Faliero”.
1821: “The Two Foscari”. “Cain”. “Sardanapolus”. “Foscari”. “Don Juan” (Parts 3-5). “the Blues” (a satire). “To the Irish Avatar” (a satire on King George 4th).
1822: “The Vision of Judgement”.
1823: “Werner”. “The Age of Bronze”. “Don Juan” (Parts 6-14). “The Island”.
1824: Don Juan (Parts 15-16).
(1825): “Correspondence”.

Marriage:

Jan 2nd 1815 to Annabella Milbanke, at Seaham Hall.

Site of Grave:

St. Mary Magdalen Church, Hucknall, Torkard, Nottinghamshire.

Places of Interest:

ABERDEEN:

There is a statue of Byron outside Aberdeen Grammar school.

CUMBRIA:

Dove Cottage and Museum, Grasmere, LA22 9SH. (Wordsworth Trust).

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE:

Newstead Abbey, Newstead Abbey Park, NG15 8G

KENT:

Roamed the White Cliffs in 1816 before his departure for Greece.

LONDON:

National Portrait Gallery.

WILTSHIRE:

Bowood House, Calne has his Albanian costume.

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