For other holders of the title, see
. For other uses, see
George Byron (disambiguation)
Portrait of Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips
George Gordon Byron
22 January 1788
19 April 1824 (aged 36)
, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
, Allegra Byron
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron
, later George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron
(22 January 1788 – 19 April 1824), commonly known simply as Lord Byron
, was an English
poet and a leading figure in Romanticism
. Amongst Byron's best-known works are the brief poems She Walks in Beauty
, When We Two Parted
, and So, we'll go no more a roving
, in addition to the narrative
poems Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
and Don Juan
. He is regarded as one of the greatest British poets and remains widely read and influential.
Byron's notability rests not only on his writings but also on his life, which featured aristocratic excesses, huge debts, numerous love affairs, and self-imposed exile. He was famously described by Lady Caroline Lamb
as "mad, bad and dangerous to know". He travelled to fight against the Ottoman Empire
in the Greek War of Independence
, for whichGreeks
revere him as a national hero
. He died from a fever contracted while in Messolonghi
Byron was the son of Captain John 'Mad Jack' Byron
and his third wife, the former Catherine Gordon (d. 1811), heiress of Gight
, Scotland. Byron's paternal grandparents were Vice-Admiral The Hon., John 'Foulweather Jack' Byron
and Sophia Trevanion. Vice Admiral John Byron had circumnavigated the globe, and was the younger brother of the 5th Baron Byron
, known as "the Wicked Lord".
He was christened George Gordon Byron at St Marylebone Parish Church
after his maternal grandfather, George Gordon of Gight
, a descendant of King James I
. This grandfather committed suicide
in 1779. Byron's mother Catherine had to sell her land and title to pay her husband's debts. John Byron may have married Catherine for her money and, after squandering her fortune and selling her estate, having spent very little time with his wife and child in order to avoid creditors, he deserted them both and died a year later. Catherine regularly experienced mood swings and bouts of melancholy.
Catherine Gordon, Byron's mother
Catherine moved back to Scotland shortly afterwards, where she raised her son in Aberdeen
.On 21 May 1798, the death of Byron's great-uncle, the "wicked" Lord Byron, made the 10-year-old the 6th Baron Byron, and the young man then inherited both title and estate, Newstead Abbey
, in Nottinghamshire, England. His mother proudly took him to England. Byron lived at his estate infrequently, as the Abbey was rented to Lord Grey de Ruthyn
, among others, during Byron's adolescence.
In August 1799, Byron entered the school of William Glennie
, an Aberdonian
.Byron would later say that around this time and beginning when he still lived in Scotland, his governess, May Gray, would come to bed with him at night and "play tricks with his person". According to Byron, this "caused the anticipated melancholy of my thoughts—having anticipated life". Gray was dismissed for allegedly beating Byron when he was 11.
Byron received his early formal education at Aberdeen Grammar School
. In 1801 he was sent to Harrow
, where he remained until July 1805. He represented Harrow during the very first Eton v Harrow
cricket match at Lord's
After school he went on to Trinity College, Cambridge
The mountain Lochnagar is the subject of one of Byron's poems, in which he reminisces about his childhood
Byron's names changed throughout his life. He was christened "George Gordon Byron" in London. "Gordon" was a baptismal name, not a surname, after his maternal grandfather. In order to claim his wife's estate in Scotland, Byron's father took the additional surname "Gordon", becoming "John Byron Gordon", and he was occasionally styled "John Byron Gordon of Gight". Byron himself used this surname for a time and was registered at school in Aberdeen as "George Byron Gordon". At the age of 10, he inherited the English Barony of Byron, becoming "Lord Byron", and eventually dropped the double surname (though after this point his surname was hidden by his peerage in any event).
When Byron's mother-in-law, Judith Noel died in 1822, her will required that he change his surname to "Noel" in order to inherit half her estate, and so he obtained a Royal Warrant allowing him to "take and use the surname of Noel only". The Royal Warrant also allowed him to "subscribe the said surname of Noel before all titles of honour", and from that point he signed himself "Noel Byron" (the usual signature of a peer being merely the peerage, in this case simply "Byron"). This was, it was said, so that his signature would become "N.B." which were the initials of one of his heroes, Napoleon Bonaparte. He was also sometimes referred to as "Lord Noel Byron", as if "Noel" were part of his title, and likewise his wife was sometimes called "Lady Noel Byron". Lady Byron eventually succeeded to the Barony of Wentworth, becoming "Lady Wentworth"; her surname before marriage had been "Milbanke".
While not at school or college, Byron lived with his mother at Burgage Manor in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, in some antagonism. While there, he cultivated friendships with Elizabeth Pigot and her brother, John, with whom he staged two plays for the entertainment of the community.
Byron's house in Southwell, Nottinghamshire
During this time, with the help of Elizabeth Pigot, who copied many of his rough drafts, he was encouraged to write his first volumes of poetry. Fugitive Pieces
was printed by Ridge of Newark, which contained poems written when Byron was only 14. However, it was promptly recalled and burned on the advice of his friend, the Reverend Thomas Beecher, on account of its more amorous verses, particularly the poem To Mary
Hours of Idleness
, which collected many of the previous poems, along with more recent compositions, was the culminating book. The savage, anonymous criticism this received (now known to be the work of Henry Peter Brougham) in the Edinburgh Review
prompted his first major satire, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers
(1809). It was put into the hands of his relation R.C. Dallas requesting him to "...get it published without his name"Dallas gives a large series of changes and alterations, as well as the reasoning for some of them. He also states that Byron had originally intended to prefix an argument to this poem, and Dallas quotes it. Although the work was published anonymously, by April, Dallas is writing that "you are already pretty generally known to be the author." The work so upset some of his critics they challenged Byron to a duel; over time, in subsequent editions, it became a mark of prestige to be the target of Byron's pen.
After his return from his travels, he again entrusted Dallas as his literary agent to publish his poem Childd Harold's Pilgrimage
, which Byron thought of little account. The first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
were published in 1812, and were received with acclaim. In his own words, "I awoke one morning and found myself famous". He followed up his success with the poem's last two cantos, as well as four equally celebrated Oriental Tales
, The Giaour
,The Bride of Abydos
, The Corsair
, and Lara, A Tale
. About the same time, he began his intimacy with his future biographer, Thomas Moore.
Early love life
John FitzGibbon, 2nd Earl of Clare
Byron's first loves included Mary Duff and Margaret Parker, his distant cousins, and Mary Chaworth, whom he met while at Harrow.Byron later wrote that his passion for Duff began when he was "not [yet] eight years old," and was still remembered in 1813. Byron refused to return to Harrow in September 1803 because of his love for Chaworth; his mother wrote, "He has no indisposition that I know of but love, desperate love, the worst of all maladies in my opinion. In short, the boy is distractedly in love with Miss Chaworth." In Byron's later memoirs, "Mary Chaworth is portrayed as the first object of his adult sexual feelings."
Byron returned to Harrow in January 1804,
to a more settled period which saw the formation of a circle of emotional involvements with other Harrow boys, which he recalled with great vividness: 'My School friendships were with me passions
(for I was always violent).'The most enduring of those was with the John FitzGibbon, 2nd Earl of Clare — four years Byron's junior — whom he was to meet unexpectedly many years later in Italy (1821). His nostalgic poems about his Harrow friendships, Childish Recollections
(1806), express a prescient "consciousness of sexual differences that may in the end make England untenable to him".
"Ah! Sure some stronger impulse vibrates here,
Which whispers friendship will be doubly dear
To one, who thus for kindred hearts must roam,
And seek abroad, the love denied at home."
While at Trinity, Byron met and formed a close friendship with the younger John Edleston. About his "protégé" he wrote, "He has been my almost constant associate since October, 1805, when I entered Trinity College. His voice first attracted my attention, his countenance fixed it, and his manners attached me to him for ever." In his memory Byron composed Thyrza
, a series of elegies.
In later years he described the affair as 'a violent, though pure
love and passion'. This however has to be read in the context of hardening public attitudes to homosexuality in England, and the severe sanctions (including public hanging) against convicted or even suspected offenders. The liaison, on the other hand, may well have been 'pure' out of respect for Edleston's innocence, in contrast to the (probably) more sexually overt relations experienced at Harrow School. Also while at Cambridge he formed lifelong friendships with men such as John Cam Hobhouse and Francis Hodgson, a Fellow at King's College, with whom he corresponded on literary and other matters until the end of his life.
Another biographer, Fiona MacCarthy, has posited that Byron's true sexual yearnings were for boys.First travels to the East
The Byron's Stone in Tepelene, Albania
Teresa Makri in 1870
Byron racked up numerous debts as a young man, due to what his mother termed a "reckless disregard for money". She lived at Newstead during this time, in fear of her son's creditors.
He had planned to spend early 1808 cruising with his cousin George Bettesworth, who was captain of the 32-gun frigate HMS Tartar
. Bettesworth's unfortunate death at theBattle of Alvøen in May 1808 made that impossible.
From 1809 to 1811, Byron went on the Grand Tour, then customary for a young nobleman. The Napoleonic Wars forced him to avoid most of Europe, and he instead turned to the Mediterranean. Correspondence among his circle of Cambridge friends also suggests that a key motive was the hope of homosexual experience, and other theories saying that he was worried about a possible dalliance with the married Mary Chatsworth, his former love (the subject of his poem from this time, "To a Lady: On Being Asked My Reason for Quitting England in the Spring"). Attraction to the Levant was probably a motive in itself; he had read about the Ottoman and Persian lands as a child, was attracted to Islam (especially Sufi mysticism), and later wrote, “With these countries, and events connected with them, all my really poetical feelings begin and end." He travelled from England over Spain to Albania and spent time at the court of Ali Pasha of Ioannina, and in Athens. For most of the trip, he had a traveling companion in his friend John Cam Hobhouse. Many of these letters are referred to with details in Recollections of the Life of Lord Byron.
Byron began his trip in Portugal from where he wrote a letter to his friend Mr. Hodgson in which he describes his mastery of the Portuguese language, consisting mainly of swearing and insults. Byron particularly enjoyed his stay in Sintra that is described in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage as "glorious Eden".
While in Athens, Byron met Nicolò Giraud, who became quite close and taught him Italian. It was also presumed that the two had an intimate relationship involving a sexual affair. Byron sent Giraud to school at a monastery in Malta and bequeathed him a sizeable sum of seven thousand pounds sterling. The will, however, was later cancelled. In 1810 in Athens Byron wrote Maid of Athens, ere we part for a 12-year-old girl, Teresa Makri [1798-1875], and reportedly offered £ 500 for her. The offer was not accepted.
Byron made his way to Smyrna where he and Hobhhouse cadged a ride to Constantinople on HMS Salsette
. While Salsette
was anchored awaiting Ottoman permission to dock at the city, on 3 May 1810 Byron and Lieutenant Ekenhead, of Salsette
's marines, swam the Hellespont. Byron commemorated this feat in the second canto of Don Juan