Lord Byron

A British Romantic poet and satirist whose poetry and personality captured the imagination of Europe.

George Gordon Byron, known simply as Lord Byron, was born on January 22, 1788, on Holles Street in London, England. He was an English romantic poet and peer. He was one of the leading figures of the Romantic movement and has been regarded as among the greatest English poets. His birthplace is now a branch of the John Lewis[1] department store.

Born, with a clubbed right foot, into an aristocratic family in England where his father, Mad Jack Byron, abandoned them at a young age and eventually cut his own throat when George was only 3. His mother suffered violent schizophrenic episodes and left the young Byron to an abusive nurse. At the tender age of 10, in 1798, George Byron became a young lord. When he was twelve, he was sent to Harrow School in London.

Lord Byron Facts

Little George’s uncle died a few years after his father,
meaning he inherited the lordship and all the debts at ten years old.

While there, he began experimenting with his sexuality, engaging in relationships with both young men and young women. In 1803, he had his first big romance. He met his distant cousin, Mary Chaworth, and fell passionately in love. Unfortunately for Byron, Mary didn’t feel the same. Fueled by the pain of teenage angst and unrequited love, Byron wrote the first of his poems, “Hills of Annesley” and “The Adieu”.

  Hills of Annesley, Bleak and Barren, 
Where my thoughtless Childhood stray'd,
How the northern Tempests, warring,
Howl above thy tufted Shade!

Now no more, the Hours beguiling,
Former favourite Haunts I see;
Now no more my Mary smiling,
Makes ye seem a Heaven to Me.

Annesley Hall is an estate adjoining Byron's estate at Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire. In one summer holidays, when he was 15, George Gordon, Lord Byron fell in love with the daughter of the house, Miss Mary Ann Chaworth. Unfortunately, she married someone else (John Musters) very soon afterwards.

From his Presbyterian nurse, Byron developed a lifelong love for the Bible and an abiding fascination with the Calvinist doctrines of innate evil and predestined salvation. Early schooling instilled a devotion to reading and especially a “grand passion” for history that informed much of his later writing.

Dark and dashing, he soon developed a reputation for promiscuity and profligacy equal to his father’s. He won the hearts of countless women with passionate letters and poems, describing the first of his many loves Margaret Parker as ‘made out of a rainbow’, and immortalizing the last, Teresa Guiccoli, as ‘fair as Sunrise – and warm as Noon’. Widely read in classic literature, he soon developed the biting line in satire that characterizes his greatest poems.

He also formed the first of those passionate attachments with other, chiefly younger, boys that he would enjoy throughout his life; before reaching his teen years he had been sexually initiated by his maid. There can be little doubt that he had strong bisexual tendencies, though relationships with women seem generally, but not always, to have satisfied his emotional needs more fully. Early in 1804, he began an intimate correspondence with his half-sister, Augusta, five years his senior.

He asked that she consider him “not only as a Brother” but as her “warmest and most affectionate Friend.” As he grew apart from his capricious, often violent, mother, he drew closer to Augusta. Byron attended Trinity College, Cambridge, intermittently from October 1805 until July 1808, when he received a MA degree. During “the most romantic period of [his] life,” he experienced a “violent, though pure, love and passion” for John Edleston, a choirboy at Trinity two years younger than he.

Intellectual pursuits interested him less than such London diversions as fencing and boxing lessons, the theater, demimondes, and gambling. Living extravagantly, he began to amass the debts that would bedevil him for years. In Southwell, where his mother had moved in 1803, he prepared his verses for publication. Byron was a huge animal lover. As a student, he was very unhappy that the University of Cambridge didn’t allow dogs. Making a mockery of the rules, he showed up with a tame bear instead.

Despite receiving medical treatment as a child for his club foot (the effectiveness of which is debated) and often wearing specially-made shoes, he continued to experience pain and, sadly, shame about his foot throughout his life. “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, a long narrative poem about travel and romance, was published in four cantos (parts) between 1812 and 1818. It was loosely based on his own youthful travels around Europe, and attracted so much public attention that, allegedly, Byron claimed to have “awoke one morning and found [himself] famous”.

Lord Byron Facts

On the 3rd of May, 1810, Byron swam the Hellespont Strait from Europe to Asia. This was the first-ever recorded incident of a man swimming in open water as a recreational activity and led to the recognition of open-water swimming as a hobby. Byron’s part in fueling this activity is honored every year by a swimming event in the Hellespont Strait that recreates that first trek across the water.

After a long relationship with his half-sister (leading to one child), he had affairs with actresses, married society women, and many young men, so that by the age of 21, he had raging cases of gonorrhea and syphilis. Love didn’t come in a triangle for Byron but something closer to a pentacle. His level of celebrity was mind-boggling, a ‘Byromania,’ akin to a Regency Elvis Mania, where the Byronic look was mimicked everywhere in mirrors, in the hope of catching the curl of the upper lip, and the scowl of the brow.

Byron tried to get his bear enrolled as a student. He said, ‘I have got a new friend…a tame bear…they asked me what I should do with him, and my reply was, ‘he should sit for a fellowship.’ Later in life in his palazzo in Venice, he kept a menagerie.

Lord B’s establishment consists…of ten horses, eight enormous dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow, and a falcon…just met on the grand staircase five peacocks, two guinea hens, and an Egyptian Crane.

Percy Shelley – Lord Byron’s close friend

Byron’s rise to fame coincided with mass mechanised publishing. This meant that many people were able to read his poetry, but also that unscrupulous publishers were able easily to steal Byron’s work without his permission.

Lord Byron Facts

Byron had unbridled contempt for the famous British poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In one particular example of Byron’s hate, he nicknamed Wordsworth “Turdsworth” in a personal letter.

One night in 1816 – during a drizzly holiday by Lake Geneva – Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin, and their doctor friend John William Polidori told each other improvised ghost stories. 18-year-old Mary (not yet married to Shelley) turned her idea into the novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. But Polidori also adapted his tale into a famous book, The Vampyre, and its sinister lead character was heavily based on the brooding, dangerous Byron himself. As if that wasn’t goth enough, when Percy Shelley drowned in 1822, Byron apparently asked to keep his friend’s skull.

Byron had a fascination for the supernatural — so the reputedly haunted seat of the Byron family, Newstead Abbey, became a favorite venue for Byron’s entourage. His gothic flamboyance perpetuated this sense of the spooky. A coffin stood at one end of the dining room, which Byron had turned into an indoor shooting gallery. Skulls of the monks who had been buried at the abbey and Byron’s own ancestors from the family crypt were used as flowerpots that lined the walls. He also had a drinking mug made from one of these monkish skulls and served drinks in others.

Byron and his friends even wore long, dark, hooded robes as worn by medieval monks, for their soirees. Ada Lovelace was Byron’s only legitimate child. Byron separated from her mother a month after Ada was born and left England forever four months later, eventually dying of disease in the Greek War of Independence when Ada was eight in 1824. Ada’s mother remained bitter towards Lord Byron and promoted Ada’s interest in mathematics and logic in an effort to prevent her from developing what she saw as the insanity seen in her father.

However, Ada remained interested in Byron despite this (although he never had a relationship with her) and was, upon her eventual death, buried next to him at her request. Ada worked with mathematician Charles Babbage on the Difference Engine, a calculator, and the Analytical Engine, a mechanical computer for which she wrote the world’s first algorithms.

She showed amazing foresight concerning the abilities of computers to do more than deal with numbers. Ada was the world’s first computer programmer and the programming language ADA was named in her honor.

She died at 36, the same age as her father. In her final years, she was like her father in other ways, including romantic scandals, problems with alcohol and opium, and gambling debts. Byron savored being a faux military General. He constructed two small stone forts on the edge of his lake and launched a fleet of toy ships, which he spent entire days directing while hidden in his fort. He even got his servant to sit still in a small boat in the lake and ‘command the ships’, involving pushing them around and making cannon and whistle noises with his mouth.

Excursions in January 1810 to Cape Sounion, overlooking the islands of the Cyclades, and to Marathon, where the Athenians defeated the invading Persians in 490 B.C., reinforced for him the appalling contrast between the glory and might of ancient Greece and its contemporary disgrace. He movingly evoked these scenes and sentiments a decade later in the often-quoted stanzas on “The Isles of Greece” and on Marathon in “Don Juan”.

Byron racked up debts and became so scandalous for his saucy poetry and love life that he went into European exile in 1816 and never returned. He went first to Geneva, where he spent the summer with his new lover, an Englishwoman named Claire Clairmont who became pregnant and gave birth to Byron’s daughter Clara Allegra in 1817. Soon after, he tired of Claire, discarding her for a string of lovers that he seemed to regard with general distaste.

In a letter to friends, Byron listed the names of all the women he’d slept with since he’d been in Italy, concluding “some of them are Countesses – & some of them Cobblers wives – some noble – some middling – some low – & all whores.” It came as no surprise when, in 1823, Byron jumped at a chance for one last adventure: he would help Greece win independence from the Ottoman Empire. He spent 4,000 pounds to help rebuild the Greek fleet and fulfilled a childhood dream of becoming a naval officer by taking command of his own Greek unit.

However, the excitement proved too much for him. The diseases that he’d procured over the years had significantly weakened the young poet. On February 15th, 1824, he fell deathly ill. Misinformed doctors decided to drain his blood in order to try and let out the ‘bad blood’ in him. This only worsened his illness. On April 19th, 1824, Lord Byron died at the age of 36. All of England mourned his death, but because of his lifestyle, the Church refused to bury him at Westminster Abbey. Byron was buried in the family crypts at the Byron family seat in Newstead. In 1969, a monument to the poet was put in Westminster Abbey. Lord Byron’s most famous poems include “The Curse of Minerva” (which was written to denounce Lord Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon marbles from Greece), “She Walks in Beauty”, “Don Juan”, and “When We Two Parted”.

You’re Dead To Me – Lord Byron Podcast

  1. John Lewis & Partners (formerly and commonly known as John Lewis) is a brand of high-end department stores operating throughout the United Kingdom, with concessions also located in the Republic of Ireland and Australia. The brand sells general merchandise as part of the employee-owned mutual organization known as the John Lewis Partnership, the largest cooperative in the United Kingdom. It was created by Spedan Lewis, son of the founder, John Lewis, in 1929. From 1925 to 2022, the chain had a policy that it would always at least match a lower price offered by a national high street competitor; this pledge was known by the name “Never Knowingly Undersold”. [Back]

Further Reading


Poetry Foundation
English History
British Library
The Gothic Bookworm
The Culture Trip
You’re Dead To Me
History Things
Poetry Atlas

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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