George Gordon Noel Byron, 6th Baron Byron (22 January 1788 – 19 April 1824), one of the greatest British writers and poets during the Romantic Movement. Lord Byron is infamous for his love affairs and inappropriate sexual relationships, debts, and illegitimate children. Devastatingly handsome, he moved easily among the circles of London’s society and earned a reputation as a seducer of several high profile women of the ton.
“Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart,Don Juan, Author: Lord Byron
‘Tis woman’s whole existence.”
Byron’s most notable works include Don Juan, She Walks in Beauty, Hours of Idleness, and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and are compared to other well known writers in the Romantic Period, William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Mary Shelley.
Raised by his mother in Aberdeen, Scotland, his father abandoned them and left for France, where his father died in 1791. Consequently, Byron inherited the family title at age 10 and became heir to his uncle’s estate as well. To gain access to his mother-in-laws fortune, Lord Byron later adopted his mother-in-law’s family name, Noel, in order to inherit half of her estate.
Lord Byron attended school in Aberdeen, Dulwich and Harrow, one of England’s most prestigious schools, before attending Trinity College in Cambridge in 1805, where he accumulated debts at an alarming rate and indulged in a hedonistic lifestyle. While in Cambridge, Byron became obsessed with a young chorister, John Edleston, in what Byron described as “a violent, though pure, love and passion”. In addition to Byron’s strong attachment to young men, his sexual pursuit and seduction of women throughout his life is said to be evidence of a heterosexual lifestyle (Britannica, 2023).
Upon reaching his majority in 1809, Lord Byron took his seat in the House of Lords and upon completing his education at Cambridge, then embarked on a grand tour. Lord Byron’s two-year journey across Spain, Portugal, Albania, and Greece, led him to Lisbon, Malta, Albania, Greece, Smyrna, Ephesus and Constantinople, where he drew inspiration for Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
“There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less but Nature more.”Lord Byron
Lord Byron returned to England two years later, arriving in Portsmouth on July 14, 1811. While traveling Byron wrote the first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, which were published by John Murray on 10 March 1812 and sold out within three days. His success was instantaneous. Byron declared:
“I awoke one morning and found myself famous.”From Life, Letter and Journals of Lord Byron, ed Thomas Moore (1839).
Infamous Love Affairs
In 1812, Lady Caroline Lamb, the wife of Lord Melbourne who later became the Prime Minister of England, met the dashing and infamous poet Lord Byron. Upon their first meeting at a ball, Lord Byron was immediately smitten. Lady Lamb, who eventually succumbed to his charms and became his lover, described him as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,”
“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know,”Lady Lamb. Source: Oxford Dictionary
By August of 1812 after a half year long affair, Lord Bryon dropped Lady Caroline for a new paramour who was 14 years his senior, Jane Harley, the Countess of Oxford. Deep in debt at this point, Lord Byron began pursuing the heiress Anna Isabella Milbanke. Lord Byron married Anna Isabella Milbanke in January 1815, and the following year she gave birth to a daughter, Augusta Ada (later Ada Lovelace). Shortly after the birth of their daughter, Lady Annabella Byron left Lord Byron and took their newborn daughter to live with her parents due to rumors of his incestuous relationship with his half sister, Augusta Leigh, and his bisexuality.
A Spurned Lover’s Revenge
In 1816, Lady Caroline published the Gothic novel Glenarvon, a work of fiction, which portrayed Byron as a main character in the novel. Lady Caroline’s decision to publish the details of her torrid affair with Lord Byron as a veiled novel of unrequited love had devastating effects not on Lord Byron, but on Lady Caroline herself. See Lady Caroline Lamb’s Scandalous Affair with Lord Byron for details.
Lord Byron’s reputation for promiscuous affairs extends to several high profile women in addition to Lady Caroline Lamb including Julia Leacroft; Mrs. Constance Spencer Smith; Lady Oxford; Claire Clairmont, Mary Shelley’s step-sister; Marianna Segati; Margarita Cogni; Countess Teresa Guiccioli; and Lord Byron’s half-sister, Augusta Leigh, who is rumored to have had an incestuous relationship with Byron and given birth to a daughter in 1814, believed to be Byron’s child.
After a separation from his wife, Lord Byron left England permanently for Switzerland. He then traveled to Italy where he continued engaging in promiscuous affairs while writing and publishing his work. Upon spending six years in Italy, he wrote and released Don Juan.
Don Juan is an epic unfinished poem written by Lord Byron in the last years of his life. The poem resembles Lord Byron’s life a legendary womanizer, although he reversed the main character’s traits and portrayed Don Juan as being easily susceptible to seduction. The narration is said to reflect Byron’s discontent with his own character.
Don Juan, shown below, is comprised of 16 complete cantos and a final 17th canto that was unfinished at the time of Byron’s death in 1824.
Interpreting the meaning of Lord Byron’s creative works of art, one expert shares his belief that Lord Byron’s autobiographic writings…
alternated between deep-seated melancholy and humorous mockery in his reaction to the disparity between real life and his unattainable ideals. The melancholy of Childe Harold and the satiric realism of Don Juan are thus two sides of the same coin.Marchand 2023
Lord Byron‘s Death and Legacy
Lord Byron died April 19, 1824 after contracting a fever at the young age of 36 while in Missolonghi, Greece within the Ottoman Empire. His heart was removed and buried in Missolonghi, while his body was returned to England. As a testament to Lord Byron’s notoriety, a funeral procession of 47 carriages accompanied Byron’s hearse to the family’s burial vault in Hucknall Church near Newstead.
In His Memory
Due to Lord Byron’s financial support and acts of bravery in the Greek Wars of Independence, Lord Byron is widely considered a Greek national hero. His legacy is the collection of work he left behind.
“All tragedies are finished by a death,
All comedies are ended by a marriage;
The future states of both are left to faith.”
Don Juan (1819-24)
In yet another tribute to the memory to Lord Byron, a street is named Lord Byron near the Arc de Triomphe just off the Avenue de Champs-Élysées in Paris, as shown below. Various tributes to Lord Byron can be found in Italy, England, France, and other countries around the world.
Chabe01, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
- Byron, George Gordon, Baron, The Works of Lord Byron (1833)
- Byron, George Gordon, Baron and Moore, Thomas, Life, Letters and Journals of Lord Byron (1839)
- Byron, George Gordon. Don Juan. Pantianos Classics, 2016.
- Byron, George Gordon, and Jerome J. McGann. Lord Byron, the Major Works. Oxford University Press, 2008.
- Eisler, Benita. Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame. Vintage Books, 2000.
- Franklin, Caroline, Lamb, Lady Caroline (1785-1828), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2005, accessed 28 Nov 2012)Galt, John. The Life of Lord Byron. Kindle ed., 1832.
- MacCarthy, Fiona. Byron: Life and Legend. John Murray, 2014.
- Marchand, Leslie A., Byron, Lord, British Poet. Britannica. (2023). Obtained on April 14, 2023, at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lord-Byron-poet.
- McGann, Jerome, Byron, George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Oct 2009, accessed 2 Jul 2013)
- Moore, Thomas, The Life of Lord Byron (1844)
- Perkins, McKenzie. “Biography of Lord Byron, English Poet and Aristocrat.” ThoughtCo, Feb. 17, 2021.