Lord Byron holds a special place in the hearts of Romantic poetry enthusiasts across the world. His popular literature is on many school and university syllabuses, and although born in London he is fondly remembered for his Nottinghamshire links. Born on 22 January 1788, George Gordon Byron was the son of Captain John Byron and Catherine Gordon. The Byron family courted controversy for a variety of reasons, although they were well-connected and highly thought of in certain circles. The family had more than its share of ups and downs, and often married for money and favour as was the common practice of the time.
Becoming Lord Byron
Byron's great-uncle, known as the "Wicked Lord" Byron, died on the 21 May 1798. The 10-year-old became the sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale inheriting the ancestral home, Newstead Abbey in Ravenshead, Nottinghamshire. Byron's mother Catherine was anxious to get her son to the ancestral home as soon as possible, but on arrival found the house to be in a poor state of repair so took the decision to lease it out. Mother and son shared what could be best described as a fractious relationship. During one argument, Catherine allegedly called her son a "lame brat", this being a reference to the fact the young Byron was born with a deformed right foot. Catherine was however also known as someone who spoiled her son and tried to do her best for him.
Byron’s early education was at Aberdeen Grammar School, in Scotland, before he moved on in 1799 to the school of Dr William Glennie in Dulwich, in south London. The young Byron is said to have suffered from temper tantrums and by all accounts could be difficult. In 1801 he was sent to Harrow School, in north London, and during this time he met Mary Chaworth, who would go on to be an important part of his romantic life. It is said at one point he refused to return to Harrow, as he wanted to stay with Mary. Byron did however return to Harrow and stayed there until 1805. During that final year, one of his achievements was playing in the first ever cricket match between Harrow and Eton at Lords’ Cricket Ground, in London. He also met and made friends with people who would be a major part of his later life.
After Harrow, Byron went to Trinity College, Cambridge, for three years and formed a close relationship with John Edleston. Even at this early point in his life, Byron recalled in verse his relationships with others. Some of these works dealt with subjects including homosexuality and about his love and passion for his friends. Such statements could have caused him many problems at a period in history when homosexuality was illegal. His time at Trinity College is often described as a story of horse riding, boxing, gambling and sexual encounters, as well as day-to-day college life. While at Cambridge, Byron also met John Hobhouse who introduced him to the Cambridge Whig Club, and Francis Hodgson, with who he corresponded with for the rest of his life.
Home to Byron in between school and college was at his mother’s house at Burgage Manor, in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. It was here that he met Elizabeth Bridget Pigot and her brother John. Elizabeth encouraged Byron’s early works, one of which was 'Fugitive Pieces'. This was written and published when Byron was around 17-years-old and on the advice of a friend it was recalled and burned, due to some of the verses being considered suggestive including a poem called 'To Mary'.
Travelling abroad and major works
At the age of 21 in 1809, Byron took his seat in the House of Lords and travelled on what was known as the Grand Tour, a coming-of-age trip around Europe. He returned to England in 1811 and in the same year his mother Catherine died. In 1812, the first two cantos of his most famous work 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' were published. Although Byron didn't think highly of this piece of work, it went on to be critically acclaimed. As Byron noted: “I awoke one morning and found myself famous.” He then had the last two cantos published, which again were very well-received. Following on from this, his works 'The Giaour', 'The Bride of Abidos', 'The Corsair', and 'Lara' were also published.
Marriage, birth and death
In December 1814, he married Annabella Milbanke and his daughter Ada Lovelace, known as the world’s first computer programmer, was born in 1815. The following year in 1816, Byron left England never to return. He is known to have had many affairs and children, and Ada was his only legitimate child. Byron supported Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire and spent time and money strengthening the Greek naval fleet. He died of malaria in Missolonghi, in Greece, at the age of 36 on 19 April 1824. After his death he became a hero in Greece and will always be remembered as a leading figure in the Romantic Movement of the 19th century.
Places to visit
A memorial to Byron was placed on the floor of Westminster Abbey in 1969, but he is buried at St Mary Magdalene Church in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. The Byron family vault at the church includes the poet and his daughter Ada. Adjacent to the church is a statue of Byron located high above street level in the wall of the old Co-op building, and within the churchyard there is a memorial garden dedicated to the writer.
Lord Byron was a regular visitor at Annesley Hall and Annesley Old Church. Views of Annesley Park can be seen from nearby Diadem Hill – the assumed location of Byron’s poem, The Dream. Annesley is described by Byron as: “Where my thoughtless childhood stray’d…” and was an inspiration for much of his work. The church overlooks the Grade II listed Annesley Hall, which apart from its connections to the Chaworth Musters and the Byron family, was also linked to the Spencer and Churchill families. A trip to Newstead Abbey to discover more about Byron’s life should definitely be a priority to learn about the life of the poet and peer.