All I Have Suffered Can Never Be Known?

My own Sweet Sis – the deeds are signed – so that is over. – All I have now to beg or desire on the subject is – that you will never mention not allude to Lady Byron’s name again in any shape – or on any occasion – except indispensable business….

This was to be one of Byron’s last letters to his ‘Dearest Augusta’ as he made plans to leave his home and his life in England behind him.

He had signed the deed of separation on the afternoon of Sunday April 21 1816 signifying the end of his brief year-long marriage to Annabella and from the fatherhood of his five-month old daughter Ada.

He left 13 Piccadilly Terrace on April 23, St George’s Day, bound for Dover and finally departed from England on Thursday April 25 and was never to see Augusta, Annabella or Ada again.

The Byron separation had been one of bitterness, legal wrangling, innuendo, veiled threats and finally a plea for a ‘private arrangement’ and the winner undoubtedly was Annabella who in January 1816 had demanded:

to pursue such measures as may be necessary to effect a secure & final separation between Lord Byron and myself…  I am more convinced of the escape I have had, and the impossibility of ever regretting the step I have taken. All I have suffered can never be known.

Not knowing precisely what Annabella had suffered during her marriage was to precipitate in scandalous rumour, vitriol and exile for Byron, the unfortunate loser and which brings us to the fifth and final possible reason.

I say it’s really not my habit

To intrude

Furthermore, I hope my meaning

Won’t be lost or misconstrued

But I’ll repeat myself

At the risk of being crude

There really are five reasons

To leave my lover

Five reasons to leave my lover

5 Reasons to Leave My Lover by Lady Byron © 1816

Reason Five: Dereliction of Principle

Upon receiving the notice from Sir Ralph Milbanke that his daughter was insistent upon a separation from him, Byron had asked for confirmation of this from Annabella herself who was to reply with the following charge of:

 that total dereliction of principle, which, since our marriage, you have professed and gloried in…

Augusta was also to hint at this charge in a letter sent to Annabella about her concern for Byron’s well-being as their separation was being increasingly played out in public and to Byron’s disadvantage:

There are reports abroad of a nature too horrible to repeat….Every other sinks into nothing before this MOST horrid one… This MOST dreadful report! – who knows what it may urge him to do.

He said to me last night in an agony ‘Even to have such a thing said is utter destruction & ruin to a man & from which he can never recover’

I am alas! but too well convinced you are acting from Duty – From Principle. Surely even the truth is better concealed if possible….

But what was this mysterious truth that led Byron to a total dereliction of principle?

His angry former mother-in-law was to say of him that it was ‘not fit such men should live’ and the poet Thomas Campbell in his defence of Annabella was to say:

It concerns morality and the most sacred rights of the sex that she be acquitted of any share in the blame, which was Byron’s and Byron’s alone.’

Even Lady Caroline Lamb had something to say about Byron’s ‘dereliction of principle’ in her one of her many farewell letters to him:

I do not believe I never will believe you can have had the heart to suffer me to be so treated – what I have gone through – it is neither my wish or intention to repeat… 

henceforward you are safe – the means you took to frighten me from your door are not in vain.

On February 22 1816 after a private interview with her legal advisor Dr Stephen Lushington, Annabella was to reveal something so shocking that separation from Byron was inevitable and that it must forever remain unknown to the rest of the world and it had the desired effect.

Byron was forced into acquiescence and exile and as the ’cause’ of the separation was not revealed, rumour and innuendo was to prevail and very much to his discredit.

In Byron’s time adultery was commonplace, his two closest female confidants, Lady Oxford and Lady Melbourne had given birth to children of questionable paternity and incest was more of a murkier issue for although morally wrong, it was not yet considered to be a crime.

However, homosexuality and the act of sodomy were certainly considered to be criminal behaviour.

The threat of the gallows was a very real one and suspected sodomites were frequently pilloried in front of a baying, angry crowd with dreadful consequences.

Could this have been the pivotal reason for Annabella’s determination for a separation after a marriage of only a year?

Could this explain why she was almost unremitting in her campaign to ensure that Byron remained the ‘guilty party’ and thus the unsympathetic character forced into exile?

George Colman certainly believed this to be so!

Me thinks ’twas yesterday as both in bed

We lay: her cheeks were pillowed on my breast,

Fondly my arms her snowy bosom pressed.

Love no denial found, desire no stay.

That night it was, when tired of amorous play,

She bade me speak of wonders I had seen.

“And thou, dear Anna, think’st thou I can see

Without longing all these charms in thee?

Then turn thee round, indulge a husband’s wish,

And taste with me this truly classic dish”

Ah, fatal hour, that saw my prayer succeed,

And my fond bride enact the Ganymede….

‘Tis true, that from her lips some murmurs fell –

In joy or anger, ’tis too late to tell;

But this I swear, that not a single sign

Proved that her pleasure did not equal mine.

Don Leon © The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York

Colman was the theatrical manager at Drury Lane, a wonderful writer of comedy who considered Byron a friend and one whom he liked to get drunk with and he was also to show an intuitive understanding of the complexities of the Byron marriage and the subsequent separation which perhaps offers us a tantalising hint of what happened all those years ago.

Sources used:

Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 5 1816-1817, Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1976)

Lord Byron’s Marriage The Evidence of Asterisks, G. Wilson Knight (Routledge and Kegan Paul 1957)

Lord Byron’s Wife, Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1974)

The Uninhibited Byron An Account of His Sexual Confusion, Bernard Grebanier (Peter Owen 1970)

The Whole Disgraceful Truth, Paul Douglass (Palgrave MacMillan 2006)


‘ Tis a Pity There Were Three of Us in This Marriage!

There were three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded ~

Diana, Princess of Wales

By April 1816 Annabella having already contemplated the vagaries, distress and challenge that her brief marriage of one year to Byron had brought her and having made her decision to leave in February 1816, the ‘Suffering Angel’ was to remain formidable in her resolution and the process towards Annabella’s desire to be ‘securely separated’ from Byron over 200 years ago was reaching an increasingly bitter, fraught and heart breaking conclusion.

Despite Annabella’s consistent avowal that she would not return to him, Byron had continued to object to the separation throughout the cold months of February and March with his belief that she had been manipulated by the demands of her parents and with mischief by her former nurse and governess Mrs Clermont.

In 1816 the laws for divorce were complicated and in the absence of the legality of a wife’s right to defend and assert her desire for a separation, the Courts usually awarded rights, property and children to the husband and it was with this in mind that as Annabella’s legal team were preparing depositions in support of her claim and despite her ‘horrors of the Law’, she was to write to her mother on Monday March 4 1816:

Well – nothing but war remains. All offers of amicable arrangement have been refused… It is a bad job – for I shall lose the cause…

My opinion of the best course to pursue is this – to put in the strongest statement to Court, and then to delay proceeding, so as to tire him out… So I don’t think he can well escape – and yet he is so artfull that I despond about it at times..

Augusta Leigh, Byron’s half-sister who had continued living with Byron at Piccadilly Terrace as the war toward separation raged on was just as despondent:

All going on as bad as possible – a Court inevitable I fear & the Citation will be out immediately.

I’m nearly dead with worry & finding I can do no good I will not stay any longer…

‘..there will come out what must destroy him FOR EVER in this world – even what will deprive him of all right to his Child, & so blast his character that neither Sister nor Wife who has lived under the same roof with can ever be considered as they have been again!’

At Annabella’s insistence and against the advice of her lawyer, a meeting was arranged between the sister and the wife on Friday March 15 and directly after this meeting with her ‘dearest Augusta’,  Byron’s objections to the separation were suddenly dropped.

But what of this mysterious ‘citation’ that had driven Augusta to distraction and brought Byron ‘to terms’?

For let us now consider a possible fourth reason that would explain Annabella’s insistence on a separation, Augusta’s fear and Byron’s sudden capitulation.

I say it’s really not my habit

To intrude

Furthermore, I hope my meaning

Won’t be lost or misconstrued

But I’ll repeat myself

At the risk of being crude

There really are five reasons

To leave my lover

Five reasons to leave my lover

5 Reasons to Leave My Lover by Lady Byron © 1816

Reason Four: Incest

On Easter Sunday in 1816 as the preparations for the wedding of the Princess Charlotte to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg were being made and the negotiations for Byron separation were drawing to a close and as Annabella was in London gleefully passing onto her mother the newspaper reports that were favourable to her; Byron was making plans to leave England, saying farewell to his sister Augusta and firing off a missive to his estranged spouse:

More last words – not many – and such as you will attend to – answer I do not expect – not does it import – but you will hear me. – – I have just parted from Augusta – almost the last being you had left me to part with – & the only unshattered tie of my existence – wherever I may go – & I am going far – you & I can never meet again in this world – nor in the next – let this content or atone…..

recollect that though it may be advantage to you to have lost your husband – it is sorrow to her to have the waters now – or the earth hereafter – between her & her brother. – She is gone

For over two hundred years the exact relationship between Lord Byron and and his half-sister Augusta Mary Leigh has been clothed in mystery, fear, controversy, scandal and anger.

That they loved each other is without any doubt and Annabella certainly had no doubts that their love was also an incestuous love.

The inspiration for this post has come from the play ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore written by John Ford in 1629 which has continued to delight, intrigue and disgust and tells the story of an incestuous love between Giovanni and his sister Annabella which includes plenty of disaster, murder, lust, vengeance, greed and an interfering nurse.

 Interestingly, besides the recognisable human emotions, the character of Annabella, a brother and sister, these are not the only parallels to the Byron story for their story also included the interfering nurse, a certain Mrs Clermont who as Annabella’s devoted and scheming former governess was bitterly satirised in Byron’s poem The Sketch.

However, the tale of Mrs Clermont and her intrigues is for another post!

As the character of Giovanni is warned about his sinful love for his sister he replies that his ‘passion remains beyond his control’ and by November 1813 as Byron was writing to Lady Melbourne of the consequences of his attachment to another married woman, the Lady Frances Webster; he was to conclude with a telling line:

C (aroline) would go wild with grief that – it did not happen about her – Ly. O (xfor)d would say that I deserved it for not coming to Cagliari – and – – poor – she would be really uncomfortable – do you know? I am much afraid that that perverse passion was my deepest after all….

In Regency England although adultery was commonplace and homosexuality a sin punishable by death, the charge of incest although considered morally repugnant was not against the law and the colourful history of the Byron family shows a frequent propensity to addictive and reckless behaviour including a predisposition to marriage among cousins and incest as the letters from Byron’s father ‘Mad Jack’ Byron to his sister Frances Leigh clearly indicate.

Whatever the truth or importance of Byron’s relationship with his sister Augusta I shall let Byron have ‘more last words’:

What do you mean? – what is there known? or can be known? which you & I do not know much better? & what concealment can you have from me? I never shrank – & it was on your account principally that I gave way at all – for I thought they would endeavour to drag you into it – although they had no business with anything previous to my marriage with that infernal fiend – whose destruction I shall yet see..

To be continued!

Sources used:

Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 2 Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1974)

Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 3 Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1974)

Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 5 Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1976)

Lord Byron’s Wife Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1962)

Far from the Scenes of Birth and Youth…

That eye which had gleam’d as in flashed from Heav’n, –

Whose glances by angles and demons seem’d given. –

It anxiously gaz’d, but its language and lights

As they faded were seal’d from mortality’s sights.

In the days following the news of Lord Byron’s death in Greece on April 19 1824; his young widow had written a poem which tells of her sorrow that on his death bed her exiled spouse had asked that a message be brought to her – a message the faithful valet William Fletcher had been unable to understand.

The effort was made, but all, all, was in vain

And dark is that page which he sought to explain…

And some 36 years later on the day before her 68th birthday and with her beloved granddaughter and namesake Anne Isabella Noel King by her side; Annabella died in the early morning hours of Wednesday May 16 1860 while staying at 11 St George’s Terrace in Primrose Hill, North London from Bronchitis and Pleurisy after suffering from the effects of a prolonged illness throughout most of the Spring and NOT from breast cancer as is often erroneously reported.

In a poignant letter to the ‘other’ Mrs Lamb, the ‘Caro George’ of the glittering season of 1812 and the last remaining member of the Melbourne clan; she had been told that ‘My darling suffered very much, except the few hours before the end. The end was in sleep, which passed into the sleep of death – gently and calmly’

It is at Kensal Green Cemetery in West London on May 21 1860 that Annabella was laid to rest and despite the incorrect spelling of her first name and that she had been born in the home of her mother’s great friend Isabella Baker at Elemore Hall, her simple and elegant grave can be discovered in the shadow of the enormous Dissenter’s Chapel.

And it was on a glorious afternoon in October as I took a stroll through this fabulous cemetery as the Graveyard Squirrel that I would finally find my way to the grave of Byron’s spouse.

I say finally as this grave was not one of the easiest to find, hidden as it is by an impressive display of several large obelisks and some rather flamboyant monuments.

The grave itself is in very good condition despite the blanket of bramble and the scourge of every cemetery which threatened to overwhelm it and some rather nice ferns who were struggling to make themselves seen.

As I was making my way carefully around the grave trying to avoid the large holes in the ground while trying not to trip over the odd piece of  broken monument which lay scattered about; I was surprisingly affected by the lonely appearance of this grave despite it’s beauty when I thought of how she is buried far away from her devoted parents Judith and Ralph and that of her only daughter Ada who had been reunited with her father some 8 years previously in the Byron Vault at the Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.

But far from the scenes of his birth and his youth,

that breath of sweet song died away in the south.

And silent and lone was the vale of the graves

There were none to divine the last tokens he gave! –

However despite having no family near, Annabella is by no means alone as her good friend the author and art critic Anna Jameson is near and she is surrounded by various members of the Lushington clan including Sophia, Mary and Amelia sisters to the ‘Gentlemanlike, clear-headed and clever’ attorney Dr. Stephen Lushington who had acted so decisively for her during the separation saga of 1816.

Reminders of her place in the Byron orbit are everywhere throughout the 72 acres of this cemetery as both the poet’s chum John Cam Hobhouse and his publisher John Murray are buried here along with a Byron servant and niece or three who are scattered nearby.

Byron’s ‘Dearest Sis’ the Hon. Augusta Mary Leigh is also resident here, however her remains along with those of her spouse are enclosed in a lead lined coffin within the huge vaulted catacomb beneath the Dissenter’s  Chapel; which has a delicious touch of irony when you consider her sorry tale of debt, feckless children and scandal.

As a spot in the catacombs has always been more expensive and prestigious than a burial within the grounds of a cemetery, they have long been considered to be the most exclusive resting place for those in the higher echelon of the social strata; however, I was astounded upon reading the final paragraph of The Kindness of Sisters by David Crane who making no secret of his hostility toward Lady B writes of her ‘crusade against the Byrons’ and that the very style of her grave both visible and proud indicates her triumph against the hapless Augusta Leigh who finds herself ‘tucked away on the bottom shelf’ in the darkness of the catacombs.

As I can really find no answer to this absurd contretemps which appears indicative of the misunderstanding surrounding the poet’s spouse and which still dominates some 158 years later; I am more than happy to let the lady herself have the last word:

The one truth then reveal’d, that might save and might bless, – 

That hallowed last link ‘twixt, the living and dead. –

‘Twas all speechless and void; – and that word was not said.

Until next time…

Sources Used:

The Real Lady Byron Joan Pierson (London: Robert Hale 1992)

Thursday’s Angel Child HAS Far to Go!

As I began my previous tale with an epistolary rant from the Hon. Judith Noel as she championed the separation of her ‘poor Child’ from the ‘unmanly and despicable Ld B; the drama of which continues to reverberate and divide opinion some 200 years later; it is with a hint of mischief that I hand over the baton once more:

For Godsake do not let any consideration for her influence You – for it is owing in a great degree to the settled hatred She has long born to You and Yours… the Viscountess never forgave Annabella the involuntary Act of coming into the World – which injur’d her dearly beloved Brother & Nephew – and it has been a regular Wish to injure ever since…

More than 226 years have now passed since that ‘involuntary Act of coming into the World’ for May 17 is the birthday of Anne Isabella, Lady Noel Byron, the Poet’s ‘Princess of Parallelograms’, his wife of a mere 54 weeks and the woman he later said was ‘born for my destruction.’

Born on Ascension Day May 17 1792 in County Durham, she was the cherished only child of Sir Ralph and the Hon. Judith Milbanke who had lived through a marriage of over 15 years, childlessness and hope in anticipation of the arrival of their ‘’little angel’.

The adored baby was given the prosaic names of Anne Isabella in honour of her royal godmother the Duchess of Cumberland and Mrs. George Baker who had tended to Judith’s confinement at Elemore Hall while the completion of the Milbanke’s new house overlooking the wild coast at Seaham was still underway.

Annabella, the name that she would become universally known by, was baptised at Seaham in August of that year and despite his disappointment, Judith’s brother Lord Wentworth had been one of the first to offer his congratulations on the birth of this ‘little Lassie’ along with her estranged spouse became the heirs to the Wentworth Estates upon the death of her mother in 1822.

As Judith suspected that her talented sister-in-law had always resented the arrival of this heir to the Milbanke riches of Seaham and Halnaby; it is not known if the indomitable Lady Melbourne had fired off a similar congratulatory letter to her delighted sibling!

However, far away from the glamour of the ‘Melbourne Court’, the ‘pretty Spot’ of Seaham Hall would remain Annabella’s favourite home as she enjoyed a childhood of bathing in the sea, clamouring across the rocks, dreaming up stories of dragons and shipwrecks while running across the sands and where she would live in peaceful anonymity until her marriage to Lord Byron in January 1815 and from then on her life would never be the same again.

It was during her first visit to London in 1799 that the delightful portrait of Annabella in her 8th year had been painted by John Hoppner, the fashionable artist most favoured by the Northern gentry.

Although this image of Lady B remains a favourite and I am unable to gaze at the original that hangs in the Ferens Art Gallery in the City of Hull as of yet – a copy of this delightful portrait can be viewed in the dining room of 13 Piccadilly Terrace, albeit in 12th scale!

For despite Malcolm Elwin’s assertion of the ‘suggestion of complacency’ in this portrait, what can see as the attractive colour of the wild sea and the harsh rock form this tableau is an image of a graceful child with an expression of determination and strength that remains a touching prophesy of the heartache and triumph that we know will await her.

It is also tempting to wonder, albeit light-heartedly if the poignancy of Annabella’s adult life can be glimpsed in the lines of the old English nursery rhyme ‘Monday’s Child’; for as a ‘Thursday’s Child’, the historical interpretation of the ‘Far to Go’ would be to have favoured her with a long and successful life, blessed with limitless potential; however, the more contemporary approach would signify the disappointments she endured and the hurdles that she had to overcome.

However, could it be precisely the ambiguity behind the meaning of this ‘Thursday’s Child’ with the ‘Far to Go’ which offers an explanation for the sympathy, misunderstanding and hostility she can still command some 225 years after her birth?

Interestingly, the house where Annabella died on May 16 1860 at 11 St George’s Place in Primrose Hill, London is also the house familiar to another troubled and brilliant genius, the poet and writer Sylvia Plath who in the spring of 1961 was to compose her only semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar; a line from which I shall now borrow as a tribute to the Birthday Girl:

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”

Adieu for now…

Sources used:

Lord Byron’s Wife Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1974)

The Life and Letters of Anne Isabella, Lady Noel Byron Ethel Colburn Mayne (London: Constable & Co Ltd 1929)

Blest Her! The Suffering Angel Is No More…

“Your barbarous and hard hearted Brother has I am too firmly persuaded broken the heart that was devoted to him – and I doubt not will have pleasure in the Deed. She will not long exist, so he may glory in the Success of his endeavors. She is dreadfully ill and was last night and this day in a State which terrifys me – tell Lord Byron this if you please.

Wonder not that I write Strongly, who could see that Suffering Angel Sinking under such unmanly and despicable treatment, and not feel? Ld Byron is sending her Parents also with Sorrow to the Grave – let him glory also in that – and that he had three Lives to answer for at that great account, as much as if he had plunged his Dagger in our hearts – indeed that would have been a short suffering compared to a broken Heart…

… Oh! my God! how has my poor Child been sacrificed! not only to a wicked, but unmanly Creature! her only Error, too strong an attachment to him, and how has he rewarded it!”

The agitated author of this letter was the Hon. Judith Noel to Augusta Leigh in the dying days of January 1816 as the marriage separation between her beloved only daughter and Lord Byron became increasingly acrimonious and as the latter prepared for a life in exile far away from the marital home of 13 Piccadilly Terrace in London.

Luckily for Byron’s ‘Dearest Sis’, this letter was never sent and also for Annabella as Judith had been quite mistaken in her distraught prediction about her ‘poor child’s’ imminent demise for not only did Annabella survive her estranged spouse by some 36 years but also that of both her parents, the Hon. Augusta Leigh by some 9 years and even that of her only daughter Ada who would die in her thirty-sixth year in November 1851, some 8 years previously.

One day before her sixty-eighth birthday and with her beloved granddaughter and namesake Anne Isabella Noel King by her side; Annabella died in the early morning hours of Wednesday May 16 1860 while staying at 11 St George’s Terrace in Primrose Hill, North London NOT from breast cancer as is commonly argued but from Bronchitis and Pleurisy after suffering from the effects of a prolonged illness throughout most of the Spring.

In a poignant letter to the ‘other’ Mrs Lamb, the ‘Caro George’ of the glittering season of 1812 and the last remaining member of the Melbourne clan; Annabella was to write: ‘My darling suffered very much, except the few hours before the end. The end was in sleep, which passed into the sleep of death – gently and calmly’

Interestingly, the house where Annabella died is also a house familiar to another troubled and brilliant genius, the poet and writer Sylvia Plath.

In the spring of 1961 Plath was to compose her only semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar in the study of 11 St George’s Place at the invitation of friends which tells of the story of Esther Greenwood who haunted by the presence of death becomes increasingly ill with depression and makes several attempts at suicide.

The Bell Jar is arguably a roman à clef as the protagonist’s struggle with mental illness with that of Plath’s own descent into clinical depression is strikingly apparent and in the month following the publication of this novel here in the UK and after several failed attempts; Plath would eventually take her own life in February 1963.

In a letter to her mother, Plath had justified the writing of The Bell Jar as the means in which to ‘picture my world and the people in it as seen through the distorting lens of a bell jar’ and when one considers the life that Annabella had lived through with the letters, journals and poetry that she and others have left us for posterity against a tide of hostility, ignorance and disparagement which she still meets with some 158 years after her death; I wonder if that ‘Girl from Seaham’ would indeed of recognised herself through that ‘distorting lens of a bell jar’ and if she would have been sympathetic to the immortal line taken from The Bell Jar that ‘Sometimes just being a woman is an act of courage’…

That eye is beholding the waters roll,

It seems to give them a living soul;

That arm by mine is trembling prest,

I cherish the dream, he shall be blest!

O yet – tho’ the phantom melt in air,

The heart’s devotion may not despair!

‘On Seaham’ – 1817

Sources used:

Lord Byron’s Wife Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1974)

The Real Lady Byron Joan Pierson (London: Robert Hale 1992)

I Once More Remind You I Am YOUR Child!

I received a most kind and affectionate letter from Lady Byron, and money, with offers of protection for myself and my child, and the power of quitting a neighbourhood which was most painful to me.

This was in August 1840. I willingly and joyfully accepted these offers….

Lady Byron, proposed that I should accompany her to Paris, and remain with her for a time I did so… Fontainebleau…. Lady Byron informed me of the cause of the deep interest she felt and must ever feel, for me. Her husband had been my father…

The author of this missive is one Elizabeth Medora Leigh writing about the kindness of her aunt Lady Byron who had just informed her that her father was none other than the celebrated poet and also her uncle, Lord Byron.

Born on this day April 15 in 1814, her mother was the Hon. Augusta Mary Byron who had married her cousin Colonel George Leigh and Elizabeth Medora as she was baptised was their fourth child and arguably the most notorious.

In Augusta’s Bible which had been gifted to the ‘Miss Byron from her affectionate Friend M. Elgin’ in 1782, she recorded the births, marriages and deaths of her seven children:

Elizabeth Medora Leigh born at the Six Mile Bottom April 15th 1814. Christened there, May 20th 1814 by the Revd. C. Wedge. Sponsors – The Dss. of Rutland Mrs. Wilmot & Lord Byron.

Six Mile Bottom was the Leigh family home in Newmarket and from 1813 until March 1815, Byron had enjoyed regular visits with his sister and her children as the colonel, an indiscriminate gambler and crony of the Prince Regent had been frequently absent from his family for long periods of time as he was more often to be found at one of the many racetracks dotted throughout England.

Like her reputed and famous father, Medora was to be a woman known by many names.

 In a letter to Byron written when Medora was nearly nine months old Augusta had written:

My dearest B + 

As usual I have but a short allowance of time to reply to your tendresses + …..

La Dame did talk so – oh my stars! but at least it saved me a world of trouble – oh! but she found out a likeness in your picture to Mignonne who is of course very good humoured in consequence +

As ‘Mignonne’ is a reference to Medora, this letter is often cited as one piece of evidence of Byron’s paternity and the other is that Medora had been named after his heroine in the The Corsair, a poem that had been published with great success in February 1814.

However, Medora  was also the name given to a very successful horse and owned by none other than the Duke of Rutland and whose spouse was the godparent to the infant Medora.

Whatever the inspiration for her name, Byron’s attitude towards the reputed daughter by the woman he ‘most loved’ remains obscure; for throughout the winter of 1815 until April 1816 and as his marriage rapidly imploded, Augusta had also been living at Piccadilly Terrace in London and it would appear that she had brought only her eldest child and the favourite niece Georgiana with her.

Presumably, little Medora at just a year old was left in the care of her nurse along with her two siblings.

And after the brother and sister had said their farewells on Easter Sunday prior to his departure from England in 1816, he penned the following note:

P.S. – I can’t bear to send you a short letter – & my heart is too full for a long one – – don’t think me unkind or ungrateful – dearest A – – & tell me how is Georgey & Do – & you & tip – &  all the tips on four legs or two – ever & again – & for ever thine

‘Do’ is yet another name for Medora and as Tip was Augusta’s dog, we can but hope that the poor creature was known only by that particular name otherwise this may offer the most reasonable explanation yet for Augusta’s seemingly chaotic home!

After Byron’s death in Greece in April 1824, it is not until Medora is twelve years old that her story really begins for in 1826 she and her mother were the only guests present at the marriage of Georgiana to her third cousin Henry Trevanion at St James’ Palace in London.

However, by the time that Medora was sixteen years old she was pregnant with Henry’s child and rather than risk disgrace, the Trevanions along with Medora left for Calais and it was here that she gave birth to a boy who was born prematurely and later removed from her care.

Although Georgiana had blamed herself for Henry’s seduction of her sister, Medora continued to live with the Trevanions and in 1831 with Medora pregnant once more by Henry, she was finally removed from her sister’s care by their father Colonel Leigh and taken to Lisson Grove in London which she later recalled:

At 12 o’clock at night we were driven I know not whither until we arrived at a house where I was given into the charge of a lady.

The windows of the room into which I was put were securely nailed and fastened down, and there were outside chains and bolts, and other fastenings to the door.
There was a show and ostentation of a prison…

Incredibly, Medora was to flee to the Continent with Henry Trevanion shortly after and while living in an old chateau in great poverty she gave birth to their daughter Marie and after Henry had been forced to return to England for money and upon his return to her some six weeks later; Medora had a change of heart:

Then I saw remains of what I had thought wholly extinguished – his passionate attachment to me. But I was no longer a child – I was twenty one; and two years’ experience had enabled me to know how to resist…

A Portrait of Elizabeth Medora Leigh circa 1843

With the onset of tuberculosis and with no means to support herself or her daughter, Medora sought the assistance of a ‘Mr C’, one Victor Carrel in order to free herself from Henry:

I asked his aid to free me from the cruelty of one whom I had never really loved, and who by his conduct every day convinced me more and more of his worthlessness.

My greatest wish was to die away from him.

Through Carrel’s intervention, Medora was able to eventually leave the worthless albeit passionate Henry Trevanion but was unable to secure from her mother the £125 a year that she believed was needed to live on; unfortunately however, Augusta’s life appears to have been one financial struggle after another as she was to write to the pompous Mr Wilmot:

I was born to be a “souffre douleurs” of that I have long been convinced and an illustration of the Fable of the Miller and his Ass!

The Leigh family had settled a Deed of £3000 on Medora’s daughter Marie as a provision and although Augusta was to send what little money she could afford to, Medora believed that her mother could do more and now sought to have the Deed reversed in her favour and enlisted the help of Lady Chicester: “begging her influence to obtain the Deed for me”

In August 1840 Annabella now made a welcome reappearance with offers of kindness and financial support and and she was also now informed of the true identity of her reputed and illustrious father.

 She implored and sought my affection by every means…. I so sincerely felt to repay my affection for any pain she must have felt for circumstances connected with my birth and her separation from Lord Byron…

They had met in Paris and after assuming the guardianship for the care of Medora and Marie; Annabella sent the following letter to Augusta:

Since last August I am to be considered responsible for the safety and comfort of your daughter Elizabeth Medora.. 

If it should become known, I am prepared in justice to Elizabeth and myself, to explain fully the reasons for my thus interesting myself in her welfare…

Could I have believed that you had a mother’s affection for her, you would not have had to ask for information concerning your child…

I would save you, if it not too late, from adding the guilt of her death to that of her birth. Leave her in peace!

One can only imagine the reaction of Augusta from this letter!

Medora was impatient for the financial independence that the Deed would provide her and although she was known as ‘Ada’s sister in all things, as I was really,’ she was becoming increasingly resentful that she was not afforded the status due to her.

In the Spring of 1842, a suit was filed at Chancery that sought to obtain the Deed from the control of Augusta and by the end of May and before the case was to be heard in Chancery, Augusta relinquished the Deed to Medora with no explanation offered.

If Medora had hoped that the hearing in Chancery would expose her mother to the scandal of her alleged paternity – she was to be bitterly disappointed and having failed in her endeavour, she now turned upon her aunt and told her that ‘I was her bitterest enemy and threatened every kind of revenge…’

Eventually, an agreement was reached which would allow Medora to live a quiet life in the South of France with an annual allowance of £150 from Annabella.

However, upon her arrival and no longer willing to accede to Annabella’s demands that she resign the care and control of her life and that of her daughter to the aunt who had warned her of the necessity that she ‘should be a devoted child to her’; she refused to live within her means, began to drink heavily and to Annabella’s distress was reportedly receiving ‘rather entertaining company‘.

Having failed all attempts at compromise, Medora now returned to England to retrieve the Deed she had left with Ada’s husband the Earl of Lovelace and as the means in which to secure the annuity Annabella had previously offered.

Having threatened  Lovelace with ‘recourse to such measure as will place me in possession of it’, Annabella now cancelled Medora’s annuity and ended all communication with her niece.

Accused of being ‘Unreasonable – most excited – most irritated – changing however from storm to sunshine at every moment… ‘ Medora had finally succeeded in alienating herself from all who could now offer her protection – including her own mother:

My Mother Since I was made to understand you could never love me, the child of your guilt, in whom you have seen but a means to satisfy your ambitions, a sacrifice to be made to those you feared, then to throw on the world, destitute, homeless and friendless….

I once more remind you I am your child….

I can only beg you by the memory of my father, the brother to whom you, & the children you love and enrich by my destitution owe all – no longer to forget and neglect what you still owe

Your child Elizabeth Medora Leigh

After finally obtaining the Deed from Lovelace, Medora managed to raise £500 and returned to France in the summer of 1844 and a year later she fell in love with a French Cavalry soldier Jean-Louis Taillefer.

The Grave of Elizabeth Medora Taillefer née Leigh (1814-1849) at Versols-et-Lapeyre in Aveyron, Southern France.

Having given birth to their son Jean-Marie Elie in January 1847, she and Taillefer married in the following year but in a typically Byronic fashion, their domestic happiness was to be short-lived with her death at the age of thirty five on August 28 in 1849 reportedly from Smallpox.

Sources used:
Augusta Leigh Byron’s Half-Sister – A Biography Michael & Melissa Bakewell (London: Pimlico 2002)
Byron’s Letters and Journals Vol 5 Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1976)
Lord Byron’s Wife Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1962)
Medora Leigh; A History and an Autobiography Charles Mackay (General Books 2009)
The Uninhibited Byron An Account of His Sexual Confusion Bernard Grebanier (London: Peter Owen 1971)

Sensible of the MANY Excellencies in Lady Melbourne!

In particular I would not have it known to Ly Melbourne. I am indebted to her kindness, but we have little sympathy, and she is perhaps too much accustomed to look for design, to understand the plainness of my intentions…

Annabella Milbanke to Lord Byron in August 1813

Elizabeth, Lady Melbourne was born into this world in 1752, the only daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke a wealthy and successful Yorkshire baronet of Halnaby Hall.

A Portrait of the Milbanke and Lamb Families by George Stubbs in 1769

Her older brother Ralph who would become Lord Byron’s father-in-law in January 1815 was known disparagingly as ‘old twaddle Ralph’ by the Duchess of Devonshire and as there was certainly no love lost between Lady Melbourne and his opinionated spouse, one suspects that the Hon. Judith Milbanke was spoken of with equal disparagement!

God bless You! my Dear. I shall only add – that from the time we married, the only unhappiness You have occasioned me, has been from seeing the Sway Lady M. has at times had over You – and that before I was able to oppose it, or had the courage to do so. She has pillaged You of tens of thousands – recollect this – and now despise her.

Judith Milbanke to Sir Ralph in February 1816

Sisters-AT-Law? Lady Melbourne with Sir Ralph and Lady Noel Milbanke…

 Educated, attractive and with a talent for ambition Lady Melbourne would soon move away from provincial Yorkshire and by 1769 had married Peniston Lamb, a wealthy, foolish and easy going lawyer and as she worked hard to advance the fortune and the prestige of her family, she would become became one of the most celebrated Society Hostesses on behalf of the Whig Party.

Melbourne House with its tasteful and expensive decor became known as London’s most liveliest and exclusive house; a place for the dazzling parties in which only the powerful and the beautiful were admitted and it was in this milieu with charm and a ruthlessness that Lady Melbourne would cultivate the friendship of the fashionable Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, the connections of the powerful Duke of Bedford and the protection of Lord Egremont.

Intrigue at Melbourne House, Now Dover House in Whitehall, London…

By 1784 Lady Melbourne was to make her most distinguished advancement by virtue of her affair with the Prince Regent and although the romance did not last long their friendship would flourish and along with the title of 1st Viscount Melbourne for her naïve spouse, it is also likely that Prinny was the sire of the Melbourne’s third son George Lamb.

Of all of Lady Melbourne’s six children, her first born Peniston Lamb in 1770 was believed to be the only natural son of Lord Melbourne with the rest of his siblings all of dubious and mysterious parentage. A view echoed by her second son William Lamb who was to describe his adored mother as a remarkable woman ‘but not chaste, not chaste.’

Chaste or not, she was undoubtedly a formidable mother to her children whom she nurtured with love while encouraging the Lamb family values of sardonic confidence and the love of a good party and when William Lamb married Lady Caroline Ponsonby who had been born into one of the most powerful Whig families and the niece of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire in June 1805, the ambitious Lady Melbourne was very happy.

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know? A Portrait of Lady Caroline Lamb…

In 1812, Lady Melbourne was to begin a friendship with Lord Byron as his affair with her daughter-in-law and his ‘delirium of two months’ was moving toward a volatile and unhappy ending.

For after visiting Lady Caroline in her first floor apartment in Melbourne House, Byron would often visit the ground floor apartment where Lady Melbourne lived and even though she was old enough to be his mother, she became in time his closest confidant and the recipient and literary voyeur of his most witty and outrageous letters.

Despite the antipathy she felt toward her brother’s wife, she actively encouraged Byron’s courtship with her niece Annabella as the means in which to destroy his love affair with Lady Caroline and she would become increasingly critical about his relationship with his half-sister Augusta Leigh; whom she suspected of having encouraging the poet in their incestuous love affair.

Vastly obedient?! You are fair, & do not try to deceive  me & in that you have great merit, I confess, – but on “other points” – XXXI wish I could flatter myself I had the least influence… for I could talk & reason with you for tow Hours, so many objections have I to urge, & after all, for what… is it worth while!

Lady Melbourne to Lord Byron in April 1814

The ‘Honorable’ Augusta Leigh?

Believing that a woman’s duty was to provide her husband with his heir and that monogamy within marriage was not the natural state and as such a woman was at liberty to have affairs, only and always with discretion but it was Lady Caroline’s blatant lack of circumspection and not the affair with either Sr. Godfrey Webster or Lord Byron which encouraged Lady Melbourne to become her severest critic.

when any one braves the opinion of the World, sooner or later they will feel the consequences of it and although at first people may have excused your forming friendships with all those who are censured for their conduct, from yr youth and inexperience yet when they see you continue to single them out and to overlook all the decencys imposed by Society – they will look upon you as belonging to the same class…

Lady Melbourne to Lady Caroline Lamb in 1810

By 1816 in the aftermath of Byron’s disastrous marriage to Annabella and subsequent exile to Europe, the Milbanke family had severed contact with the Melbournes’ and a vengeful and isolated Lady Caroline created yet more mischief with the publication of her book Glenarvon.

With the premature death of Peniston Lamb in 1805, William as the 2nd Viscount Melbourne and a political star on the rise who would eventually serve as Prime Minister to the young Queen Victoria; was now under pressure from his family to separate from his volatile spouse or to have her committed to a lunatic asylum.

A Portrait of William Lamb, the Future Lord Melbourne…

In desperation, Lady Caroline was to write to her rattled mother-in-law: ‘I am on the brink of another ruin. Half my friends cut me, all my acquaintances are offended – your protection may save – but I shall never ask for it unless freely offered’ and such support Lady Melbourne would offer until her death on Saturday April 6 1818 at the age of 66.

And as Lord Byron’s ‘Corbeau Blanc’ was laid to rest in the Lamb family vault at St Ethelreda’s Church in Hatfield, the reaction to her passing from Lady Shelley would remain as controversial as the lady herself.

The death of Lady Melbourne offers food for reflection to the most frivolous. This lady, beautiful, clever, and well read, married in the flower of her beauty a man who did not care for her in the least.

As a natural consequence she was surrounded by admirers belonging to the highest walks of life. Unfortunately, she was addicted to opium, which broke down her health and dimmed her mental faculties.

The Parish Church of St Etherelda in Hatfield…

The time is past in which I could feel for the dead – or I should feel for the death of Lady Melbourne the best & kindest & ablest female I ever knew – old or young – but “I have supped full of horrors” & events of this kind leave only a kind of numbness worse than pain – like a violent blow on the elbow or on the head – there is one link the less between England & myself…

Lord Byron to John Murray in April 1818.

‘Famous in Her Time’ A Portrait of Lady Melbourne by Richard Cosway..

Her defective education, and the scenes into which she was early thrown, without any right-minded protection, may alleviate her responsibilities. There was a time when I had every disposition to regard her as it is natural to regard so near a relation. These sentiments were soon arrested, but they always return when we become the Survivors of one whose enmity is in the grave.

Lady Byron to the Hon. Mrs George Villiers in April 1818.

Follow the link to read an entertaining post about Lady Melbourne as the Tart of the Week on the fabulous blog The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century…

Before Georgiana ruled London society as leading hostess and leader of the ton there was Lady Melbourne. Only five years older than Georgiana, she gracefully stepped down from the post and became good friends with the new duchess. Less social obligations meant more time to play!…

Sources Used:

Byron’s ‘Corbeau Blanc’ (The Life and Letters of Lady Melbourne) Jonathan David Gross (Liverpool University Press 1997)

Byron’s Letters & Journals Vol 6 1818-1819, Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1976)

Lady Caroline Lamb This Infernal Woman Susan Normington (House of Stratus 2001)

Lord Byron’s Family (Annabella, Ada and Augusta 1816-1824) Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1975)

Melbourne David Cecil (The Reprint Society 1955)

The Uninhibited Byron An Account of His Sexual Confusion Bernard Grebanier (Peter Owen 1970)

The Whole Disgraceful Truth (Selected Letters of Lady Caroline Lamb) Paul Douglass (Palgrave MacMillan 2006)