LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Lord Byron
Chapter I

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Ancient descent.—Pedigree.—Birth.—Troubles of his mother—Early education.—Accession to the title.

The English branch of the family of key="LdByron"Byron came in with William the Conqueror; and from that era they have continued to be reckoned among the eminent families of the kingdom, under the names of Buron and Biron. It was not until the reign of Henry II. that they began to call themselves Byron, or de Byron.

Although for upwards of seven hundred years distinguished for the extent of their possessions, it does not appear, that before the time of Charles I., they ranked very highly among the heroic families of the kingdom.

Erneis and Ralph were the companions of the Conqueror; but antiquaries and genealogists have not determined in what relation they stood to each other. Erneis, who appears to have been the more considerable personage of the two, held numerous manors in the counties of York and Lincoln. In the Domesday Book, Ralph, the direct ancestor of the poet, ranks high among the tenants of the Crown, in Notts and Derbyshire; in the latter county he resided at Horestan Castle, from which he took his title. One of the lords of Horestan was a hostage for the payment of the ransom of Richard Cœur de Lion; and in the time of Edward I., the possessions of his descendants were augmented by the addition of the Manor of Rochdale, in Lancashire. On what account
this new grant was given has not been ascertained; nor is it of importance that it should be.

In the wars of the three Edwards, the de Byrons appeared with some distinction; and they were also of note in the time of Henry V. Sir John Byron joined Henry VII. on his landing at Milford, and fought gallantly at the battle of Bosworth, against Richard III., for which he was afterwards appointed Constable of Nottingham Castle and Warden of Sherwood Forest. At his death, in 1488, he was succeeded by Sir Nicholas, his brother, who, at the marriage of Arthur, Prince of Wales, in 1501, was made one of the Knights of the Bath.

Sir Nicholas died in 1540, leaving an only son, Sir John Byron, whom Henry VIII. made Steward of Manchester and Rochdale, and Lieutenant of the Forest of Sherwood. It was to him that, on the dissolution of the monasteries, the church and priory of Newstead, in the county of Nottingham, together with the manor and rectory of Papelwick, were granted. The abbey from that period became the family seat, and continued so until it was sold by the poet.

Sir John Byron left Newstead, and his other possessions, to John Byron, whom Collins and other writers have called his fourth, but who was in fact his illegitimate son. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1579, and his eldest son, Sir Nicholas, served with distinction in the wars of the Netherlands. When the great rebellion broke out against Charles I., he was one of the earliest who armed in his defence. After the battle of Edgehill, where he courageously distinguished himself, he was made Governor of Chester, and gallantly defended that city against the Parliamentary army. Sir John Byron, the brother and heir of Sir Nicholas, was, at the coronation of James I., made a Knight of the Bath. By his marriage with Anne, the eldest daughter of Sir Richard Molyneux, he had eleven sons and a daughter. The
eldest served under his uncle in the Netherlands; and in the year 1641 was appointed by King Charles I., Governor of the Tower of London. In this situation he became obnoxious to the refractory spirits in the Parliament, and was in consequence ordered by the Commons to answer at the bar of their House certain charges which the sectaries alleged against him. But he refused to leave his post without the king’s command; and, upon this, the Commons applied to the Lords to join them in a petition to the king to remove him. The Peers rejected the proposition.

On the 24th October, 1643, Sir John Byron was created Lord Byron of Rochdale, in the county of Lancaster, with remainder of the title to his brothers, and their male issue, respectively. He was also made Field-marshal-general of all his Majesty’s forces in Worcestershire, Cheshire, Shropshire and North Wales: nor were these trusts and honours unwon, for the Byrons, during the civil war, were eminently distinguished. At the battle of Newbury, seven of the brothers were in the field, and all actively engaged.

Sir Richard, the second brother of the first lord, was knighted by Charles I. for his conduct at the battle of Edgehill, and appointed Governor of Appleby Castle, in Westmorland, and afterwards of Newark, which he defended with great honour. Sir Richard, on the death of his brother, in 1652, succeeded to the peerage, and died in 1679.

His eldest son, William, the third lord, married Elizabeth, the daughter of Viscount Chaworth, of Ireland, by whom he had five sons, four of whom died young. William, the fourth lord, his son, was Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Prince George of Denmark, and married, for his first wife, a daughter of the Earl of Bridgewater, who died eleven weeks after their nuptials. His second wife was the daughter of the Earl of Portland, by whom he had three sons, who all died before their father. His third wife was Frances,
daughter of Lord Berkley, of Stratton, from whom the Poet was descended. Her eldest son,
William, born in 1722, succeeded to the family honours on the death of his father in 1736. He entered the naval service, and became a lieutenant under Admiral Balchen. In the year 1763 he was made Master of the Staghounds; and in 1765, he was sent to the Tower, and tried before the House of Peers, for killing his relation and neighbour, Mr. Chaworth, in a duel fought at the Star and Garter Tavern, in Pall-mall.

This Lord William was naturally boisterous and vindictive. It appeared in evidence that he insisted on fighting with Mr. Chaworth in the room where the quarrel commenced. They accordingly fought without seconds by the dim light of a single candle; and, although Mr. Chaworth was the more skilful swordsman of the two, he received a mortal wound; but he lived long enough to disclose some particulars of the rencounter, which induced the coroner’s jury to return a verdict of wilful murder, and Lord Byron was tried for the crime.

The trial took place in Westminster Hall, and the public curiosity was so great that the Peers’ tickets of admission were publicly sold for six guineas each. It lasted two days, and at the conclusion he was unanimously pronounced guilty of manslaughter. On being brought up for judgment he pleaded his privilege and was discharged. It was to this lord that the Poet succeeded, for he died without leaving issue.

His brother, the grandfather of the Poet, was the celebrated “Hardy Byron;” or, as the sailors called him, “Foulweather Jack,” whose adventures and services are too well known to require any notice here. He married the daughter of John Trevannion, Esq., of Carhais, in the county of Cornwall, by whom he had two sons and three daughters. John, the eldest, and the father of the Poet, was born in 1751, educated at Westminster School, and afterwards placed in the Guards, where his conduct became so irregular
and profligate that his father, the admiral, though a good-natured man, discarded him long before his death. In 1778 he acquired extraordinary éclat by the seduction of the
Marchioness of Carmarthen, under circumstances which have few parallels in the licentiousness of fashionable life. The meanness with which he obliged his wretched victim to supply him with money would have been disgraceful to the basest adulteries of the cellar or garret. A divorce ensued, the guilty parties married; but, within two years after, such was the brutal and vicious conduct of Captain Byron, that the ill-fated lady died literally of a broken heart, after having given birth to two daughters, one of whom still survives.

Captain Byron then married Miss Catharine Gordon, of Gight, a lady of honourable descent, and of a respectable fortune for a Scottish heiress, the only motive which this Don Juan had for forming the connection. She was the mother of the Poet.

Although the Byrons have for so many ages been among the eminent families of the realm, they have no claim to the distinction which the poet has set up for them as warriors in Palestine, even though he says—
Near Ascalon’s tow’rs John of Horestan slumbers;
for unless this refers to the Lord of Horestan, who was one of the hostages for the ransom of
Richard I., it will not be easy to determine to whom he alludes; and it is possible that the poet has no other authority for this legend than the tradition which he found connected with two groups of heads on the old panels of Newstead. Yet the account of them is vague and conjectural, for it was not until ages after the crusades, that the abbey came into the possession of the family: and it is not probable that the figures referred to any transactions in Palestine, in which the Byrons were engaged, if they were put up by the Byrons at all. They were, probably, placed in their
present situation while the building was in possession of the churchmen.

One of the groups, consisting of a female and two Saracens, with eyes earnestly fixed upon her, may have been the old favourite ecclesiastical story of Susannah and the elders; the other, which represents a Saracen with a European female between him and a Christian soldier, is, perhaps, an ecclesiastical allegory, descriptive of the Saracen and the Christian warrior contending for the liberation of the church. These sort of allegorical stories were common among monastic ornaments, and the famous legend of St. George and the Dragon is one of them*.

Into the domestic circumstances of Captain and Mrs. Byron it would be impertinent to institute any particular investigation. They were exactly such as might be expected from the sins and follies of the most profligate libertine of the age.

The fortune of Mrs. Byron, consisting of various property, and amounting to about 23,500l, was all wasted in the space of two years; at the end of which the unfortunate lady found herself in possession of only 150l. per annum.

Their means being thus exhausted, she accompa-

*Gibbon says that St. George was no other than the Bishop of Cappadocia, a personage of very unecclesiastical habits, and expresses some degree of surprise that such a person should ever have been sanctified in the calendar. But the whole story of this deliverer of the Princess of Egypt is an allegory of the sufferings of the church, which is typified as the daughter of Egypt, driven into the wilderness, and exposed to destruction by the dragon, the ancient emblem over all the east, of imperial power. The Bishop of Cappadocia manfully withstood the attempts of the Emperor, and ultimately succeeded in procuring an imperial recognition of the church in Egypt. We have adverted to this merely to show the devices in which the legends of the church were sometimes imbodied; and the illuminated missals—even the mass-books, in the early stages of printing, abundantly prove and illustrate the opinions expressed.
nied her husband in the summer of 1786 to France, whence she returned to England at the close of the year 1787, and on the 22d of January, 1788, gave birth, in Holles-street, London, to her first and only child, the Poet. The name of Gordon was added to that of his family in compliance with a condition imposed by will on whomever should become the husband of the heiress of Gight. The late
Duke of Gordon and Colonel Duff, of Fetteresso, were godfathers to the child.

In the year 1790 Mrs. Byron took up her residence in Aberdeen, where she was soon after joined by Captain Byron, with whom she lived in lodgings in Queen Street; but their reunion was comfortless, and a separation soon took place. Still their rupture was not final, for they occasionally visited and drank tea with each other. The Captain also paid some attention to the boy, and had him, on one occasion, to stay with him for a night, when he proved so troublesome that he was sent home next day.

Byron himself has said, that he passed his boyhood at Marlodge, near Aberdeen; but the statement is not correct; he visited, with his mother, occasionally among their friends, and among other places passed some time at Fetteresso, the seat of his godfather, Colonel Duff. In 1796, after an attack of the scarlet fever, he passed some time at Ballater, a summer resort for health and gaiety, about forty miles up the Dee from Aberdeen. Although the circumstances of Mrs. Byron were at this period exceedingly straitened, she received a visit from her husband, the object of which was to extort more money; and he was so far successful, that she contrived to borrow a sum, which enabled him to proceed to Valenciennes, where in the following year he died, greatly to her relief and the gratification of all who were connected with him.

By her advances to Captain Byron, and the expenses she incurred in furnishing the flat of the house she
occupied after his death,
Mrs Byron fell into debt to the amount of 300l., the interest on which reduced her income to 135l.; but, much to her credit, she contrived to live without increasing her embarrassments until the death of her grandmother, when she received 1122l., a sum which had been set apart for the old gentlewoman’s jointure, and which enabled her to discharge her pecuniary obligations.

Notwithstanding the manner in which this unfortunate lady was treated by her husband, she always entertained for him a strong affection; insomuch that, when the intelligence of his death arrived, her grief was loud and vehement. She was indeed a woman of quick feelings and strong passions; and probably it was by the strength and sincerity of her sensibility that she retained so long the affection of her son, towards whom it cannot be doubted that her love was unaffected. In the midst of the neglect and penury to which she was herself subjected, she bestowed upon him all the care, the love and watchfulness of the tenderest mother.

In his fifth year, on the 19th of November, 1792, she sent him to a day-school, where she paid about five shillings a quarter, the common rate of the respectable day-schools at that time in Scotland. It was kept by a Mr. Bowers, whom Byron has described as a dapper, spruce person, with whom he made no progress. How long he remained with Mr. Bowers is not mentioned, but by the day-book of the school it was at least twelve months; for on the 19th of November of the following year there is an entry of a guinea having been paid for him.

From this school he was removed and placed with a Mr. Ross, one of the ministers of the city churches, and to whom he formed some attachment, as he speaks of him with kindness, and describes him as a devout, clever little man of mild manners, good-natured, and pains-taking. His third instructor was a serious, saturnine, kind young man, named Paterson, the son of
a shoemaker, but a good scholar and a rigid Presbyterian. It is somewhat curious in the record which
Byron has made of his early years to observe the constant endeavour with which he, the descendant of such a limitless pedigree and great ancestors, attempts to magnify the condition of his mother’s circumstances.

Paterson attended him until he went to the grammar-school, where his character first began to be developed; and his schoolfellows, many of whom are alive, still recollect him as a lively, warm-hearted, and high-spirited boy, passionate and resentful, but withal affectionate and companionable; this, however, is an opinion given of him after he had become celebrated; for a very different impression has unquestionably remained among some who carry their recollections back to his childhood. By them he has been described as a malignant imp: was often spoken of for his pranks by the worthy housewives of the neighbourhood, as “Mrs. Byron’s crockit deevil,” and generally disliked for the deep vindictive anger he retained against those with whom he happened to quarrel.

By the death of William, the fifth lord, he succeeded to the estates and titles in the year 1798; and in the autumn of that year, Mrs. Byron, with her son and a faithful servant of the name of Mary Gray, left Aberdeen for Newstead. Previously to their departure, Mrs. Byron sold the furniture of her humble lodging, with the exception of her little plate and scanty linen, which she took with her, and the whole amount of the sale did not yield Seventy-five Pounds.