Sometime this coming year, my first Regency novel will be released. Dangerous to Know is the first in a trilogy and loosely based upon the disastrous marriage of Lord Byron to Annabella Milbanke. I thought it might be fun for the next month to discuss days leading up to their marriage and the ones that followed it. The couple was married in January of 1815, and much of Lord and Lady Byron’s marriage was dramatic and unhappy, a cautionary tale of why two such types should never marry.
(By Thomas Phillips - NPG, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=374342)
Annabella was devout in her faith and sadly deluded in the notion that she could tame Byron’s dark, agnostic, and brooding soul. Although there was a physical attraction on both sides, the unequal spiritual state of the couple was profound. Their childhood experiences were vastly different. Byron’s father was an abhorrent character who showed no real affection for his wife or his child and abandoned them when Byron was just a little boy. Byron suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his nurse, and although well-born, his mother was a foul-mouthed glutton who did nothing for Byron’s opinion of women. Annabella had grown up, sheltered, in a small coastal town. She was a deeply loved only child raised by parents who were thankful to have any offspring at all. In short, these young people's very different expectations of marriage and love were completely lost in a world where social status and financial viability were revered above the importance of compatible temperaments.
(By Creator: Charles Hayter - National Portrait Gallery, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5086529)
It should also be mentioned that Lord Byron was unnaturally attached to his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, and most scholars agree that the pair were involved in a scandalous union. This was most likely part of the reason why Byron moved slowly toward his marriage ceremony, several days’ travel north in the county of Durham.
“Never was a lover in less haste,” said his friend John Hobhouse, who traveled north with him. In fact, the Milbankes had expected Byron by Christmas, and when he finally arrived several days later on December 30th, Lady Milbanke was so distraught that she promptly took to her bed chambers. Assumedly, she thought her future son-in-law’s delay signaled that her daughter might be spared the dubious nuptials.
Annabella had so anxiously awaited her beloved’s arrival that when she saw him, she threw her arms around him and sobbed. While looking on, John Hobhouse could only conclude that Annabella was “fond” of her betrothed as she gazed “with delight upon his animated bust.”
In the next few days, one last ditch effort was made to end the engagement. Apparently at Byron’s request, Hobhouse pulled aside the clergyman set to marry them and begged that he might call it off on the grounds that the Milbanke’s didn’t really understand they were marrying their daughter to a man who harbored the potential for violence. The attempt did not work, and the clergyman said it was too late for such words. In fact, Byron had tried to wriggle out of the engagement before, but now as the day and hour approached, it would seem his apprehension grew into a near panic. When it seemed the efforts were hopeless, however, Byron apparently resigned himself.
He shared one last evening alone with his friend Hobhouse, stating the obvious in the most morose language: “This is our last night. Tomorrow I shall be Annabella’s.”
The next day would mark the beginning of Byron’s and Annabella’s marital nightmare.
To be continued…
MacCarthy, Fiona. Byron: Life and Legend. Farar, Straus and Giroux. New York: 2002