Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lord Byron's Marriage: The First Week

This month I'm blogging about Lord Byron's marriage to Annabella Milbanke. They were married January 2, 1815--opposite types brought together by status and Society and doomed from the start. Annabella was devout in her faith and sheltered from the world for most of her life; Byron was worldly-wise--so much so that he considered himself cursed.

The morning after their wedding, Annabella awoke with what she described as "perhaps the deadliest chill that ever fell on my heart." Even now, no doubt, she wondered if she had made a terrible mistake. He had, after all, spent the majority of their wedding day telling her she should have married someone else. The second day was no different.

"It's too late now ... it's s done ... it cannot be undone." Byron repeatedly chanted these lines over the first weeks of their marriage. "I am a villain--I could convince you of it in three words." These words were coupled by his insistence that his family on both sides (the Gordons and the Byrons) were defiled by insanity and suicides. He punctuated this insistence a few weeks later by spurring on an argument regarding some material Annabella had read, grabbing a dagger that was left on display, and rushing into his bedroom where he locked himself in.

In fact, the material that caused such a ruckus was John Dryden's eighteenth century play, Don Sebastien. The story features an incestuous relationship between a brother and a sister who do not realize they are related. Byron had already planted seeds of doubt regarding his relationship with his half-sister, Augusta. He had read some of Augusta's letters aloud to Annabella, making sure she heard his half-sister's lines of endearment for him such as, "Dearest, first and best of human beings." He had also made it clear that no one loved, understood, or entertained him as well as Augusta.

Desperate for help, Annabella wrote to Augusta on the fourth of January and asked her to join them on their honeymoon. It seems illogical, to invite the very person of whom she was suspicious, but one might imagine that at this time, she was only beginning to connect the dots. Most likely Annabella had more questions than anything, and in fact, within that first letter, she sent a list of them to Augusta. One of the questions was whether or not Augusta would be her friend--perhaps her "only friend."

Augusta sent a response that she could not come away from her young family at home (she and her husband had many children), but that she would be Augusta's "only friend." Augusta's letters were lighthearted, somewhat childish in tone, but she also included advice as to how her brother might be governed. Augusta suggested Byron was best managed when his black moods were ignored. Annabella should make light of them; instead, she should tease him or jokingly admonish his bad behavior.

This may have been the best way to deal with Byron, but joking and teasing was not really within Annabella's wheelhouse. It would have been impossible for her to muster such good nature during the nights when Byron locked himself in his room with loaded pistols. Later, he would explain his behavior away. He'd been depressed over their money situation, and anyway, he'd caught a cold the day of their wedding. I

t would take about a week for Byron to settle into his new situation and accept that this was his life now ... with Annabella. On January 7, it would appear that his black mood had lifted and he acted as though nothing had happened or was amiss.

Annabella was only too relieved that money and illness were the only causes of his violent tantrums and tirades. Now they could carry on happily, couldn't they?

Next Week: Annabella and Augusta Meet

Eisler, Benita. Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York: 1999.


  1. It is such a sad story to read. I can't imagine being involved in a marriage like that!


    1. I can't either, Betty. Although, I've dated a few doozies in my time. :)

  2. He reminds me of my ex-husband.


    1. Oh no! I hate to think of anyone having to endure this.

    2. X is mentally ill. Being sick is something he can't help, but stopping his medication was the last straw. He didn't have to do that.

    3. Ugh. That is awful. I'm so sorry you had to endure that, Janie.