Most young women dream about their wedding day. It’s not always a perfect day (in fact, rarely so), but it’s usually one of the most exciting in a woman’s life.
("Bridal dress'"Ackermann's Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashion and Politics, June 1816.)
Annabella Milbanke had been waiting several months for her wedding day with Lord George Gordon Byron. He had delayed his journey to her parent’s home several times, but two months later than she’d anticipated, in January of 1815, the event finally took place.
(portrait of Lord Byron by Richard Westall)
Byron had viewed Annabella’s silence as prudishness and told his lawyer, John Hanson, that he “never liked prudes,” but he quickly added that he found Annabella “clever,” and the fact she knew Greek and Latin was a bonus. Sadly, Byron was not in love with Annabella. She had been a willing participant in an arrangement of necessary arrangement—marriage—in order to satisfy Society and stave off anymore crazy antics of his stalker, Lady Caroline Lamb.
The wedding took place January 2, 1815, in the drawing room of the Milbanke’s home in Seaham. There were only a few people present besides the couple and the minister: Annabella’s parents, Byron’s best friend John Hobhouse, and Annabella’s former governess, Mrs. Clermont. Annabella took time with her vows, pronouncing them with great care and staring adoringly at Byron as she spoke them. Byron stumbled over his, but took a moment to cast a frown in Hobhouse’s direction when he came to the vow that required him to say, “With all my worldly goods I thee endow.” Byron was deeply in debt by that time and counted on Annabella’s worldy goods to help with his creditors.
After the ceremony had ended, the couple had signed the registry, and congratulations had circulated, the scene turned somber. Annabella emerged teary-eyed in her going-away attire. She would be leaving her parents for good to live in London. Byron’s countenance must have been dire, for Hobhouse later noted that he felt as though he had “buried a friend.”
As Annabella was handed into the carriage, Hobhouse wished her great joy in her marriage. “If I am not happy it will be my own fault.” Her words suggested a hopefulness that her marriage would be a success and an understanding that it was she who had wanted this marriage to happen, regardless of her own misgivings, her family’s warnings, and Byron’s waffling right up to the hour of the event. Annabella was in love with him and still under the delusion that he loved her too.
As the carriage pulled away, Seaham’s church bells rang and six men fired muskets to celebrate their marriage. Byron clutched his friend’s hand so tightly through the open carriage window that Hobhouse finally had to pull away.
According to letters Annabella later penned, their harmony in marriage lasted approximately five minutes. In fact, it did not extend beyond their journey through Annabella’s hometown of Seaham.
Next time: The honeymoon
Source: MacCarthy, Fiona. Byron: Life and Legend. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York: 2002.