This is the last installment of the Lord Byron marriage saga. If you want to catch up on previous "episodes" starting with the first one, click HERE.
As happens with so many couples in the midst of a split, the games now turned to finger pointing, accusations, and dismay. Byron’s already crumbling world virtually disintegrated.
Once Annabella and the newborn, Ada, were under her parents’ roof, all masks of deception she had worn during the one-year course of her marriage came off. With judicial precision, Annabella’s parents questioned her. They would know the true nature of her marriage with a man they had come to despise. There was to be no forgiveness, no negotiations, no reconciliation.
Byron: Public Domain
Annabella’s heart was in turmoil. In the beginning, she wrote letters to Byron that suggested her love for him was still strong. She was casual and offered nothing but news from home, signing her letters, “Ever thy most loving Pippin…Pip…Pip.” (Pip was Byron’s pet name for Annabella). Even so, once her mother had caught wind of some of Byron’s behavior, all control of the situation moved out of Annabella's hands. On January 20th, Annabella’s mother, Lady Noel, set out for London determined to bring about a separation.
In the early days of this legal battle, letters circulated back and forth amongst Annabella, Byron, and Augusta, and finally between Lord Milbanke, Byron, and lawyers. Augusta was every bit as anxious as Byron to somehow stop the separation and wrote to Annabella that she please reconsider for Byron’s sake and for the sake of their child. Already rumors were flying, ones that involved Augusta as well as some involving Byron’s time in Greece several years before. "I was accused of every monstrous vice by public rumour and private rancor." Byron claimed complete innocence and bemusement at the charges leveled against him. He had no recollection of treating his wife poorly, and he roundly denounced any suggestion of incest between himself and his half-sister.
By February, it was obvious to Augusta and Byron, that they would not persuade Annabella to return to him. Byron reported that her parents had turned her against him. By now, the separation proceedings had taken on a life of their own. Lady Caroline Lamb, one of Byron’s lovers and a cousin by marriage to Annabella, heaped fuel on the fire with her revelation that years before, Byron had told her of his love for a woman who carried his child: “…there is a woman I love so passionately—she is with child by me, and if a daughter it shall be called Medora.” Medora was the name of Augusta’s daughter, but it should be mentioned that these words came through Caroline (and she was hardly a reliable witness).
The time of social worship ended for Byron during the spring of 1816. He was publicly cut. None of the old invitations came his way, and when he did appear in public, he was shunned. All public support moved to Annabella’s court.
Lady Byron: Public Domain
In the end, Lord Byron and Annabella were legally separated by divortium a mensa et thoro. Literally, this Latin phrase means separation from table and bed. This process was used in the case of cruel and violent treatment or adultery on either side. All financial ties were released from either party and remarriage was never allowed.
Byron’s reputation now ruined, he left England in the spring of that year to live abroad. He never returned to England. With his usual flair for dramatics, Byron would later write,
“I was unfit for England; if false, England was unfit for me. I withdrew; but this was not enough. In other countries—in Switzerland, in the shadow of the Alps, and by the blue depths of the lakes—I was pursued and breathed upon by the same blight. I crossed the mountains, but it was the same; so I went a little farther, and settled myself by the waves of the Adriatic, like a stag at bay, who betakes him to the waters.”
“I felt a responsibility for him as well as myself, and when my own interpretation of the natural law was clouded by my feelings, I referred to the Revealed will—in this sense, J[esus] Christ may indeed be said to have been my Saviour—I found in his precepts that ‘immutable morality’ which the reason of man is often incapable of discerning.”
Faith had always been Annabella’s cornerstone as much as self-damnation had been Byron’s. The inequality of their moral and spiritual philosophies may well have been the defeat of their marriage, as it has been for many others since.
Thanks for reading this exploration of the year of marriage between Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke.
My first Regency novel, Dangerous to Know, a story inspired by their marriage, is slated to be released sometime this fall through Elk Lake Publishing.
Crane, David. The Kindness of Sisters: Annabella Milbanke and the Destruction of the Byrons. Alfred A. Knopf, New York: 2002.