Thursday, February 16, 2017

Lord Byron's Marriage: Rage or Insanity?

Throughout January and February, I've been writing about Lord Byron's marriage to Annabella Milbanke. This is the next-to-the-last installment.

In October or November of 1815, just a few weeks before Annabella gave birth to their child, Byron took a lover. Her name was Susan Boyce, a hot-headed actress from Drury Lane Theatre, more noted for the girl-fights she started rather than any roles she played. By this point, Byron was severely depressed and drinking night and day. In fact, Susan Boyce enjoyed much of the same behavior that Byron had bestowed upon his wife. She would wait up for him, only to find that he didn't show, with no apology or excuse. He soon tired of her and got rid of her altogether when she asked him for money. She was inconsequential to Byron's life but served as a tool of torment for Annabella.

Whether or not some of the things he told her were true, Annabella believed them. Byron told her that he gave Susan Boyce jewelry, expensive gifts of his affection. When he arrived home late, he told his wife that he'd just come from his mistress's bed. Annabella was not allowed to sit in Byron's box seats at the theatre, lest he desire to attend with Susan. Finally, he encouraged her to relay all of the sordid details of his affair to his half-sister, Augusta--undoubtedly, the real target for his cruel arrows of psychological torture.

Even in light of all Byron's ridiculous behavior outside of his home, it was inside the walls of 13 Piccadilly Terrace where the most bizarre goings-on took place. Despite all that had previously transpired between the trio, as Annabella's confinement approached, she requested Augusta's presence. Annabella could not ask her mother to come. If Lady Noel were to see her son-in-law's behavior toward her daughter and soon-to-be grandchild, it would have killed her.

Augusta arrived to find Byron in a drunken rage, the servants hiding in fright, and Annabella barricaded in her room. Byron suggested that both Annabella and the baby should die during childbirth--it would be better for them all. Then he took to firing off his pistols...inside the house...just below Annabella's rooms. He also smashed furniture and anything glass (he was notably fond of removing the necks of brandy decanters with a poker stick). Augusta realized very quickly that this was far more than she could handle on her own. She summoned other relatives to come and help get him under control.

Both Augusta and Annabella questioned Byron's sanity. When Augusta confronted him regarding his tantrums, Byron responded, "I am determined to fling Misery around me & upon all those with whom I concerned." Byron went on to tell several of his friends that he must separate from Annabella--she and the child must go and live with her parents--else he might divorce her or worse.

Annabella's labor began on December 9th and with it, Byron's mind games. According to Annabella's maid, Byron locked himself in her rooms and attempted to rape her. The maid came in during the physical struggle and intervened. When a friend of the family suggested Annabella leave the house to have the baby, Byron heard of the plan, and immediately confronted his wife, violently demanding whether or not she would continue to live with him. Ultimately, Annabella decided to stay and Byron spent the evening at the theatre.

Annabella's daughter, Augusta Ada, was born December 10th at one o'clock in the afternoon. She was named after her godmother and a family member on her father's side. During her life she would be called Ada, and she would go on to become a mathematician who would help Charles Babbage create the analytical engine (one of the first computers). When Byron first saw his daughter, he immediately checked her feet to make sure they did not share his deformity, and then he allegedly pronounced, "Oh! What an implement of torture I have acquired in you!" 

(Ada Byron, aged 4. Public Domain)

Later, Byron would deny all of these accusations. Whether it truly was a season of madness or just the rage of losing control over his life, it is hard to say. Annabella requested that he be examined by a doctor for signs of insanity, but she didn't stick around to find out the verdict. After a violent exchange with her husband on January 3rd, Annabella made plans to leave London...and Byron.

Next Week: The Bitter End

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


  1. I am hopeful she leaves him. Just such bizarre behavior of his.