Lady Byron

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Anne Isabella Noel Byron
Annabella Byron (1792-1860).jpg
Anne Isabella Milbanke in 1812 by Charles Hayter
Born
Anne Isabella Milbanke

(1792-05-17)17 May 1792
Died16 May 1860(1860-05-16) (aged 67)
Resting placeKensal Green Cemetery
TitleBaroness Wentworth
Spouse(s)
George Byron, Baron Byron
(m. 1815; separated 1816)
ChildrenAda, Countess of Lovelace
Parent(s)Sir Ralph Milbanke, 6th Bt.
Hon. Judith Noel

Anne Isabella Noel Byron, 11th Baroness Wentworth and Baroness Byron (née Milbanke; 17 May 1792 – 16 May 1860), nicknamed Annabella and commonly known as Lady Byron, was the wife of poet George Gordon Byron, more commonly known as Lord Byron.

A highly educated and strictly religious woman, she seemed an unlikely match for the amoral and agnostic poet, and their marriage soon ended in acrimony. Lady Byron’s reminiscences, published after her death by Harriet Beecher Stowe, revealed her fears about an alleged incest Lord Byron had with his half-sister. The scandal about Lady Byron's suspicions accelerated Byron's intentions to leave England and return to the Mediterranean where he had lived in 1810.

Their daughter Ada worked as a mathematician with Charles Babbage, the pioneer of computer science. Lady Byron had felt that an education in mathematics and logic would counteract any possible inherited tendency towards Lord Byron's insanity and romantic excess.

Name[edit]

Her names were unusually complex. She was born Anne Isabella Milbanke, the only child of Sir Ralph Milbanke, 6th Baronet, and his wife the Hon. Judith Noel, sister of Thomas Noel, Viscount Wentworth.[1] When Lord Wentworth died, a few months after her marriage to Lord Byron, Lady Milbanke and her cousin Lord Scarsdale jointly inherited his estate. The family subsequently took the surname Noel over Milbanke.

Lord Wentworth had been both a viscount and a baron. Upon his death the viscountcy became extinct, and the barony fell into abeyance between Lady Milbanke and Lord Scarsdale. After their deaths, the barony passed to Lady Byron, and she became Baroness Wentworth in her own right; however, she did not use the title. She signed her letters "A. I. Noel Byron" and her will as "Baroness Noel-Byron". The world knew her as "Lady Byron", and her friends and family called her by her nickname "Annabella".

Youth[edit]

She was a gifted child. To cultivate her obvious intelligence, her parents hired as her tutor a former Cambridge University professor by the name of William Frend. Under his direction, her education proceeded much like that of a Cambridge student; her studies involved classical literature, philosophy, science and mathematics, in which she particularly delighted. This fascination led her husband to nickname her his "princess of parallelograms".

Annabella developed into a stiff, religious woman with strict morals. She was aware of her strong intellect and was not ashamed to demonstrate it in her social realm. Often described as cold and prim, she seemed an unlikely match for the man who would become her ultimate obsession, the dramatically dark and "morally fractured" poet Lord Byron. Their first meeting occurred in March 1812. She later said to her mother that though she would not venture to introduce herself to Lord Byron, she would certainly accept his introduction if it were offered.

Byron's popularity was soaring following the success of his work Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Annabella met him on many social occasions as he began a relationship with Caroline Lamb, the wife of her cousin, William Lamb. However, Byron was attracted to her modesty and intellect and in October 1812 he proposed marriage through her aunt, Lady Melbourne. In response, she wrote a summary of his character and three days later refused him. However, they were plagued with a persistent interest in each other.

Although well aware of Byron's shortcomings, telling her mother "“He is a very bad, very good man," she decided it was her religious obligation to support him and improve his behaviour.[2] In August 1813, she contacted him in writing for the first time. The letters continued into the next year, some offering reassurance and support during times when public opinion of him was not favorable, others describing the "imperfect attachment" she felt for him. During this time, he accepted an invitation from Sir Ralph Milbanke to visit Seaham Hall, the family home in County Durham.

Marriage[edit]

When Byron proposed a second time, in September 1814, she accepted. The couple were married privately, and by special licence, at Seaham Hall in County Durham on 2 January 1815 (the officiating clergyman was her illegitimate cousin, the Rev. Thomas Noel of Kirkby Mallory, natural son of her uncle, Viscount Wentworth). The couple lived at Piccadilly Terrace in London.

Byron was then in extreme financial distress. He rejected payments offered for his written works, as he believed business was not appropriate for a gentleman and gifted copyrights to people who had helped him. He was having difficulty selling his estates at Newstead Abbey and Rochdale to clear his debt. During the summer of 1815, he began to unleash his anger and hostility on his wife. His moods were dark and he began to drink heavily. In a letter to his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, he stated his suspicions that his wife had broken the lock on his desk and searched it. Later in the year he began an affair with Susan Boyce, a London actress at Drury Lane Theatre where he was a director.

Annabella became increasingly upset. In the late stages of pregnancy, she feared her husband might be going mad. In November 1815, she wrote to Mrs Leigh and told her of Byron's moods and behaviour. In answer to her sister-in-law's letter, Mrs Leigh traveled to the Byrons' home to assist. Upon her arrival, she became the subject of Byron's wrath and believed him to be temporarily insane. On 10 December, Annabella gave birth to the couple's only child, a daughter whom they named Ada. Byron's despair seemed to increase.

Separation[edit]

In January 1816, as the Byrons passed their first anniversary, Byron decided they must move from the rented house at Piccadilly Terrace. He recommended that Annabella take their daughter to her parents' home and stay there temporarily until he settled their finances. In disbelief, Anne sought medical advice, as she had become convinced her husband had gone mad. She invited a physician to their home to assess him; he was unaware of the true purpose for the visit. The doctor recommended she do as Byron requested and move to her parents' estate.

Annabella began a detailed documentation of her husband's behaviour, moods, and speech. She contacted his solicitor and friend, John Hanson, and told him her concerns that her husband would take his life. She also provided Hanson with a pamphlet on hydrocephalus, accompanied by notes that suggested Byron could be suffering from this particular affliction. Following this conversation, she took Ada and travelled to her parents' residence at Kirkby Mallory in Leicestershire. She would not see her husband again.

Later life[edit]

During her first month away from him, Annabella wrote to Byron affectionately, addressing him as "dearest Duck". Her mother wrote to him and invited him to come to their home. However, her concern about him soon became paramount, and her parents sought legal counsel. Their attorney recommended a legal separation and sent Byron a letter proposing the separation. Augusta Leigh, who had remained with Byron at Piccadilly Terrace since his wife's departure, intercepted the letter, as she feared he would commit suicide if he knew of it. She returned the letter to Kirkby Mallory and communicated her opinion that greater consideration should be taken in the matter of the Byrons' marriage. A week later, however, a messenger sent Lord Byron the proposal again.

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Lady Byron is to the far right of this painting of the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention. Move your cursor to identify her or click the icon to enlarge

This time it reached him, but he refused to believe that she no longer wanted to be married to him. He asked Mrs Leigh to write to her; in addition, he refused to dissolve their marriage. A short while later, when Lady Byron made clear her suspicions that his relationship with his half-sister Augusta Leigh was incestuous (which was not then illegal) and that he had had homosexual relationships and had sodomised her - Lady Byron - which acts were illegal, he changed his mind.[3] He agreed to grant her request if she proved that the request for legal separation was truly hers and not that of her parents. In response, she personally communicated her feelings to Mrs Leigh. Byron kept his word, and their separation was made legal in March 1816, in a private settlement.

Following the settlement, Augusta wrote to Annabella; the latter's solicitor replied to the private note. Byron was enraged by such cold treatment of his half-sister. Soon after the dissolution of his marriage, he left England and lived the remainder of his days abroad.

Though she wished to separate from her husband, Annabella was obsessed by him until her death. She was motivated to save his soul and secure him a place in Heaven. In the years following their separation, she came to believe that the time she had spent with him guaranteed he would experience God's embrace upon his death. She kept his letters, copies of her own to him, and letters about him. She carefully documented their relationship, supposedly in preparation for any challenge Lord Byron might make for custody of their daughter.

He never did seek custody of Ada, though he sent for both of them shortly before his death in Greece on 19 April 1824. Lady Byron's obsession with him did not end with his death. Ultimately her relationship with him defined her life, though she committed herself to social causes, such as prison reform and the abolition of slavery. In furtherance of the latter, Lady Byron attended the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention, where she was one of the few women included in its commemorative painting.[4][5]

Daughter[edit]

As her daughter grew up, Lady Byron feared she might inherit her father's behaviours and dark moods. She schooled Ada in science and mathematics and discouraged literary study. Though her effort was great, it eventually seemed in vain: Ada Lovelace embodied many of her father's rebellious qualities. She is also considered to have been the world's first computer programmer, having written the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine—Charles Babbage's analytical engine.

Ada married at nineteen years of age, had three children, and amassed considerable gambling debts before dying from cancer on 27 November 1852. Lady Byron attended her daughter's deathbed and, under her influence, Ada underwent a religious conversion. Ada was 36 years old when she died, the same age as Byron when he died.

Death[edit]

Anne is listed as Lady Noel Byron on the Reformers Monument, Kensal Green Cemetery

Lady Byron died of breast cancer on 16 May 1860, the day before her 68th birthday. She was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery at Kensal Green in London. Prior to her death, she shared the story of her marriage to Byron with Harriet Beecher Stowe, who encouraged her to remain silent.[2] In 1869, some years later, Stowe published the account given to her, the first time anyone had publicly hinted at an incestuous relationship between Byron and his half-sister. Stowe was criticized for writing a supposedly "indecent" article and lost popularity.[2] Initially biographers criticized Lady Byron as "small-minded;" more recent works have provided a fuller picture of her accomplishments.[2]

Lady Byron's barony passed to her grandson Byron King-Noel, Viscount Ockham.

In her will she left a £300 legacy to the writer George MacDonald, whom she had patronized during her life.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Joan Pierson, 'Noel, Anne Isabella, suo jure Baroness Wentworth, and Lady Byron (1792–1860)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 accessed 11 Aug 2011
  2. ^ a b c d Gordon, Charlotte (7 November 2015). "She Walked in Beaut". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  3. ^ Bakewell, Michael; Bakewell, Melissa (2002). Augusta Leigh: Byron's Half Sister - A Biography. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 9780712665605.
  4. ^ The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840, Benjamin Robert Haydon, accessed 19 July 2008
  5. ^ The others were Elizabeth Pease, Amelia Opie, Anne Knight, Mary Anne Rawson, Mrs John Beaumont, Elizabeth Tredgold, Thomas Clarkson's daughter Mary and right at the back Lucretia Mott.
  6. ^ MacDonald, Greville (1924). George MacDonald and his Wife. New York: The Dial Press. p. 313.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Lodge, Edmund, Norroy King of Arms, The Peerage of the British Empire, London, 1858, p. 588, under 'Anne Isabella Noel-Byon, Baroness Wentworth of Nettlested.'

External links[edit]

Peerage of England
Vacant
Abeyant in 1815
Title last held by
Thomas Noel
Baroness Wentworth
1856–1860
Succeeded by
Byron King-Noel