Elizabeth Medora Leigh
Elizabeth Medora Leigh
Elizabeth Medora Leigh
|Born||15 April 1814|
|Died||28 August 1849 (aged 35)|
|Children||Marie Violette Trevanion |
|Parent(s)||George Leigh (legally)|
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (presumably)
Elizabeth Medora Leigh (15 April 1814 – 28 August 1849) was the third daughter of Augusta Leigh. It is widely speculated that she was fathered by her mother's half-brother Lord Byron, although her mother's husband Colonel George Leigh was her official father.
She was born as the middle child of seven children. Three days after her birth, Byron visited Augusta and the baby. He later wrote to a friend, Lady Melbourne: "Oh! but it is 'worth while' – I can't tell you why – and it is not an Ape and if it is – that must be my fault." There was a folk belief that a child born of incest would be an ape. The child's middle name was taken from the heroine of Byron's poem The Corsair. In the family, she was known as Elizabeth or "Libby", but she also later used the name Medora. In 1816, the scandal over his separation from his wife Annabella, rumours surrounding his relationship with Augusta, and mounting debts forced Byron to leave England. He never returned.
Augusta's husband, George, never questioned the paternity of Medora, and she grew up among her brothers and sisters unaware that she might be the first of Byron's three daughters. As a young teenager, she was seduced by her brother in law, Henry Trevanion, unhappily married to her older sister Georgiana. She had accompanied the couple when they took up residence in Canterbury in a house belonging to their aunt, Lady Byron. When neighbours reported the scandalous appearance of an apparently pregnant unwed teenager to Lady Byron, she arranged for the trio to travel to France, where the child was born and given up for adoption. Medora returned home, but the relationship continued with inevitable consequences. The three departed for Bath to stay in a house of one of Henry's relatives in an attempt to hide the second pregnancy from Medora's father, Colonel Leigh. The Colonel was eventually informed, and after travelling to Bath with an attorney removed her from the Trevanions and sent Medora to an establishment in London, to give birth in secrecy. After she miscarried, Henry arranged for her escape and in 1831 the couple eloped to France.
Marriage and France
Henry Trevanion and Medora set up in an ancient, tumble-down chateau near Morlaix in France, living under the surname Aubin; by 1833 Henry and Medora were living in Brittany, at the Breton Carhaix.
Medora became a Catholic and declared her intention of entering a convent. However, she was pregnant again; the Abbess found Medora lodgings outside the convent, where a daughter was born on 19 May 1834. She was baptised Marie Violette Trevanion on 21 May 1834.
Due to poverty and illness, the pair eventually had to beg their families for money. Henry's father, Major John Bettesworth Trevanion, sent one of Henry's uncles to Brittany to persuade Henry to return to England. Henry refused to leave. Augusta Leigh was now keeping her other daughter Georgiana's three children by Henry, but sent what money she could to Medora. However, Augusta eventually lost touch with Medora, who had become ill in Brittany after a series of miscarriages.
In 1838, Henry Trevanion and Medora Leigh parted permanently. In her 1844 autobiography, Medora later wrote of Henry that he "gave himself up to religion and shooting".
Leigh and her daughter were supported financially and emotionally for a number of years by Byron's former wife, Annabella Milbanke, and by Byron's only legitimate daughter, Ada Lovelace. Milbanke told Lovelace that Leigh was her half-sister and had been fathered by Byron.
Leigh had an affair with a French officer who abandoned her. She ultimately ended up with his servant, former sergeant Jean-Louis Taillefer with whom she went to live in south Aveyron in Versols et Lapeyre. They had a son, Elie, (1846 -1900), who later became a Roman Catholic priest in Aveyron, and married on 23 August 1848.
She died in France on 28 August 1849 from smallpox in Versols-et-Lapeyre, Aveyron, southern France, where her grave can be visited (a tombstone was erected in the 1960s). Henry died in 1855 in Brittany, France, and her daughter entered a convent in 1856 under the name "Sister St. Hilaire". Marie Violette is said to have died within the order she joined in 1873.
- Eisler, Benita (1999). Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame. p. 423.
- "Leigh, (Elizabeth) Medora (1814–1849), alleged daughter of Lord Byron | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 28 September 2006. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/45787. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
- McGann, Jerome (23 September 2004). Byron, George Gordon Noel, sixth Baron Byron (1788–1824), poet. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/4279. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
- John Stewart, Chapman (1976). Byron and the Honourable Augusta Leigh. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 227. ISBN 0300018762.
- Turney, Catherine (1975). Byron's Daughter- A biography of Elizabeth Medora Leigh (2nd ed.). Newton Abbot: Readers Union Group of Book Clubs. p. 116.