Lord Byron

Lord Byron (1788-1824) was one of the most influential Romantic poetsDuring his short lifetime, he accomplished a great deal, ultimately making a significant contribution to English Literature. 

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Table of contents

    Lord Byron: biography

    Lord Byron, a fountain pen sitting on top of a page with handwriting, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Writing poetry.

    Lord George Gordon Byron is widely considered to have been one of the major Romantic poets.

    Romantic poets, as the term suggests, wrote and published poetry during the Romantic period. As is characteristic of Romantic works, Romantic poetry lay emphasis on the individual, along with a focus on nature and the expression of profound emotion. Other Romantic poets include P. B. Shelley, William Wordsworth, and John Keats.

    Byron was raised by his mother, Catherine Gordon of Gight, in London. His father was absent, having fled to France to escape creditors. Lord Byron was born with a clubbed foot, which he was self-conscious of throughout his life.

    Byron's early education took place at Aberdeen Grammar School and Harrow School. He later attended Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took part in a number of pranks and broke the rules against pets by keeping a tame bear on a chain. He eventually graduated with a master's degree.

    He married Ann Isabella Milbanke, known as Annabella. They had one daughter, Augusta Ada, who wrote the world's first algorithm for use on a machine and is known as the first computer programmer.

    Lord Byron had an older half-sister, Augusta, from his father's first marriage. They were not raised together but became close when they met as young adults. It was widely speculated that he had an incestuous relationship with her, and private correspondence between Lord Byron and Lady Melbourne suggests that Byron may have fathered Augusta's third daughter, Elizabeth Medora Leigh.

    Whilst staying with his friends Percy Bysshe Shelly and Mary Godwin (later Shelley), Byron had an affair with Mary's step-sister Claire Godwin, which resulted in the birth of Alba. When she was fifteen months old, Lord Byron took responsibility for her and renamed her Allegra. Sadly, she died of a fever aged five.

    Byron was a figure of controversy during his lifetime due to both his scandalous private life and the political causes he championed. He had public affairs with married women and is considered by many biographers to have been bisexual.

    Byron's wife sought the assistance of the solicitor John Hanson to legally separate from him, citing grounds including cruelty, incest, and sodomy. Finding himself socially humiliated, Byron left the UK for Europe in 1816 and never returned from his self-imposed exile.

    While abroad, he championed the cause of Greek Independence from the Ottoman Empire. He donated four thousand pounds to this cause, which paid for a naval fleet. He died of a fever in 1824 at just 36 years of age, leaving behind a wealth of poetry and a lasting contribution to English literature.

    Lord Byron: Timeline

    • George Gordon was born on 22 January 1788 in London, England.

    • In 1798, at the age of ten, he inherited his great uncle's title and became Lord Byron.

    • He was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School from 1794-1798 and Harrow school from 1801-1805.

    • He attended Trinity College, Cambridge from October 1805 until July 1808. He graduated with an MA.

    • He took up his seat in the House of Lords in 1809. He spoke on three occasions to defend Luddites and support Catholic emancipation, which was a controversial stance to take.

    • He traveled around Turkey, Albania, and Greece.

    • Byron married Anne Elizabeth Milbanke on 2 January 1815

    • His legitimate daughter, Augusta Ada Byron, was born in January 1815.

    • He signed an official document of separation from his wife in 1816.

    • His illegitimate daughter with Claire Clairmount, Clara Allegra Byron, was born in January 1817.

    • He left England, never to return, in 1816.

    • He actively supported the cause of Greek independence.

    • He died of a fever in 1824 at just 36 years of age.

    Lord Byron: Poems

    Lord Byron wrote a considerable number of poems, 275 of which were published during his lifetime. Here is a very condensed list of some of his most notable works:

    • 'English Bards and Scotch Reviewers' (1809) - This satirical piece received mixed reviews, as it attacked the first generation of Romantic poets, including Wordsworth and Coleridge.

    • 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' (1812) - A widely popular narrative poem, featuring what later became known as the Byronic hero. The publication of its first two parts sold well and made Lord Byron famous.

    • 'The Corsair' (1814) - A highly popular tale in rhyming verse about a pirate.

    • 'Don Juan' (1819) - Also popular, 16 cantos of this epic narrative poem were published, but Byron died before completion. It is loosely based on his own escapades in Italy during his self-imposed exile.

    Lord Byron: Historical Context

    Romanticism was a poetic movement that created a bold contrast to the scientific inquiry and formalism of the Enlightenment Era/Age of Reason, that came before it. Enlightenment focused on scientific reason and rationality, even prizing it over emotional expression. It spanned the late 18th Century and the early 19th Century and explored such themes as emotions, the individual, the common man, the natural environment, love, and deep feelings. The Romantics looked to nature for inspiration.

    Lord Byron: biographical Context

    Both 'Don Juan' (1819) and 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' (1812) can be interpreted as semi-autobiographical works. 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' (1812) is based on his travels around Turkey, Albania and Greece. This poem was hugely successful and helped the poet pay off some of his debts from University.

    The protagonist of 'Don Juan' features many characteristics attributed to Lord Byron himself, such as engaging in love affairs around Italy. However, the sheer number of conquests of this character far outstrip even the poet's own.

    The Byronic Hero

    A Byronic Hero is an archetypal figure emerging from the works of Lord Byron. A Byronic hero is a typically passionate but flawed character. A byronic hero maintains a certain disregard for society and its conventions. Byronic heroes also exude overconfidence and their actions are often self-destructive, culminating in tragedy.

    Emotionally tortured



    Anger & susceptible to vice

    Concerned with justice

    Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights (1847).

    Heathcliff is emotionally tortured by his beloved Cathy's death and believes himself to be haunted by her ghost.

    'If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn't love as much in eighty years as I could in a day.' - Heathcliff

    He seduces Isabella and encourages her to elope with him.

    He is violent towards his pregnant wife Isabella. He hits Cathy's daughter in a rage.

    Heathcliff is driven by his desire for revenge against Hindley, who mistreated him and Edgar, who married the woman he loved.

    Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Marvel Universe.

    Tony Stark is emotionally tortured by the knowledge of the pain and suffering caused by his company's weapons in the hands of the Ten Rings.

    After years of womanizing, Tony Stark discovers true love in a passionate relationship with Pepper Potts.

    Before falling in love with Pepper Potts, Tony Stark is the epitome of a rich playboy who seduces and cruelly discards women.

    He displays bad temper, struggles to be a good team player, occasionally drinks to excess, and can be verbally cruel.

    After witnessing the misuse of the weapons his company manufactures, he refuses to continue making them anmd turns his genius energies to good use for humanity.

    Using your knowledge of Byron's life, consider how this archetype is autobiographical. Can you think of any more characters from literature or film that fit the bill of a Byronic Hero?

    An overview of 'She Walks in Beauty' (1814)

    This succinct lyrical poem is one of Byron's most famous. The theme of this poem is idealized love, with its subject presented as both physically beautiful and morally upright. This is a nod to the Elizabethan concept that a person's level of physical attractiveness reflects their inner goodness. This philosophy also holds that ugliness reflects inner evil.

    Throughout his life Byron experienced infatuations. This poem was inspired by his first encounter with Ann Wilmot at a party. As he did not know her, his remarks about her inner goodness were superficial and unfounded, just as the Elizabethan ideas about goodness and beauty being linked.

    Do you agree or disagree with the idea that the more beautiful you are the better your inner character is? How could this idea be considered harmful or problematic?

    Themes present in Lord Byron's work

    As with all the Romantic poets, Lord Bryon's work features themes that deal with sublime feelings such as forbidden love, idealized love, and thwarted love. He also explored sexual repression, marriage, and promiscuity. Nature is used as a tool to express passion and feeling.

    The sublime in literature in associated with grandeur. Sublime refers to a transcendent experience that excites one and evokes profound emotions. In Romantic poetry, sublime largely refers to a feeling which is immeasurable, i.e. cannot be rationalised.

    Lord Byron's place in the Canon of Romantic poetry

    Romantic works often look to nature as a source of inspiration and it is depicted as a powerful but unpredictable force. They celebrate strong emotions, the importance of the individual and of imagination, which Byron's works reflect.

    Byron's poetic persona led to the establishment of the archetype of the Byronic Hero. His poems celebrate a variety of forms of love, from the idealized love of 'She Walks in Beauty' (1814) to the illicit love showcased in 'Don Juan' (1819).

    Lord Byron - Key takeaways

      • Lord Byron made a staggering contribution to Romantic poetry, publishing 275 poems.

      • He inspired the Byronic Hero archetype, which is widely used today in mediums including poetry, novels, plays, and film.

      • Due to both his personal life and political convictions, he was a figure of controversy and scandal.

      • Lord Byron championed the rights of the oppressed, including Luddites, Irish Catholics, and the Greeks in their fight for independence from Ottoman rule.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Lord Byron

    Who was Lord Byron? 

    Lord Byron was a Romantic poet, politician and aristocrat who lived from 1788-1824.  

    How did Lord Byron die? 

    Lord Byron died after suffering from a fever. It is widely believed that the treatment of bloodletting was responsible for further weakening him and hastening his death. 

    What was Lord Byron famous for? 

    Lord Byron was famous for his poetry, the scandals he caused in his personal life, his political convictions and the role he played in the Greek Independence.

    Q5 How many poems did Lord Byron write?

    How many poems did Lord Byron write? 

    Lord Byron wrote 275 poems which were published during his lifetime. 

    Why is Lord Byron the best poet? 

    Lord Byron is considered by many to be the best poet.His poems were hugely successful during his life-time and are still read and studied today. They capture the expression of deep emotions and passionate feeling that characterizes Romantic Poetry.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

     What best describes a Byronic hero?

    Which of the following is not a characteristic of Romantic poetry?

    What pet did Lord Byron keep during his time at University?


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