Lady Caroline Lamb
Todayâ€™s celebrities are hounded by scandal mongersâ€”the
tabloid press, the paparazzi, and now private citizens with blogs
and cell phonesâ€”all are waiting and watching to catch a famous
person in a compromising situation.
The same atmosphere prevailed in the early 19th century, except
then it was the press, political cartoonists, and gossip among the
small number of people who made up the elite of London society.
Though he was not born into society, Byron's fame as a writer
had brought him into its highest levels. Still, his background made
him subject to a fall as sudden as his ascent had been.
Lady Caroline Lamb
Being a particularly proud and vulnerable personality, he sought
love, often in totally wrong places. Three women, in particular,
contributed to his downfall. The first was Lady Caroline Lamb,
the flamboyant, giddy wife of William Lamb, heir to the Viscount
Caroline brought scandal to her long-suffering husband when she
first saw Byron. "Mad, bad and dangerous to know," was how
she characterized him. But as her infatuation quickly turned to
obsession, Byron repeatedly sought to free himself from such
embarrassing attentions as slipping into his rooms disguised as a
page and creating scenes at parties. Soon it became obvious that
she was the mad one.
Annabella Milbanke was a cousin of Caroline Lamb. Intelligent
and well-read, she particularly enjoyed mathematics. When
Byron met her at a party, he was in financial straits. A wealthy
wife could solve that problem.
They were an unlikely match. He already had a reputation for
being wild, and Annabella was religious, strict, and cold. While
other women threw themselves at him, Annabella stood aloof.
That caught his attention, and he began to pursue her.
On January 2, 1815, they married, taking up residence at
fashionable 13 Piccadilly Terrace in London, a more expensive
address than Byron could afford.
Augusta Leigh was Byron's half sister. They never met until he
went away to school at Harrow, and then they saw each other
only rarely. But they wrote regularly, and although they were
almost strangers, they got along well. She made him laugh, and
with her, he could relax and be himself.
Augusta came to stay with the young couple at Piccadilly Terrace
when Annabella was pregnant. In January of 1816, Annabella
left with their baby daughter Ada to visit her parents while Byron,
hounded by bill collectors, closed the house.
At first, Annabella wrote affectionate letters, but then she asked
for a separation, accusing Byron of incest, homosexuality and
heterosexual sodomy. Humiliated, he left England, never to return.