George Gordon Noel Byron, the sixth Baron Byron, was born January 22, 1788 in London. Byron was among the most famous of the English Romantic poets, along with Percy Shelley and John Keats, whose satiric poetry and personality was known throughout Europe. His major works include Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and Don Juan.
Born with a clubfoot, George was taken by his mother to Aberdeen, Scotland, where they lived in meager lodgings. By the age of ten, however, he inherited the title and estates of his great-uncle, the "wicked" Lord Byron, and his mother proudly brough him back to England to claim them. He spent several years being privately tutored in Nottingham, but his mother's uneven temper, combined with a doctor's quack treatments for his foot, led Mrs. Byron's attorney John Hanson to rescue him in 1799. A brace for his foot was prescribed by a reputable doctor in London and George was sent to school in Dulwich.
In the following years, George studied and lived in Harrow in 1801, Southwell and Newstead in 1803, and Trinity College in 1805. In 1806 he returned to Southwell and privately printed a collection of his early poems; his first published poems, Hours of Idleness, were printed in June 1807. Upon his twenty-first birthday in 1809 he took his seat in the House of Lords, published an anonymous satire, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, and went on a tour of greater Europe.
He sailed with his close friend John Cam Hobhouse to Spain, Malta, Greece, and Constantinople. His delight in the sunshine and moral tolerance of the people of Greece made a lasting impression on him. By July 1811 he returned to London, but his mother died less than a month later before he could join her at Newstead. He mourned her while he reacquainted himself with London, and by February 1812 he made his first speech to the House of Lords. In March of that year he published Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, a "poetic travelogue" of his recent journeys which conveyed the disparity between the romantic ideal and reality. It earned him his fame, and a series of affairs and courtships followed.
In January 1815 he married Anna Isabella Milbanke and embarked on a honeymoon described as "not all sunshine". He attempted to sell his mother's Newstead home, but difficulties in doing so left the new couple financially constrained. Their first child, a daughter named Augusta Ada, was born in December that year, but by January 1816 mother and child left to live with Lord Byron's in-laws. As the rumors as to the cause of their separation began to circulate, Lord Byron signed legal separation papers and left England for good.
He landed in Switzerland, where he stayed with the entourage of Percy Bysshe Shelley and sired an illegitimate daughter with Claire Clairmont. In the summer of 1816 Shelley (and Claire) returned to England, and Byron and Hobhouse began to travel again, this time to Italy. By 1818 he had settled in Venice, had had two more affairs, completed the sale of Newstead and was given the responsibility of his daughter Allegra by Claire. Throughout these travels his poetry continued to proliferate.
He had by this time grown fat, grey and dishevelled, but quickly changed after a chance meeting and whirlwind romance with the nineteen-year-old Countess Teresa Guicciolo. They relocated to Ravenna, where he became enchanted with the daily life of the Italian people and assisted them financially as he could. He also assisted the military uprisings of the people there, however, and the exile of Teresa's father and brother took her and Byron with them to Pisa in 1821. Allegra was left in Ravenna to be educated in a convent, where she died the following year.
That summer Byron and Teresa's family moved to a villa in Leghorn near Shelley's house there. There the poet Leigh Hunt found him after leaving England to visit Shelley. Hunt moved into Byron's house after Shelley drowned in July, and they became friends. Bryon contributed poetry to Hunt's new periodical, The Liberal. He continued to do so until April 1823, when he siezed upon an offer from the London Greek Committee to act as an agent for the Greeks in their war against the Turks. He left his wife that summer and continued to aid the Greeks in their battles until an illness in February 1824 restricted his passion for the fight. He eventually died on April 19 of that year, a national hero of Greece. He was denied burial in Westminister Abbey, and his body was placed in the vault of his ancestors in Newstead until they were replaced to the Abbey in 1969, 145 years later.