Dedicated to freedom of thought and action, and anarchic in his political views and personal morality, the poet and adventurer Lord Byron was the personification of the Romantic hero.
He was the only son of the flamboyant naval captain ‘Mad Jack’ Byron and the doting and naïve Lady Catherine Gordon. His father deserted his mother in 1790, and died a year later. The death of a cousin made Byron heir to the Byron barony and the family’s Nottinghamshire seat Newstead Hall at the age of six; he became Lord Byron when he was 10. Brought up in Aberdeen, he was educated at Harrow and Cambridge. Dark and dashing, he soon developed a reputation for promiscuity and profligacy equal to his father’s. He won the hearts of countless women with passionate letters and poems, describing the first of his many loves Margaret Parker as ‘made out of a rainbow’, and immortalising the last, Teresa Guiccoli, as ‘fair as Sunrise – and warm as Noon’. Widely-read in classic literature, he soon developed the biting line in satire that characterises his greatest poems.
In 1809-11, he toured Mediterranean countries such as Albania and Greece, returning to publish Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812), an overnight success that epitomised the disillusioned melancholy of his generation. He was famously summed up as ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ by Lady Caroline Lamb; he called her ‘a little volcano…the cleverest most agreeable, absurd, amiable, perplexing, dangerous, fascinating little being that lives.’
In 1815, he married the wealthy and scholarly Annabella Milbanke; their only child Ada became a notable mathematician. The couple separated in 1816, and Byron left England, never to return. His last and most enduring love affair was with Teresa, teenage wife of the elderly Count Guiccoli.
His most famous and hugely successful work was the satiric epic Don Juan, which he began to publish in 1819, and had still not finished in 1824, when he died of fever at Missolonghi, where he had sailed to support the Greek fight for independence.
 Lord George Gordon Byron, Detached Thoughts; letter from Byron to Douglas Kinnaird, 24 April 1819
 Letter from Byron to Lady Caroline Lamb, estimated April 1812
- Article by:
- Philip Shaw
Professor Philip Shaw traces the influence of the Battle of Waterloo on the third canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, considering how Byron uses it to explore ideas of violence and sacrifice.
- Article by:
- Stephanie Forward
Dr Stephanie Forward explains the key ideas and influences of Romanticism, and considers their place in the work of writers including Wordsworth, Blake, P B Shelley and Keats.
- Article by:
- Clara Drummond
Clara Drummond explains how Lord Byron’s politics, relationships and views on other poets led to his reputation of 19th-century bad boy.
Related collection items
A poem in Spenserian stanzas by Lord Byron (1788 – 1824), Cantos I and II appeared in 1812, Canto III in 1816 ...
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (1797 – 1851), later Mary Shelley, devised this Gothic novel in 1816 whilst staying ...
Lord Byron’s (1788 – 1824) entertaining mock-epic version of the famous Don Juan legend (1819-1824) ...
Emily Brontë’s (1818 – 1848) only novel, published in 1847. Blending realism, romance and the ...