The parents of Lord George Gordon Byron
Catharine Gordon of Gight was born in Aberdeenshire in 1765 and died on the 1 August 1811 in Newstead, Lincolnshire, England. Mrs Byron, mother of poet, Lord Byron, was descended on the paternal side from Sir William Gordon, of Gight, the third son, by Annabella Stewart, daughter of James I of Scotland, of George, second Earl of Huntley, Chancellor of Scotland 1498-1502 and Lord-lieutenant of the North from 1491 to his death in 1507.
Both her parents dying early, her father George Gordon born 1741, committed suicide at Bath on the 9 January 1779. I believe her mother Catherine Innes died a few years earlier.
Catharine Gordon was brought up at Banff by her grandmother, commonly called Lady Gight, although a penurious, illiterate woman, made sure her granddaughter was better educated than herself. Gight was worth between 23,000 and 24,000.
Miss Catharine Gordon was a young lady who had her full share of feminine vanity.
At the age of 35, she was a stout, dumpy, coarse-looking woman, awkward in her movements, her accent and manner provincial, but, just like her son who was vain of his personal appearance, and especially of his hands, neck, and ears, so was she. When other charms had vanished, clung to her pride in her arms and hands.
She exhausted the patience of Thomas Stewardson 1781-1859, when he painted the portrait below in 1806. It took 40 sittings, before she was satisfied with how the particular turn in her elbow was exhibited in the most pleasing light.
Of her ancestry she was, according to her son, 'as proud as Lucifer,' and looked down upon the Byron family, and regarded the Duke of Gordon as, an inferior member of her clan.
Born and bred in the strictest Calvanism of the day, a superstitious believer in ghosts, prophecies and fortune-telling, she was subject to fits of melancholy, which her misfortunes intensified.
In later life, at any rate, her temper was ungovernable, her language, when excited, unrestrained, her love of gossip insatiable. Capricious in her moods, she flew from one extreme to the other, passing, for the slightest cause, from passionate affection to equally passionate resentment.
How far these defects were produced, as they certainly, were aggravated, by her husband's ill-treatment and her hard struggle With poverty it is impossible to say. She had many good qualities. She bore her ruin with good sense, dignity; and composure. She lived on a miserable pittance without running into debt she pinched herself in order to give her son a liberal supply of money; she was warm-hearted and generous to those in distress. She adored her scamp of a husband, and, in her own way, was a 'devoted mother.
In politics she affected 'democratic opinions', and took in a daily paper, the Morning Chronicle, which, as is shown by a bill sent in after her death, cost her at the rate of 4 17s 6d for six months no small sum to be deducted out of a narrow income.
She was fond of reading, subscribed 'to book clubs', collected all the criticisms on her son's poetry, made shrewd remarks upon them herself, and corresponded with her friends on literary subjects. It has been said that she died in a fit of rage at an upholsterer's bill. The truth is that she had been in ill-health for months, and her illness was aggravated, if not caused, by Byron's recklessness. She had raised for her son's benefit 1000, for which she made herself personally liable.
In 1809 sho had moved to Newstead in order to protect his interests in his absence abroad, and for two years, as her letters prove, kept his creditors at bay and defended his character with pathetic fidelity. When Brothers, the upholsterer, put in an execution for debts contracted by her son in furnishing Newstead, she saw herself beggared, since all her worldly possessions were liable to seizure, and the shock seems to have proved fatal.
In 1785 Miss Catharine Gordon was at Bath, buying trinkets at Deard's, dancing at Lindsay's or Hayes's, and listening to the Compliments of the fortune-hunters who fluttered round the young heiress. There she met, and there, on May 13, 1785, in the Church of St. Michael, as the register shows, she married Captain John Byron. She was fascinated by his handsome face, charmed by his dancing, piqued by his reputation.
There is no reason to suppose that he was attracted to her by anything but her fortune, and his character, debts and previous career promised her little happiness in her marriage.
Captain John "Mad Jack" Byron 1755-1791, born at Plymouth, was the eldest son of Admiral the Hon. John Byron 1723-1786, known in the Royal Navy as 'Hardy' Byron, or "Foul weather Jack," by his marriage on 8 September 1748 with Sophia Trevannion, of Caerhayes, in Cornwall. The admiral, next brother to William, 1722-1798 fifth Lord Byron, was a distinguished naval officer, whose "Narrative" of his shipwreck in the Wager was published in 1768, and whose Voyage Round the World in the Dolphin was described by "an officer in the said ship in 1767.
His eldest son, John Byron, educated at Westminster and a French military academy, entered the Guards and served in America. A gambler, a spendthrift, a profligate scamp, disowned by his father, he in 1778 ran away with and on 1 June 1779 married Amelia Osborne, Marchioness of Carmarthen, wife of Francis Osborne, afterwards fifth Duke of Leeds, nee Lady Amelia d'Arcy, only child and heiress of the last Earl of Holderness and Baroness Conyers in her own right. Captain Byron and his wife lived in Paris, where were born to them a daughter who died in infancy, and Augusta, born 1783, the poet's half-sister, who subsequently married her cousin, Colonel Leigh.
In 1784 Lady Conyers died, and Captain Byron returned to England, a widower, up to his ears in debt, and in search of an heiress.
Tradition has it that, at the marriage of Catharine Gordon with mad Jack Byron,the heronry at Gight passed over to Kelly or Haddo, the property of the Earl of Aberdeen. "The land itself will not be long in following," said his lordship, and so it proved.
For a few months Mrs Byron Gordon for her husband assumed the name and by this title her Scottish friends always addressed her lived at Gight. But the ready money, the outlying lands, the rights of fishery, the timber failed to liquidate Captain Byron's debts, and in 1786 Gight itself was sold to Lord Aberdeen for 17,850. Mrs Byron Gordon found herself at the end of 18 months stripped of her property and reduced to the income derived from 4200, subject to an annuity payable to her grandmother. She bore the reverse with a composure which shows her to have been a woman of no ordinary courage.
The wreck of their fortunes compelled Mrs Byron Gordon and her husband to retire to France. At the beginning of 1788 she had returned to London, and on the 22 January, 1788, at 16 Holles street, since numbered 24, and now destroyed, in the back drawing room of the first floor, gave birth to her only child George Gordon, afterwards sixth Lord Byron. From his birth the child suffered from what would now be described as partial infantile paralysis of the right foot and leg, especially of the inner muscles. He was born, it may be added, with a caul, then and now treasured by sailors as a preservative against drowning. In this instance, however, the charm failed. The caul was sold by the nurse to Captain James Hanson R N, who on the 26th ofJanuary 1800
was wrecked in H.M.S. Brazar off Newhaven, and with the whole of his crew, one man excepted, was drowned.
At the time when the child was born two lives only, besides that of his father, stood between him and the peerage. His great-uncle William, fifth Lord Byron, 1722-1798, commonly known as the "wicked lord," was still living, separated from his wife and shunned by his neighbours, a moody, half-crazy misanthrope. Like his younger brother the admiral, he had served in the Royal Navy. In 1747 he married Miss Elizabeth Shaw, of Besthorpe Hall, a Norfolk heiress, and by her had two daughters and two sons. The eldest, born in 1748, died in infancy the second son, William 1749-1776, married his cousin Juliana Elizabeth, the daughter of Admiral Byron. Their only son, William John 1772-1794, was the heir to the peerage, and his death on 31 July, 1794, from a, wound received at the battle of Calvi, in Corsica, made George Gordon Byron heir presrumptive to his great-uncle, then a man of 72.
The wicked Lord Byron, in the middle of the eighteenth century, lived in great state in town and at Newstead, and in 1763 was Master of the Staghounds. An eager collector of curiosities, whenever any article of special rarity was offered for sale in London he ordered out his horses, drove to the metropolis, and returned' with his purchase, bought without regard to expense. Passionate, vindictive, and headstrong, he attended as little to the cost of his revenge as to that of his pleasures.
His London life closed with his fatal duel with William CHAWORTH 1726-1765 on Saturday, January 26, 1765. On that evening a club of Nottinghamshire gentlemen, were holding their monthly meeting at the Star and Garter tavern in Pall Mall. They usually dined at 7 o'clock the bill and a bottle were brought, and the company separated. On that particular evening a dispute had arisen between Lord Byron and Mr Chaworth, presumably about whether the former, who did not preserve, or the latter, who was a strict preserver, had most game on his manor. The discussion grew warm, and Mr Chaworth said, "Your lordship knows where to find me in Berkeley Row," or words to that effect.
Nothing further passed at the time the subject was dropped and no serious consequences seem to have been feared. The company, who had dined on the second floor, had paid the bill and were dispersing.
On descending to the first floor Lord Byron came up to William Chaworth and referred to the conversation which had passed between them at dinner. Both seem then to have called a waiter to bring a candle and show them an empty room. The waiter opened a door on the first floor, showed the gentlemen into a room, set down a tallow candle which he was holding in his hand, and left them. In a few seconds the affair was ended. According to Mr Chaworth's account of what passed, he saw Lord Byron's sword half drawn, and, knowing the man, immediately, or as quick as he could, whipped out his sword and had the first thrust, running Lord Byron through some part of his waistcoat. Then Lord Byron, shortened his sword and ran his Chaworth through the body. The bell was rung the landlord entered the room to find Lord Byron supporting Chaworth. Mr Hawkins, the surgeon was immediately summoned; but the wound proved mortal. Chaworth lived long enough to make a will leaving everything to his lady friend, in who's house he lived, in Berkerley Row, Piccadilly.
One of the members of the Nottinghamshire Club, Mr Sherwin took the rapiers away and are both now preserved at Annersley Hall, in Nottinghamshire.
Lord Byron was tried for murder on 16 April, 1765, in Westminster Hall. The peers almost unanimously dismissed the charge of murder, and found him guilty of manslaughter only.
The fatal termination of the duel, and its circumstances --the absence of seconds, the dark room dimly lighted by one miserable tallow candle-- attracted so much attention for the case that, it is said, tickets for the trial were, sold for six guineas apiece.
There seems, however, nothing which, judged by the code of the day, could reflect any special blame on Lord Byron, or discredit him in the county. Thenceforward he absented himself from London.
After the birth of her son Mrs Byron Gordon settled at Aberdeen. There for a time she was joined by her husband, though they soon found it necessary to live at opposite ends of Queen street.
Captain Byron's daughter, Augusta, had been placed under the care of her grandmother, Lady Holderness; his wife could give him no more money she had run into debt to supply him with 300, and on her remaining income she could barely maintain herself and her son. He was free from incumbrances, and had drained the milch cow dry.
Returning in 1790 to France, he died in the summer of the following year at Valenciennes, In his will, dictated by him from his sick bed to two notaries of that city, on 21 June, 1791, he is described as, "John Byron, a native of London, and ordinarily resident there". You'll notice he makes no mention, of his wife or of his daughter.
The operative part, as translated from the French into the English of Doctors' Commons, 17 August, 1791, runs as follows
I give and bequeath to Mrs Leigh, my sister, the sum of 400 sterling, to be paid out of the effects of my deceased father and mother. I appoint my son, Mr George Byron, heir of my real and personal estate, and charge him to pay my debts, legacies, and funeral expenses. I appoint the said Mrs Leigh, my sister, executrix of this my will.
The death of Captain Byron was passionately lamented by his wife, who, in spite of his vices, adored her handsome larrikan of a husband. Already an orphan and almost beggared, she was now a widow of 26, with an income of 122 a year, out of which to lodge, clothe, and feed her son and herself, and to provide for his education.