Byron became the sixth Baron Byron in 1798, at the age of 10, when he inherited the title from his great-uncle.
Without the guidance of his father (who had died when he was 3), having to cope with a schizophrenic mother, and a nurse who abused him, Byron grew up without discipline or any sense of morals or correct behaviour.
After spending his early years in Aberdeen, Byron was educated at Harrow School and Cambridge University. In 1803, Byron fell in love with his distant cousin, Mary Chaworth. His passion remained unrequited, but became the subject of some of his poems, including Hills of Annesley and The Adieu.
After receiving a scathing review of his first book of poetry, Hours of Idleness, in 1808, Byron retaliated against the literary community by writing the satirical poem English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, which gained him instant recognition.
In 1809, Byron left England for a two-year tour of a number of Mediterranean countries. He returned to England in 1811 after the death of his mother. Although she had not been a caring parent, Byron was plunged into a deep mourning, until he received praise from London’s society for his poetic works. It was at this time that Byron embarked on his most famous love affair, with the eccentric Lady Caroline Lamb, who described him as “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”
Byron’s reputation for having a wild lifestyle was underlined in 1814, when his half-sister Augusta gave birth to a daughter that is widely believed to have been his child. In 1815, Byron married Annabella Milbanke, with whom he also had a daughter, but the marriage was short-lived, and the couple parted in 1816.
After his scandalous affairs, his failed marriage, and having run up huge debts he couldn’t afford, Byron left England in April 1816 and never returned.
Byron spent the summer of 1816 at Lake Geneva with fellow Romantic Movement poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Moving on to Italy, Byron began an affair with Teresa Guiccioli, the wife of an Italian nobleman. It was during his time in Italy that Byron wrote some of his most famous works, including Don Juan.
In July 1823, Byron’s life took a dramatic turn when he left Italy to join some Greek insurgents fighting a war of independence against the Ottoman Empire. His career as a fighter was also short-lived, however, for he contracted a fever, from which he died on 19th April 1824, in Missolonghi, Greece.
Despite his immoral reputation, Byron’s death was mourned throughout Britain, as one of the country’s foremost poets. His body was returned to England, before being buried at his ancestral home in Nottinghamshire. In 1969, a memorial to Byron was placed on the floor of Westminster Abbey.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.