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Thank you for listening to the rest is history. For bonus episodes, early access ad free listening and access to our chat community, sign up at restish That's restish I have a very big and exciting announcement. Tom and I will be following in the footsteps of Adele, Jimi Hendrix and Jay Z, or JZ, as I call them, to name but a few, because we will be performing at the Royal Albert hall. It's on Friday the 18 October. We will be accompanied by a live orchestra. Don't worry, Tom will not be singing, because what we will be doing is we will be diving into the lives of Mozart and Beethoven, arguably the two greatest composers in history, if you discount Bach. And we will be exploring their music, their lives, how the French Revolution overshadowed Mozart's final years, and how the napoleonic wars played their part in the making of Beta Urban's greatest symphony. So you've got all that to look forward to.


Tickets are on sale now and you can, of course, get and on that bombshell, on with the show. Hello, Tom Holland here. This is just to warn you that.


This episode contains sexily sensitive content. So please do be warned, but don't.


Necessarily be put off listening to it for that reason.


The subject of conversation, of curiosity, of enthusiasm, almost, one might say of the moment, is not Spain or Portugal, warriors or patriots, but Lord Byron. His poem is on every table and himself courted, visited, flattered and praised.


Wherever he appears.


He has a pale, sickly, but handsome countenance, a bad figure, animated but amusing conversation. And in short, he's really the only topic almost of every conversation. The men jealous of him, the women of each other. So Tom Holland, that was the Duchess of Devonshire, and she was writing the spring of 1812 to her son. So her son at the time was Britain's ambassador to the United States. He'd soon be coming home after the outbreak of war between Britain and the US. So we're in the middle of the napoleonic wars, and last week you took us brilliantly through the story of Lord Byron, his very, very turbulent childhood, his travels in the Balkans and the Mediterranean, and he has returned home. He has published Childe Harold's pilgrimage, and it has become this unbelievable overnight hit, arguably the first such hit in literary history.


Yeah, I think so. And he's become this new phenomenon, a celebrity. So sales of this poem are going through the roof, just like with the Beatles. All the producers who turn the Beatles down are kicking themselves. So publishers are kicking themselves as they watch John Murray, the guy who had taken a punt on Childe Harold, moving flush with the proceeds into splendid new quarters on Arbemarle street off Piccadilly, where, you know, John Murray is still going. It's still a going concern. They still have those rooms. And Byron, I think, is a celebrity in the way that we would recognize a celebrity, not least because he's absolutely kind of brilliant at manipulating and controlling his image. So in that bit, you read the kind of, you know, the description of him being pale, sickly, but handsome. I mean, that's very much the vibe that he's going for. So he avoids appearing in the morning because he feels that that doesn't show him off to best light. So it's kind of quite a vampiric sense of himself as a creature of the night. And he is obsessively concerned with his dress, so kind of very distinctive look, you know, the open shirt, the black cloak.


You know, he's spending a lot of money on his tailoring, which I think is very commendable. Also great enthusiasts for white quilted waistcoats and white trousers of the finest cotton or silk. And he'll buy a dozen, two dozen of these at a go. And just like a celebrity today, you know, controlling how they look, their appearance, photographs and things. I mean, Byron is doing this with paintings with portrayals of him. Plates of him will appear in his volumes of poetry. You know, he's studying it very, very closely. He is, again, like a celebrity, obsessive about his weight. We talked in the previous episode how basically, I mean, he's bulimic and he's got this new thing where he started to chew gum as an appetite repressant.


Oh, my word.


So he's probably the first celebrity to have chewing gum.


First gum chewing celebrity.




You describe him as a celebrity. Now, you're probably not aware of this guy, but there's a guy who's written a history of celebrity. Oh, Greg Jenner called Greg Jenner. Have you ever heard of him, Tom?


I believe he runs podcasts, doesn't he?


So he doesn't quite agree that Byron is the first celebrity. He actually says that Doctor Cheverel from the early 18th century, the disputatious anglican clergyman, is the first celebrity.


Capel Loft is a big fan of his, isn't he?


Our intemperate listener?


Yes, our intemperate listener.


So celebrity is something that is driven by print culture, obviously. Yeah.


And I think that's the key thing, but also by commercial culture. If you remember, we did the episode on fashion in Jane Austen.




And it's in exactly this period that fashion starts changing every year because there are enough people with money to do that.




And I think that that is the key. And so Byron is fashionable in that sense.


So this is my question, because you compared a couple of times the emergence of Byron with the emergence of the Beatles, who are, of course, also celebrities of a new kind when they break through in between 1962 and 1964. But with the Beatles, you could say the market, the industry already exists. Had the Beatles not existed, someone would have needed to invent them. Is that also the case with Lord Byron?


Yeah, I think so. And I think you can be very materialist about it, that it's about the infrastructure of publishing that enables it to happen. It's not like the Beatles in the Beatles are a mass phenomenon. This is obviously restricted to people who can afford books. And it's particularly centered, I think, of course, on the aristocracy. But because there are the equivalent of, I guess, a vogue magazines that are reporting the doings of the aristocracy, Byron's fame ripples outwards from that. As with celebrities today, you get a fan culture.




And as with Beatlemania, it is hugely driven by women. So you get obsessive Byron fans. They are writing him letters detailing all their fantasies about him. They're writing asking him for locks of hair. They are stalking him. And Byron is incredibly disconcerted by this because I don't think anyone has ever experienced anything quite like this. So he pretends to be dismissive of it, but secretly, I mean, we know about these fan letters because he keeps them.




You know, he keeps them kind of locked away. And the other thing, of course, that is also familiar from the recent history of celebrity, and I guess maybe even more in Hollywood, perhaps, than anywhere else, is that Byron has very deep gay fantasies, desires, and this has to be repressed because his female fan base will not appreciate it. So again, there is that sense of celebrity being accompanied by a kind of an erotic self repression, which is also a part of, certainly of 20th century celebrity.


The tremendous pressure of being the subject of the fan culture and being the. The object of every gaze, I guess, which is something a modern celebrity would be completely familiar with. Byron has this, even though most people. You said that it's an aristocratic thing. And obviously that makes sense because most people aren't. But I mean, ultimately, you said 10,000 copies of the poetry book. That's tiny in a country of millions. But is Byron conscious when he leaves London, that people know who he is, that he's a name to be conjured with. Is his name spreading, would you say?


Yes, I think so. Because, you know, he's not going to remote villages to hang out, but he is going to Bath, he's going to Brighton, you know, he's going to places where the fashionable hang out and where the fashionable will be reported on. And he is the person who's reported on. And I think that you get a measure, perhaps, of his fame, by the way, in which elements of the byronic, for instance, start to appear in Jane Austen's novels. So pride and prejudice will come out the year after Byron turns famous. And I think there are elements of Byron in Mister Darcy, and he is name checked in persuasion, Jane Austen's last novel. And I think the sense of what it is to be an attractive, charismatic, aristocratic figure. Byron is having a huge influence on this, and, as you say, it generates huge emotional pressure on him. And I think that that explains why, from the beginning, his celebrity is shadowed by scandal. And there are three relationships particular that. I mean, it's kind of like pride and prejudice on hard drugs. I mean, it is an amazing, extraordinary, authentically scandalous story. And that's basically the subject of today's episode.


Yes. So if you like bad behavior, and particularly bad behavior, sexual conduct, this is the episode for you. And if you don't, other episodes are available.


Yeah, there absolutely are. So, the first of these three affairs, three relationships, it involves a woman who Fiona McCarthy, in her brilliant biography of Byron, describes as the fan to end all fans. And this is Lady Caroline Lamb, who is the wife of William Lamb, who, on the death of his father in 1828, will become Lord Melbourne, Queen Victoria's first prime minister. So, Rufus Sewell.


Yeah, Rufus Sewall, if you've seen the tv series about Queen Victoria.


So he is actually quite a distant husband, quite an austere husband. The marriage isn't entirely happy. Caroline has two miscarriages and then she has a son who survives. But she's not really suited to a kind of slightly chill, ironic figure like her husband, because she is very restless, wild ferush. And her mother in law, Lady Melbourne, who doesn't like her at all, calls her the little beast. And it's not just in her manners that she's eccentric, but in her appearance.


Is this Fiona McCarthy, Tom, very amusing.


No. So this is Benita Eisler, who's also written a great biography. Yes. Description of Lady Caroline Lamb. She was small, unfashionably slender and flat chested in an age that admired opulent female attributes splendid, snowy breasts, buttocks and bellies. Daringly, she had cut her hair, and her short flaxen curls framed a thin face that large, dark eyes caused to seem even thinner. So in other words, she looks like a boy.




And not only that, Dominic, but she actually enjoys dressing up as a page boy.


So she's kind of gamine, I guess.


Yes. We know that Byron has a thing for page boys.




So all the ingredients are there. And Caroline is very romantic. And so she, of course, reads Childe Harold's pilgrimage, is swept away by it. She writes him a fan letter. But then when they meet at a ball, she cuts him dead. You know, their eyes meet and she just moves away, which, of course, is calculated to pique his interest.


Oh, my God. Yeah. Textbook.


Yeah. And then Byron is at Holland House. So this wig named center of wig salons. Yes. And the Melbournes also are wigs, so they're very kind of intimate, close. And so Byron is there. Caroline knows he's there. The Melbournes have a house, Dover House, which is on Whitehall, and today, in fact, is the Scotland office. She has galloped from there all the way over to Holland House in Kensington. And so she arrives in her very masculine cut riding habit, glowing.




Throws herself down flamboyantly on a sofa.


She's all sweaty and stuff.


It's all absolutely calculated. So Byron goes to Dover House the next morning, and Caroline hosts these kind of. They're kind of morning waltzes. Maybe 40, 50 people are invited. They dance and then they have a restorative, cold dinner. It's all very grand. It's the invitation everyone wants to have. Byron comes, of course. He can't dance because of his club foot, of course. So he just stands there posing, looking kind of faintly superior. I mean, he's very shy and very nervous because he can't dance at a dance. So it's awful. But this just makes him all the more glamorous. And again, I think one of the ways in which he's massively influential is that he kind of establishes the template of cool, of not joining in, of being aloof.


Yeah. Standing apart.


So all eyes are on him. And I think it's fair to say that the eyes of two particular members of Caroline's extended family are on him. So, the first of these, we already mentioned Lady Melbourne, who is Caroline's mother in law. And she's a terrible person. She's cynical, she's manipulative, she's amoral. It's said of her that she only has to see a happy marriage and she works to destroy it.


So she's Madame de Merteuil. Is she in dangerous liaisons, that kind of character?


Yes, absolutely. So she loves writing letters, bitching about people, right. Trying to kind of cause mischief. And of course, the Marquise Matai has the vicomte de Valmont. Anyone who's seen the film dangerous liaisons will remember that.




And she's thinking, maybe Byron can be my Valmont. Who knows?


She can use him to basically ruin other people's lives and amuse herself.


She's intrigued by him. She knows that Byron is great friends with the lady Holland, who is quite like her. So she knows that Byron has a kind of thing for classy, sophisticated, middle aged hostesses of salons, so she is going to put out the feelers to him. But there is also another woman there who is much younger, and that is Lady Melbourne's niece. So Caroline Lamb's cousin in law. And she's from the northeast, so Dan Jackson land, in fact, Jonathan Wilson Land.


So they're two of our previous guests for people who don't know what you're talking about.


Yes. So she is from a place called Seaham, just down the coast from Sunderland on the northumbrian coast, and she is called Annabella Millbank. And she is up for her second London season. And I think it's fair to say that she is the opposite of Caroline in almost every way. So she is rounded, she's kind of buxom, right.


So she fits the standard of beauty of the time.


She does much more. She has a kind of round, apple shaped face. It's often described as being. And her character, she is very pious. She's precociously good at maths. Maths.


I mean, what a weird fact that is.


She loves maths. Loves maths. Big fan of Jane Austen.




And she sits there rather primly. And in her journal later that night, she affects contempt for all the women who'd been fluttering around Byron. She says rather priggishly, I made no offering at the shrine of Childe Harold. But then she adds, though I shall not refuse the acquaintance if it comes my way.


Oh, my word. So there you've got the three characters. So you've got the Lady Melbourne, she's nicknamed the Spider. Did you say that she's nicknamed the Spider? Yeah, Spider. You've got Caroline Lamb, her daughter in law, who looks like Audrey Hepburn in my mind. And then you've got the other woman who's more sort of buxom Annabella, who's young and brilliant at maths.




I mean, what havoc. I can well imagine what havoc lies in store.


Right, so what happens immediately is that Caroline completely monopolizes Byron. She recognizes she doesn't want to dance, and so she leads him up to her private quarters. And she's had ropes put a lot up the staircase so that he can hold onto it and won't stumble with his club foot. What goes on, we don't know. But three days later, he's back and he brings a rose and a carnation, and he hands them over and he says, your ladyship, I am told, likes all that is new and rare for the moment. In fact, she will hoard that dead rose for the rest of her life. Okay. Her obsession with Byron is something that she will never, ever lose. And Byron likewise is enraptured by her. He writes that he finds her voice very, very erotic. He says it's soft, low, caressing. That was much a beauty and a charm. And he notes that it reminds him of John Edelston. His voice is that the bloke that.


He saved from drowning.


Yes, the choir boy who then subsequently had died. But what Byron also likes is her complete lack of kind of cant, you know, cant hypocrisy, posing morality. Byron hates all that, and Caroline has nothing of it. And so, rather injudiciously, he starts to tell her all his secrets. He tells her all about her money problems, and Caroline rather sweetly writes to him and says, look, I've got my jewels. I'll sell them, I'll give you all the money. And he also starts talking to her about his homoerotic yearnings. And in response to that, she puts on her page outfit, actually, the livery that she had designed for her own pages. She starts wearing that.


She's like, I'll dress as a boy for you.


Basically, yes, but not just a boy, a servant. And she renames one of her own pages, Rushton, who had been the page boy who had gone with Byron on his. On his travels when he went to Portugal. So there's a kind of weird minuet going on. There are kind of taboos and gender differences and class differences, and they're all being played with. And it's all kind of very titillating, but also obviously incredibly dangerous, because adding spice to the mixture is the fact that it's an adulterous affair. William Melbourne is a very, very distinguished.


Figure, but also, I mean, he's like, it's not just they're having an affair. I mean, people have affairs in Regency London. It's an affair in which she's dressing up as a page boy.




If you're being generous, in Regency England, you would say these were eccentric tastes. If you were being ungenerous, you would say they were terrible tastes, they were criminal.


They are. Byron is embarrassed by them. And I think, essentially is able to imply that this is Caroline's doing.


Oh, okay.


So he is not saying these are my tastes. The implication is Caroline is doing this because she's a bit mad, she's a bit cracked. And the more the scandal of it builds, the more anxious about it it becomes, the more desperate he becomes, actually, to kind of try and break it off.


So that's counterintuitive.


Not really, because he is the hero of the hour. He's the great object of female erotic obsession. I don't think it would cross anyone's mind that he's anything other than a breaker of women's hearts. And Caroline is already notorious as an eccentric. The blame for it, you know, and also, I mean, this reflects the imbalance of power between men and women that it's usually women who get blamed in an adulterous relationship.




And I think also Byron is genuinely more conventional in his social attitudes than Caroline is. I mean, she's of higher rank. And the higher rank you are, the easier it becomes.


He's more insecure about his social position, I suppose.


Completely. And also, Caroline is starting to behave in an alarming way because basically she is stalking him, you know, and that Byron has a lot of women who are stalking him, but Caroline is pushing it to extremes. So in her disguise as a page boy, she breaks into his rooms and starts rifling through his drawers, probably looking for evidence that he's having relationships with other women.




A few weeks later, she disguises herself, not as a boy, but as a man. Breaks into Byron's bedroom. Byron says, please leave. She refuses. Manages to persuade Byron to elope with her. I mean, Byron, I think, is quite passive in his relationship with women, oddly. And Byron kind of says, okay, I'll do that. And he's only stopped from doing it by Hobhouse, who turns up. And Hobhouse is very much not the kind of person to be impressed by someone like Caroline Lamb.


Yeah, she sounds, frankly, Tom, a bit of a crackpot.


And actually, this bit of a package.


Yeah. The next bit of behavior, yes. May confirm this in people's minds.


So now it's August 18, twelve, and she sends Byron a cutting of her pubic hair. And what is alarming for Byron is that with them, there is a knowing illusion to John Edelston.


Does this remind you of John Edelston, Byron?


Is that. What does it say? No. So Byron had written poems to John Edelston under the name of Theoza. So a girl's name. And Caroline Lamb says, this is from the person you love as much as theater. So Byron is kind of thinking, there's a faint whiff of blackmail here, right? And three days later, she vanishes from Dover House, kind of runs out, yelling at her husband that she's running off with Byron. William Lamb completely loses it and says, go and be damned. He won't have you. And he's right. Byron doesn't. He manages to persuade Caroline to go back to Melbourne House, and then he sits down, he writes a letter breaking off the affair. I mean, he's kind, but he's absolutely firm.


So, Tom, how long has it been going on for this affair?


About five months. Five months?


So it's reasonably short. What are the standards of such things?


Yeah, it is short. And it's about the average length that Byron has his affairs, okay? He seems to feel claustrophobic if he has a relationship that lasts longer than that. And what Byron also hasn't told Caroline is that he has been writing about her behind her back to her detested mother in law, the Spider, Lady Melbourne.


Right, so this is a twist.


And basically, he's been asking Lady Melbourne for help in breaking up the affair. And Lady Melbourne decides that the only way that the affair can probably be broken up is if Byron gets married. And Lady Melbourne suggests her niece, Annabella Milbanke.


Okay, so, Lady Melbourne, I mean, she's so dangerous. Liaisons. I mean, it's unbelievable, actually. I mean, it's like a kind of reenactment of it. And she's basically pimping out her niece, the apple cheeked maths, enthusiastically, in order to break up Byron with her daughter in law.


Yeah, she absolutely is. And a bit like Valmore, it is beyond my control. He, I think, is quite submissive to Lady Melbourne. He basically finds it very difficult to oppose what she suggests. And it's fair to say that he is intrigued by Annabella. He recognizes the role that he is playing in her imagination. So he writes to Lady Melbourne, Miss Milbank is too good for a fallen spirit to know, or wish to know. I should like her more if she were less perfect, he adds. So I think that basically sums up the relationship.


Right. She's too good for him. Yeah.


But also that Annabella is attracted to him precisely because he seems to be a fallen spirit. And her fantasy, in the long run, will be to try and redeem him.


And he doesn't want to be redeemed, presumably.


Kind of. But I think also he is aware that it's slightly ridiculous as well. I mean, he poses as a fallen spirit, but he's also aware that it's funny. Yeah. Annabella never gets this. Annabella has no sense of humor whatsoever. So he's persuaded by Lady Melbourne to make a marriage proposal. And he does this in October 1812. Caroline is still kind of hovering around like a butterfly beating at the window. So he sends Annabella the offer. Annabella ponders it. She very, very soberly writes down a list of all his pluses and minuses.




And then three days later writes back to him, saying, no, I don't think that we're suited.


Oh, good for her. She's made the right choice.


Lady Melbourne, absolutely furious. You know, who is this little prig, right, to turn down this tremendous offer? But Byron seems relieved and he memorably describes Annabella as my princess of parallelograms. And astutely comments, we are two parallel lines, prolonged to infinity, side by side, but never to meet.


Would appeal to a maths enthusiast, that analogy.


Completely. But, of course, as Caroline's snubbing him at the ball had piqued his interest. So Annabella turning down his marriage proposal also piques his interest. I mean, it kind of makes him more interested in her, I think, than he would otherwise have been.




And definitely, Annabella remains fascinated by him. And she starts writing to him, despite the fact that she's turned him down. And she justifies this as her christian duty. You know, he is a fallen spirit. She has a duty to redeem him. Byron finds this hilarious. Forwards all her letters to Lady Melbourne.


Oh, God.


Even as he's also keeping Lady Melbourne abreast with all his other affairs. So he gets off the chaise, long, rushes up, writes it up for Lady Melbourne. I mean, it's very, very dangerous liaisons. And yet, all the while, in his private journal, which he's not showing to Lady Melbourne, he is very complimentary about Annabella. He calls her a very superior woman. And you could think that's both a criticism, perhaps, as well as a compliment. But he's respectful of her. And I think his sense of her appeal is enhanced for him by two factors. The first of these is that Caroline is still very much on the scene and she's getting worse and worse still.


Stalking him.


Stalking him. Bombarding him with letters. July 1813, so this is a year on from their first relationship. She goes to a ball, Byron is there, she gashes herself with a piece of broken glass, then stabs herself with a pair of scissors. You know, a massive, massive scandal. Blood everywhere. Although, as Lady Melbourne, who leads her home notes, writing about it to Byron, she'd made sure that none of the wounds were very severe. Implication being that it's all done for show, but it's reported in all the newspapers, and so the scandal of it now is very, very public. It's kind of reaching those provincial towns that you were talking about, you know, asking, do they know about. I mean, yes, everybody in the country knows about it. So Byron is feeling very persecuted by this. There is simultaneously a second crisis brewing.


Oh, God. Yeah.


And this is the second of the relationships that we talked about, the second of the three relationships that we talked about. So Caroline's the first and now the second, because even as all this is going on, Byron reports to his friend Thomas More, the poet who will be the first to write his biography. I am at this moment in a far more serious and entirely new scrape than any of the last twelve months. And that is saying a good deal.


I hate to describe this as a scrape. A scrape is when you're at public school and you've climbed out of the windows to get some apples from a neighboring orchard. What will follow is not this. I don't want to give the game away, Tom.


Right. So listeners may remember that in the first episode we talked about Mad Jack, Byron's father, and he ends up marrying Byron's mother, Catherine Gordon. But before that, he had eloped with the marchioness of Carmarthen, distant relative of George Osborne. So Mad Jack and the marchioness of Carmarthen have three children. Two of them die, but one of them, a daughter, Augusta, survives.




And she is still very much on the scene. She has married a gambler and absolute reprobate, so very much running in the family called Colonel Lee, and she lives near Newmarket, so very, you know, brilliant for horse racing and everything, at a place called six mile bottom, which is very comic place for her to live.


Yeah, of course.


And her husband is massively in debt to bookies. And so she comes up in the summer of 1813 to ask her brother for help with the bailiffs. And she's very shy, she's not fashionable, bit provincial.




You know, from childhood, she has adored Byron, Byron has adored her. And physically, Byron finds her very attractive. She's actually the opposite of Caroline. So, Byron, later in Don Juan, he gives a portrait of Augusta as a slave girl in the harem in Constantinople called Doo doo. And he describes her as a kind of sleepy Venus, somewhat large and languishing and lazy, yet of a beauty that would drive you crazy.




So there's a physical attraction, but there's also, Byron feels a kind of mystic bond. Yeah, they're brother and sister. They share accursed blood.




And the truth is that Augusta understands Byron and what makes him tick in a way that no one else does. She can make him laugh. She's good at kind of getting him out of his melodramatic fits of depression. She makes him feel secure and loved in a way that no one else does. There are no scenes. There are no jealousy. There's no stabbing herself with scissors at balls or any of that kind of thing. And so he's feeling insecure, he's feeling unhappy. He ends up in bed with her.


Oh, I mean, Tom.


So, as you say, a scrape.


A scrape. So, I mean, half brother and half sister. It's poor form. It is the definition of poor form.


And, of course, both of them are aware that their father had had an affair with his sister. So again, there's this sense. It's a very byronic thing to do.


What's going on with his family?


And his father had eloped with Augusta's mother. So all that August 1813, Byron and Augusta are discussing, well, we should elope. And Lady Melbourne has kind of picked up on this because, of course, Byron can't resist telling her. And she's like, no, she's don't. Because obviously, I mean, you know, eloping with your sister, why had he told her?


Why would you tell somebody whose nickname was the spider that you were having an affair with your own sister?


I know. I mean, just thank God he wasn't on social media.


I mean, imagine him on Instagram or bonkers.


Terrible. So, anyway, Augusta and Byron, by the end of August, have decided better of it. So no elopement, but they do continue their affair. So that's that kind of Christmas of 1813, new year, and then they go off together to Newstead. So the baronial pile that is Byron's inheritance is Lord Byron. And it's very, very cold and wintry. Deep snow, difficult for them to get there. And when they arrive there, it's as though they are walled in by the snow. So the great fires are blazing, torches, candles, and they're there for weeks. And from what both of them write, it seems to have been the happiest period in both their lives, they clearly ecstatically happy. And the atmospherics of being in this ancestral pile. I mean, incredibly romantic in every way. You know, the snow melts. It's February. He has to go back to London. And he's aware that he's kind of teetering on the edge of massive, massive scandal. And he takes kind of very, very flashy rooms, Dominic. And he takes them in the Albany, which it was originally called Melbourne House. And Lady Melbourne had spent her first years as a bride there with Lord Melbourne.


They then sold it up and moved to Dover House. But, of course, a similarly byronic figure.


Very brain, in the long run, will.


Move in and live there in the same block. And that, of course, is Edward Heath.


Edward Heath, great star of our 1974 series, and probably, is it fair to say the least, byronic person who's ever lived?


I think it is. I think, yeah. So Byron settles in there. He has the best set of rooms in the Albany. He writes to Melbourne. I've split up with Augusta. But he then commits a terrible. I mean, unbelievable mistake. He tells Caroline Lamb. It's like he can't help but talk about it. He's so obsessed by it.




He wants to share it with Caroline.


Tells the very person who's stalking him. Oh, by the way, I'm sleeping with my sister.


Yeah. And so Caroline writes back, I love that Augusta with my heart, because she is yours and is dear to you. Caroline then tells Lady Melbourne, wow. Byron's having an affair with his sister. And Lady Melbourne hits the roof. I mean, she says, what are you doing telling Caroline? I mean, are you mad?


So Lady Melbourne's not cross that it's happening. She's crossed that he's told Caroline she.


Is cross, that it's happening. But she's particularly furious that he's told Caroline, partly, I think, because she knows, you know, don't tell Caroline. She'll tell everyone, but also because it's her confidence. So she feels offended. And so they agree. You know, there's nothing for it. He's got to get married. And Lady Melbourne says, well, what about Annabella pimping her out again? And Byron knows that this is possible because Annabella has invited him to see.


Him in the northeast. Yeah.


And this has been done with her parents permission. And Byron writes back and says, yeah, okay. But then, having done that, he prevaricates. He's obviously thinking, yeah, I can see why it would work from one point of view, but from another, I don't really think she's my kind. I don't think it'll really work out. And so they're endlessly writing, and Annabella writes to him, you do not appear to be the person whom I ought to select as my guide, my support, my example on earth with a view still to immortality. So they've been discussing should they marry. And she's writing and saying, I think you'll be bad for my soul.


And as soon as she says this, he's like, great, I'm in.


As soon as she says, I don't think we should marry, he writes and says, yeah, let's get married. And Annabella immediately is so happy to get that, that she writes the same letter both to Albany and to Newstead because she's not sure where he's going to be. And in fact, the letter reaches Byron at Newstead on the 17 September, and he is there with Augusta, and he opens the letter, he reads it, and Annabella has written, this is a moment of joy which I have too much despaired of ever experiencing. I dared not believe it possible. Byron reads it, and then he hands over the letter to Augusta. And he had shown Augusta his proposal of marriage before he had posted it. So Augusta knows exactly what's going on and approves it. Augusta, you know, takes the letter, glances at it, looks up at Byron, sees that Byron is deathly pale. And Byron's comment on it, it never rains, but it pours.


What a bizarre story. I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that things will get more complicated, weirder in the second half, and they won't end happily for everybody ever after, will they, Tom?




Come back after the break to find just how weird things get. He had been expected for the two preceding days. My mother was impatient, which had not suffered any interruption since the time that I accepted the offer of marriage. I was sitting in my own room reading, when I heard the carriage. I put out the candles, deliberated what should be done, resolved to meet him first, alone. It was so arranged. He was in the drawing room, standing by the side of the chimney piece. He did not move forwards as I approached towards the fireplace. There was a silence. He broke it. It is a long time since we have met in an undertone. My reply was hardly articulate. So that was Annabella Milbanke remembering the moment that Lord Byron arrived at Seaham on the evening of the 1 November 1814. She has finally accepted his proposal of marriage. And Tom, the happy lovebird. Yes, yeah, surprise me. Tell me that it all ends really happily.


Well, the stay is a bit of a disaster. Actually, Byron gets on all right with Annabella. They seem to have been quite happy. They go for kind of walks on the coast and hold hands and all that kind of thing. Yeah, but he doesn't really get on with his mother in law, Lady Milbanke, although that said, I mean, again, he quite likes his father in law, Sir Ralph Milbanke, who's a Whig like Byron, very opposed to the slave trade. He's a kind of bluff industrialist as well. So he's using Stevenson's rockets to take coal from the coal mines that he owns up to Sunderland. So that's very exciting. And Dominic, he's a lover of all things english and hates the French. Oh, yeah, Byron wouldn't like that. But you would have liked that.


So if I married Annabella Milbank, it would all be spended.


Basically. The problem is that Byron finds Cm incredibly dull, and I think it reminds him of his childhood in Aberdeen. You know, he hates the kind of northerly provincialism. And so he, as well as going for walks with Annabella, he starts exploring her in more intimate ways. And, of course, he gives a graphic account of this to Lady Melbourne.


Oh, for God's sake. Why would you tell Lady Melbourne that?


Reports that her passions are stronger than we supposed. So they've obviously been discussing it in some detail. But Annabella stops Byron from going too far, which annoys Byron a lot. And so he stays two weeks there and then he heads back. And where do you think he heads? He heads straight for six mile bottom. And Augusta, is that physical relationship still.


Continuing, do we know?


Unclear, but I think probably.




So, I mean, you may well wonder, why does the marriage go ahead when it's clearly going to be a disaster? And I think that on Byron's side, he does have feelings for Annabella. I think he admires her. I think there's kind of elements of love there. There's also the fact that all the marriage contracts have been drawn up. So Byron's lawyer Hanson has gone and done all that. So difficult to break it. It's been announced in the press. I mean, it would be very embarrassing. And I think that, you know, we talked about how Byron is quite passive in the face of particularly relationships with women. Yeah, I think there's a kind of mixture of fatalism about it and, of course, a dread of basically, what will Caroline do? He's kind of anxious about that as well, because Caroline's message to him on learning of the engagement is to say, I love you as a sister feels, as your Augusta feels for you.


So that's Caroline saying, I know about you and Augusta as well. Yeah.


So basically, I think Byron feels, well, if I marry Annabella, then it will just look like Caroline's mad.


Yeah. I mean, but she's by now got this colossal dossier on him.


She has.


She's got all the stuff for the bloke in Cambridge. She's got the stuff for this sister that's a terrible thing to have hanging over you.


Right, so if you marry a kind of pious mathematician.




I mean, you know, she's a kind of beard, I guess.




And Annabella, I mean, I think she is seduced by his beauty and fame. I mean, she denies it, but she clearly is. She's clearly very, very obsessed by him. And Byron, in due course, after the failure of their marriage. Spoiler alert. He writes cruelly, but I think very accurately that she married me from vanity and the hope of reforming and fixing me gully.


That's very modern, isn't it? I mean, he can see that she wanted to fix him, to reform him and he knows it's not going to work.


And again, that's the kind of, you know, it's the kind of thing you get in Jane Eyre. You know, that kind of the mills and boone. I mean, it kind of establishes the template. So the marriage is fixed for early 1815. So Byron and Hobhouse set off from London on Christmas Eve 1814. Byron spends Christmas at six mile bottom with his sister and then, of course, he's. They set off again. And Hobhouse says of this journey, never was a lover in less haste.


Oh, dear.


They arrived very late on the 30 December. Hobhouse inspects Annabella.




Records in his journal that evening. Rather dowdy looking and wears a long and high dress, though she has excellent feet and ankles.


Yeah, don't disregard feet and ankles, Tom. I mean, you can't.


But over the next few days, he comes to admire her, thinks that she's a very impressive woman, describes her as very sensible. And his judgment is actually that Byron and Annabella are in love. He finds their relationship quite affecting and the marriage takes place by special dispensation that's been issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the living room of Seaham House overlooking the North Sea. And this happens on 1 January 1815. And the moment the wedding is done, Annabella bursts into tears. I mean, maybe that's kind of high emotion. I mean, who knows? And then after the wedding.




Anyone who's listened to our episode with Dan Jackson on the north south divide will recognize this as a very, very Dan moment. Before they leave, before Byron and Annabella leave the house, some coal miners, ten of them, arrive, fantastically dressed, and they do a sword dance.


Oh, that's nice.


Which is the kind of custom.




Seems to have gone into abeyance since then.


Yeah. That doesn't happen in the north of England. I associate that with more with Albania, frankly, with Byron's old stamping ground.


Yeah. So that's great. I mean, it's, you know, wonderfully northumbrian.




And then they set off, the happy couple set off to another millbank property, which is Halneby hall near Darlington. So how does the honeymoon go?


Oh, Tom, I'm dreading this.


So Byron writes, Lady Melman says, it's all great, fabulous. However, there are other accounts. Lady Byron's own account.


The Lady Byron is Annabella, so Annabella.


Is now Lady Byron. And also comments that Byron makes to his friends and also things that he wrote in his memoirs, which subsequently get burnt by hobhouse to spare scandal, but which various people had read and they remember it. So if you collate these reports, this is the account of the honeymoon. So they're driving through Durham, the bells are ringing for them in their honor, and Byron begins singing and basically ranting. And he tells Annabella she has doomed him. She'd rejected him two years earlier. If only she'd done that, she would have spared him damnation. Alluding to the incest, but not actually naming it, but dropping very, very heavy hints. He says that she has doomed him to tragedy. He then starts slagging off her mother.


Oh, God.


Says that Lady Melbourne. Says that her mother's a terrible woman, so it's not a happy drive.


This is a very poor way to leave the service and the reception.


Yeah. They arrive at Houndby hall. Byron then apparently had written. I had Lady Byron on the sofa before dinner. He'd written this in his memoirs.


Well, that's something, I suppose. I mean, that's a plus point.


It's then time for them to go to bed. Byron informs Lady Byron, I hate sleeping with women. I don't want to go to sleep with a woman. But if you've got to, well, okay, fair enough. So that's not particularly appealing.


And by that he means, like, literally sleeping.


Literally sleeping in the bed. And they go to sleep. And then Byron wakes up in the middle of the night. The curtains are bright scarlet, there's a flickering candle, and Byron cries out, good God, I am surely in hell.


So poor, poor Lady Byron.


I mean, just awful, awful. I mean, this is what he does. He's Byron. He plays up the melodrama. You know, he does all this kind.


This is what happens if you spend too much time on your maths.


Right. Because she doesn't recognize that there is an element of self parody to this.




And so Augusta would have recognized this, would have laughed him out of it, would have made a joke of it, and Annabella doesn't. And so this just reminds Byron more and more of Augusta. And so he starts writing to Augusta and dropping hints about how close he is to Augusta. And that just makes Lady Byron more and more kind of rigid with nervousness and tension. And so it's terrible. Now, the thing is that there are clearly moments where they behave like a conventional, loving couple. He's writing these poems. They're called hebrew melodies. He's been asked by a jewish composer to write some poetry based on the Old Testament that this jewish composer, Isaac Nathan, can set to music. And Lady Byron is kind of copying it up. And these are some of Byron's most beautiful poetry. So people may have heard the destruction of Sennacherib the Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold and his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold. So it's all great stuff. And Lady Byron is helping him with that. But then the time comes for them to head south. And where do they head?


Oh, not to the sister's house. Six mile bottom.


That is exactly where they go. And by this point, Annabella is really starting to put, you know, she's a mathematician, she's putting two or two together and she's arriving at four. And when they meet with Augusta, all her suspicions are confirmed, because by now Byron is behaving with, I think, palpable cruelty, basically saying to Annabella, you know, you go to bed, I don't need you anymore. I've got my sister. I mean, horrible behavior.




And in due course, he basically involves them in a threesome.


Yes. Golly, his delight was to work us both well.


So that's Annabella writing after the failure of the marriage, and he basically, he's lying on the sofa and he's making them both lie beside him.


Would you like to have an incestuous threesome with me and my sister? I mean, that's not a request you often get, is it?


I mean, that's bad enough. You know, the man you've just married is having an adulterous affair with his.


Sister and wants you to get involved.


When she writes about this, there's something so tragic, because what really upsets her. She writes, I was sensible that he was more warm towards Augusta than he was to me. And when Lord and Lady Byron move on to London, Augusta goes with them.


Oh, right.


I mean, in many ways, you know, he can behave terribly, but he has deep reserves of generosity, of kindness as well. Why is he being so cruel? I think he's angry with Augusta. I think he's angry with himself. I think he's angry with Annabella for the reasons that he said that, you know, if only she'd married him earlier, that none of this would have happened. He does have massive financial anxieties because he, predictably, he's taken room, a house that they can't really afford, on Piccadilly Terrace, which is people who know London. It's right by Hyde park, overlooking Green park. And I think also he feels trapped. And whenever Byron feels trapped, he behaves very badly.


Lashes out.


Yeah, he kind of lashes out. And there's a social occasion that sums up why he would have been under stress. I mean, it must be one of the worst parties of all time. So they have this kind of soiree at Piccadilly Terrace. Lady Melbourne comes with Lady Caroline Lamb. Annabella is there and Augusta is there.


Oh, my God. All his women in one room.


And Annabella's mother.


That is so weird. Oh, my word. Why would you put yourself through that?


I mean, I know.


Why would you not just make claim you're ill or disappear?


I think Byron is ill. I mean, I think he's psychologically ill. And this is the last time that Caroline will see Byron because shortly after this, Napoleon, all this time, you know, great adventures, he's been sent to Elba, he's come back, and the battle of Waterloo will be fought a few weeks after this. And Caroline's brother gets wounded at the battle. And so she leaves London to go to Brussels, and while she is in Brussels and then in Paris, all hell breaks loose and she will never see Byron again, because, again, spoiler, Byron is going to end up going into exile. The crisis comes to a head in November 1815, and by now Annabella is eight months pregnant. And Byron's stress is kind of reaching breaking point. He's drinking very, very heavily just to kind of add, you know, horror to the mix. He's having an affair with an actress, dropping hints about that, both to Augusta and to Annabella. And then on the 8 November, bailiffs force their way into the house and Byron confesses to hobhouse that I feel half mad. He feels half mad with the pressure of his marriage with the pressure of the, you know, the financial humiliation that he's suffering.


He says, my financial worries are doubled by the fact that I have a wife. But he remains a kind of proud aristocrat. Murray offers to lend him money. He owes 1500 pounds and the library has been offered up as surety. And Murray says, I'll pay off the debt so you can keep the library. And Byron refuses, you know, he refuses to take money for his royalties. And the person who helps him out is Sir Ralph, Lady Byron's father. And the bailiffs move out on the 9 December, just as Lady Byron is going into labor. And on the 10 December, she gives birth to a daughter who is called Augusta.


Oh, come on, Byron, Tom, he's just behaving very self indulgently now. I'm sorry, he is.


But her second name is Ada, and so, unsurprisingly by her mother, she will come to be known as Ada.




The birth of the child does not, it is fair to say, bring them closer together. And Byron's response to the fact that his wife is recovering from labor is to start dropping hints, not about incest, which Lady Birano knows all about, but about sodomy. Although he does try to assure her that, as he says, I have never done an act that would bring me under the law, at least on this side of the water. So basically saying I haven't had any gay affairs, at least since I came back from my travels, at least not.


On this side of the water. So he's deliberately leaving the implication open, which is what he does, right? There must be a cruelty in his nature, Tom.


Yeah, I think so. It's his image. I mean, that's the image of the byronic hero, the nameless crime. Yeah, it's what it's all about.


Yeah, but to keep taunting her and leaving the hits.


Yeah, I agree. It's unspeakably cruel behavior. And Lady Byron, by this point, is at breaking point. And so she says, I want to take Ada, newborn girl, to go and see my parents. And Byron's response to this is, yes, please go and go as soon as possible. So Lady Byron, by now, basically is convinced that he's mad. And so she, as Caroline had earlier done, she starts rummaging through his drawers and his trunks and everything and his letter cases, searching for evidence that she will be able to produce to demand a separation. And she discovers in a traveling trunk, a bottle of laudanum. So opium and a secret copy of Justine by the Marquis Dessard. So this is what Byron has been reading. And on the 14 January, before she leaves him, she goes to a doctor and consults with him about Byron. And I'll read it in full because her testimony is really interesting. She says this about Byron. He is convinced that he must be wicked, is foredoomed to evil, and compelled by some irresistible power to follow his destiny, doing violence all the time to his feelings. Under the influence of this imagined fatalism, he will be most unkind to those whom he loves best.


I think that's absolutely true. Suffering agonies at the same time for the pain he gives them. He then believes the world to be governed by a malignant spirit and at one time conceived himself to be a fallen angel, though he, he was half ashamed of the idea and grew cunning and mysterious about it after I seemed to detect it.


Tom, do you think he's mentally ill?


I think he's under such stress as effectively to be so at this point, yes.




And so that evening, after she's been to consult with the doctor, she is sitting with Byron and with Augusta, and Byron says, when shall we three meet again? And Lady Byron replies to him, in heaven, I hope. And early the next morning, before Byron's got up, she leaves, she takes Ada with her. And on the 2 February, Byron gets a letter from Sir Ralph Milbanke, Lady Byron's father, asking him to agree to a separation.


And Ada, just a big spoiler. She is, of course, Ada Lovelace, isn't she? The sort of computing pioneer? So she's got her maths from her mom.


She does, yep. And she gets her very self destructive streak from Byron. But we'll come to that at the end of the next episode. Now, what is interesting is that this letter from Sir Ralph Milbank comes as a complete shock to Byron. And he writes back to Sir Ralph denying any suggestion of ill treatment. And it is fair to say that all the accounts of Byron's ill treatment do come from Annabella. I mean, clearly she has been driven to leave him. I mean, she's a very pious, devout woman, clearly still in love with him, so she's not leaving him for no reason. But I think it is fair to just to kind of raise the possibility that she might be perhaps overshadowing things. So I think a kind of classic example of the scope that exists for misunderstanding between Byron and Lady Byron. Annabella reports that as her labor began. Yeah, Byron goes out to the theater and he then comes back and he spends the night downstairs throwing bottles at the room in which she is giving birth, presumably to kind of disturb her and upset her when she's giving birth. And she tells this to Hobhouse and Hobhouse thinks that can't be true.


And so he goes and looks at the ceiling where Byron is supposed to have thrown the bottles and there's no marks of any bottles having been thrown there. And Hobhouse's conclusion is that this is Byron's playful habit of knocking off the heads of the bottles with a poker and that this sufficiently accounted for the noise. I mean, you might say, well, you know, I mean, even, you know, if your wife is in labor, knocking bottles off with a poker is a bit unsettling, but I don't think there was deliberate cruelty there, so it's difficult to know. And this is why Hobhouse much later says that Byron could have written out the scandal if he'd wanted. You know, he says there was not the slightest necessity, even in appearance, for his going abroad.


But, Tom, first of all, Hobhouse's party prix is Byron's old friend. And secondly, the portrait you have given of their marriage and their relationship, given what you've already told us about Byron, about his patterns of behavior, the traumas he suffered as a little boy, all of these kinds of things, it does sound plausible. I mean, it does sound like he would have done all these things.


It does, it does. I think it shows him at his absolute worst. And I think there was no possibility of his writing out the scandal, not least because by this point, Lady Caroline Lamb is back from Paris and the news has got out that Lady Byron has left her husband and Caroline rallies to her cousin in law's support and she starts spreading two terrible rumors, and they are that Byron has been having an incestuous affair with his sister and that he is an enthusiastic practitioner of sodomy. And she tells Annabella, who, of course, is desperate to keep Ada because there's no guarantee that the mother will keep the child in the case of separation. She says, I am giving you this information so that you can menace him with the knowledge of it and it will surely make him tremble. And there is a particularly damning charge which is heard by Lord Holland, who then tells Hobhouse that Byron had tried to sodomize Lady Byron. And Byron says, this isn't true, writes to the lawyers and gets Lady Byron to acknowledge that this charge of sodomy, that it did not form any part of the charges, which in the event of a separation by agreement not taking place, she should have been compelled to make against Lord Byron.


But that's ambivalent. So is it denial that it happened or is she saying that she wouldn't use it in court? I mean, it's not clear.


Yeah. Be terribly humiliating for her to have used it in court, wouldn't it? I mean, it's unlikely she would have used it in court.


It would. And I think it's almost become the orthodoxy that this did happen and that this was her breaking point. And there's William Gibson and Bruce Sterling wrote a book, the Difference Engine, in which Ada Lovelace and babbage have got together and the computer age has begun in victorian Britain. So it's a counterfactual. And the pivot point in that history is that Lady Byron, rather than leaving her husband, submits to it and stays with Byron and helps Byron to become prime minister.


An unlikely prospect. I think it's better.


An unlikely prospect, yes. Anyway, so the scandal is now spreading across London, across Britain, across Europe. At the 8 April, Byron goes to a ball. He is cut. He is advised by his friends, do not go to parliament. You will be hiss. Do not step outside your front door. People are kind of massing, they want to do you violence. The rumors of his homosexuality provoking the kind of mob violence that Byron had always been in dread of. And so he feels he has no choice but to sign the deed of separation that's been drawn up for him by his wife's lawyers, which he does on the 21 April. And the next day he leaves London. He is going in a coach that, in typically byronic fashion has been modeled on that used by Napoleon to take him to Waterloo. He heads to Dover. On the 25 April, he takes ship for Ostend. Hobhouse has gone with him. He's on the harbor front at Dover and watches him until he can see his friend no more. And that evening Hobhouse writes, God bless him for a gallant spirit and a kind one.


That's an ironic thing to say, given that he's behaved. I mean, whatever you think of his behavior, he has not treated Annabella kindly.


No, I don't think he's been kind at all. And I think another, more astute commentary on the whole affair is made by another friend of Byron's, a great admirer of his, Sir Walter Scott, the novelist and poet who writes about Byron, that he had child harolded himself and outlawed himself into too great a resemblance with the pictures of his imagination. So I think that basically what Scott is saying there is that Byron is the primal example of how celebrity can feed on itself.


So, Tom, I know we've gone on too long, and Theo will be cross with us, and it'd be cross with me for asking you a last question, but just on that issue, is that true? So the self destructiveness in Byron, the anxieties or the hang ups or whatever, about sexuality and stuff, they were there from the very beginning. His very abusive upbringing and all that sort of stuff, how much would they have happened anyway? Or how much is he consciously. Because there's so many times in this story that you've told where he's almost consciously playing a part, isn't there, the byronic hero. Do you think that that's actually what undid him, that he was seduced by his own myth? Or do you think the demons within him would always have led him to this sort of dark place?


I think that if he had not been as famous as he was, none of this would have become the scandal that it did. He is given license to behave as he does by his fame, and as events will show. Although he is driven into exile by one of what McCawley famously describes as one of the periodic fits of morality, Macaulay famously says, we know of no spectacle more ridiculous than the british public enjoying one of its periodic fits of morality. Byron will be able to reconfigure this entire episode into further material for his myth and to burnish his poetry in a way that we will explore in episode four. Because although Byron is socially ruined in England, his reputation and fame as a poet is only amplified by it. And the sense of him as a mythic figure, the paradigmatic figure of post napoleonic Europe, is completely shaped by the fact that. That he is driven from England in moral disgrace.


Okay, so next time, I mean, if you're a member of the rest is history club, you can listen to that final episode. Right now, we'll be talking about vampirism. We're talking about Byron in Italy with the Shelleys, with Percy Bushelli, and of course, Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. Byron will return to Greece for the greek war of independence. And it's there, of course, Tom, that he meets his destiny. So that episode will be out on Thursday, or right now, if you're a member of the rest is history club. And until then, goodbye.


Bye bye.


Tom, I've just learned some absolutely extraordinary and exciting news, and anybody who's a history lover, anybody who, like me, loves spending their summer at festivals, will delight and rejoice at this news, won't they?


They absolutely will. And the news is that in June, it is the chalk history festival in Broadchalk. In the Chalk Valley, the very village in which I grew up. My brother James and I, we talked about this the other day on a rest is history bonus episode. But for all of you who didn't hear that, I can't recommend the festival enough. There's an unbelievable array of talks from top historians and others beside. Plus a mass of other things to see and do. Live music every day, living history performances and of course, lots of food, drink, camping, all historically themed. And an absolutely stunning setting.


It's an amazing setting, Tom, and it's a real highlight of my year. I've had it inked into my diary for months. Really looking forward to it. And the highlight of the week, I have to say, has to be our special live performance of the rest is history, which we will be doing on the Tuesday, weren't we? Yeah, Tuesday, the 25 June.


Yes. So that's the day you'll be there, Dominic, I know you've got to head off after that, but I will be still there doing a host of other things. And basically I'll be there for most of the week. So please do join us. Tickets are on sale now and you can get and that's c h a l k e. So chalk with an e on it festival. It'll be wonderful to see you there.