Appalling Facts About Lady Byron, History's Most Scorned Woman

January 12, 2024 | J. Clarke

Appalling Facts About Lady Byron, History's Most Scorned Woman

Lord Byron’s classic poetry is praised for its passion and romance. But judging by the life of his only wife, Lady Byron, life with the poet was everything but a fairytale.

1. She Was Born Priviliged

Born to Sir Ralph Milbanke and the Judith Noel in 1792, Anne Isabella Noel Byron spent her youth in the lap of luxury. Not only did her family hold great status and wealth, but that inheritance eventually made her a very rich woman. Even before that, though, she proved herself quite different from other girls her age.Annabella Byron in blue dress, Lady ByronCharles Hayter, Wikimedia Commons

2. She Had Brains

Lady Byron showed great intelligence in her childhood. Her parents fostered her talent by hiring a college professor to tutor her. She flourished in all her studies, but notably held a special love for math and science. As you might expect, this made her stand out among other women of her time. But not always in a good way.Lady Byron as a child in white dressJohn Hoppner,  Wikimedia Commons

3. She Didn’t Play Around

Lady Byron reportedly never watered down her intellectual prowess for anyone. She also grew to be very religious, dedicated to her beliefs in a way that some described as making her overly pious and proper. Even so, she somehow got mixed up with a man that proved to be quite her opposite—in a way that changed her life for the worse.Annabella, Lady Byron in white dressUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

4. He Was A Rascal

Lord Byron already served as fodder for local gossip when he and Lady Byron met in 1812. By that time, his poem “Childe Harold's Pilgrimage” had already made him a bit of a celebrity, and a staple of high society events. His personal life, however, made just as much of a splash, if not even more so.Portrait Painting of the English poet and peer Lord ByronThomas Phillips, Wikimedia Commons

5. He Had Woman Poblems

Around this time, the big gossip about Lord Byron centered on his affair with Lady Caroline Lamb. Their affair shocked and intrigued the public. Not only was Lamb married, but she also initially insisted she held no interest in Byron while allegedly pursuing him in secret. Even more intriguing is Lamb’s connection to Lady Byron herself.Lady Caroline Lamb in white dressJohn Hoppner, Wikimedia Commons

6. He Kept It In The Family

Lamb and Lady Byron were cousins. Thusly, Lady Byron likely found herself well acquainted with Lord Byron and the reputation he continued to build for himself as a man of his “passions”. All that knowledge aside, though, she had a surprising response to meeting him for the first time.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady Byron  in white dressBBC, Byron (2003)

7. She Felt Something

As both of them mixed in the circles of England’s wealthy and privileged, Lady Byron eventually found herself in the presence of Lord Byron. Her initial response to him seemed a little hot and cold. In short, she reportedly told her mother she’d never approach him herself, but might entertain his interest—and entertain it she did.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady Byron  in white dress and hatBBC, Byron (2003)

8. She Drew Him In

The two began to form a relationship soon after they first met in 1812. They continued to chat and get to know each other at social events, and Lord Byron reportedly found himself oddly attracted to the very prim and proper Lady Byron. Before the year was out, the poet made a decision no one, least of all Lady Byron, expected.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady Byron  in black dress and hat speaking to ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

9. He Made His Play

Lord Byron sent a proposal in October of that same year. Unsurprisingly, though, even the way he did that turned out to be scandalous. Rather than proposing to her directly, he allegedly sent the proposal through her aunt, Elizabeth Lamb. 

Her aunt took the proposal to her niece happily—though if only because she had her own motives.Screenshot from the movie Rowing with the Wind, actor Hugh Grant as Lord ByronTVE, Rowing with the Wind (1988)

10. She Wanted To Be Rid Of Him

If you haven’t made the connection by now, this same aunt was the mother of Caroline Lamb, Byron’s “ex,” if you will. With hopes of getting Lord Byron away from her own daughter, she encouraged Lady Byron to accept his proposal. Lady Byron, however, didn’t move so easily. She refused—and did so with an added bit of drama.Lady Byron facing rightMatthew Woods, Wikimedia Commons

11. She Turned Him Down

Lady Byron wrote a letter to Lord Byron, allegedly describing his personal issues and ultimately denying him. While there’s not many details on what she said, she didn’t seem like the person to mince words, and likely didn’t in the letter. But she wouldn't be rid of him that easily. 

Against her better judgment, something kept drawing her back to her bad boy poet.Screenshot from the movie Rowing with the Wind, actors Valentine Pelka portraying Percy Bysshe Shelley and Hugh Grant as Lord ByronTVE, Rowing with the Wind (1988)

12. He Needed Her

Refusal or no, Lady Byron maintained contact with her suitor with letters over the next few years. According to her family and friends, she felt some sort of duty to him, to support him and help make him a better man. And just in time, too, because he was getting dangerously close to rock bottom.  Jonny Lee Miller as Lord Byron sitting at deskBBC, Byron (2003)

13. He Had A Bad Rep

Lord Byron's ill-begotten relationship with Lady Byron’s cousin ended up being just one in a long list of scandals circling around him. He had multiple romantic affairs attached to his name, with both men and women. Furthermore, he began to amass much more debt than he could pay. He needed a friend—more than a friend, actually.Byron 1813 in black clothesThomas Phillips, Wikimedia Commons

14. He Had Ulterior Motives

Unbeknownst to Lady Byron, Lord Byron’s friends and family began to pressure him to get married. Reportedly, they hoped the marriage could both help him settle down and change his image in the court of public opinion. In 1814, Byron gave in to their pressing. He proposed to Anne again—but this time, there was something she didn't know.Jonny Lee Miller as Lord Byron sitting at deskBBC, Byron (2003)

15. He Didn’t Choose Her

There’s no report that Lady Byron ever truly knew, but Byron actually sent out two proposals in 1814. One to an unnamed woman who refused him, and another to Lady Byron. And to his surprise, she actually accepted this time. She must have thought she could change him.

She had no clue what she was in for.

Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady Byron  reading a letterBBC, Byron (2003)

16. Everything Changed

Once Lady Byron accepted his proposal, Lord Byron journeyed to her home to visit his future in-laws. Like any woman might, she expected to receive a man excited to see his new fiance. She was in for a rude awakening. Instead, he showed up in a noticeably terrible and distraught mood. When she took him aside to talk, the situation turned even more dire. Lord Byron in red clothesNational Portrait Gallery, Wikimedia Commons

17. She Tried

Thinking maybe he changed his mind, Lady Byron offered to end their engagement all together. His response was not what she was expecting. Lord Byron promptly passed out. She figured perhaps he loved her so much that the thought of ending their relationship stunned him into fainting. 

They married in fall 1814, and she soon discovered how very wrong she’d been. Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady Byron  at her  weddingBBC, Byron (2003)

18. The Honeymoon Ended Early

Reportedly, Lord Byron spoke some harsh words to his new wife as soon as they entered their carriage after the wedding. By her report, he said “ will find that you have married a devil”. On arrival to their new home, her new husband didn’t even enter the house with her. It proved the beginning of a horrendous relationship.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady Byron    sitting at tableBBC, Byron (2003)

19. He Turned To The Bottle

While reports never call him particularly chaste, Byron began drinking more heavily after getting married. This aggravated his already extreme mood swings, making him difficult to deal with on a day to day basis. Furthermore, the more time she spent with her new husband, the more Lady Byron discovered that his situation was far worse than she realized.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

20. He Needed Money

Byron navigated his literary success very unusually, often not accepting payment for his work. This forced Lady Byron to pay off his ever growing debt something with her own hefty inheritances. Money is one of the primary issues couples break up over, and it was a massive problem here—but Lady Byron had even worse vices to deal with. Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady Byron  in white dress sitting at tableBBC, Byron (2003)

21. He Cheated

Much like he did before getting married, Byron continued to engage in physical romantic relationships with other women and men. Notably, he began an affair with a well-known actress at the time, Susan Boyce. While the constant infidelity likely broke his new wife’s heart, one of his affairs in particular shattered her to pieces.Photomechanical print Portrait of Lord ByronWelsh Portrait Collection, Wikimedia Commons

22. He Liked His Sister

While not confirmed by him or his sister, Lady Byron alleged that her husband had an inappropriate relationship with his half sister, Augusta Leigh. Even though their relationship remains unconfirmed, it eventually became well-known knowledge in England. Lady Byron didn’t respond the way you might expect.Natasha Little	as Augusta Leigh Byron's sister sittingBBC, Byron (2003)

23. She Doubled Down

With all her new husband’s terrible behaviour, I don’t think anyone would blame Lady Byron for running for the hills. However, she did just the opposite. She stayed committed to Byron, and further committed to helping him right himself. She held him accountable for all his sins, refusing to indulge him. He didn’t like it at all.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

24. He Hated Her

Byron truly seemed to think his wife should allow him to use their marriage as a cover for his behavior. He reportedly found her commitment to piety to be his own personal nightmare. When he asked her to just give in to the marriage sham, she said “I am too truly your friend to do this”. It only made things worse.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady Byron   in green dress BBC, Byron (2003)

25. He Didn’t Tust Her

During this time, some letters from Byron to his sister (yes, that sister) show just how he felt about his new wife. In his letter, he accused his wife of breaking into his private files and looking through his things. Though this is impossible to confirm, considering Lady Byron’s own assessments, perhaps she actually did.Jonny Lee Miller as Lord ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

26. She Thought He Was Crazy

Lady Byron ultimately concluded that her husband was quite literally losing his mind. She felt only mental illness truly explained the change in his demeanour from the man she’d met to the man she found herself married to. Unfortunately for her, a major change for them both soon made the situation even more unbearable.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady Byron   in white dressBBC, Byron (2003)

27. She Had His Baby

Clearly, all their issues didn’t prevent them both from engaging with each other intimately. However, when Lady Byron got pregnant, her husband seemed to get even more irritated and anguished with her and their marriage. He began avoiding her entirely, and she found herself at her wits’ end, turning to an unlikely place for help. Jonny Lee Miller as Lord ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

28. She Called For Backup

In November 1815, Lady Byron wrote to Lord Byron’s sister Augusta Leigh, the same one he allegedly involved himself with romantically, about his behavior. When Augusta went to their house to assist, she found everything her sister in law wrote about to be true. 

She agreed that her brother must be going crazy. In short, even she couldn’t help.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady Byron   in blue dressBBC, Byron (2003)

29. He Made Her Go

Just a few days after giving birth to their daughter Ada, the Byrons’ relationship reached a shocking impasse. Byron came into his wife’s room, and told her that as soon as she healed enough to travel, she must take the child and go to her parent’s house. On her very own last straw, Lady Byron turned to the final place she felt she could for advice.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

30. She Called A Professional

Lady Byron secretly contacted a doctor. She expressed her suspicions about her husband’s mental health, but there was little the doctor could do. The best thing he could offer was to suggest maybe some time apart might be good for them. She wasn’t quite ready to give up, though.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

31. She Kept Track

Lady Byron decided to start keeping track of her husband’s behavior in writing. She documented his actions and moods, likely in an attempt to help validate her suspicions about his health. Reportedly, she also feared the worst—that he might ultimately end his own life. 

Whether she knew it or not, she was fighting a losing battle—but she still reached out to one more person before officially moving on. Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

32. She Told His Friends

In a letter to a friend of Byron, John Hanson, Lady Byron shared all her suspicions about her husband. She wrote that she feared for his life. Furthermore, she postulated he might have the brain sickness hydrocephalus, which could be causing his mood issues. 

With that, she finally packed up her things and left, though it wasn't a clean break. Jonny Lee Miller as Lord ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

33. She Held On

After leaving her husband, Lady Byron continued to write to him. Reportedly she wrote him kind letters, even referring to him as “dearest duck”. Maybe she thought they’d find their way back to each other. Her parents, however, had different ideas. 

With an attorney, they convinced her to send Byron a letter of separation. But it would never arrive.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

34. He Looked Bad

Lord Byron’s sister Augustua Leigh stayed with him after Lady Byron left, and got her hands on this letter before it got to him. Things weren’t looking good for Byron, as news of his separation fueled up the rumor mills again. With his disgrace in public opinion, Augusta feared that the separation might finally do in her brother for good. 

So, she kept the letter. Then she wrote to Lady Byron with her own desperate plea.Lord ByronHenry Thompson, CC0, Wikimedia Commons

35. She Tried To Protect Him

Augusta Leigh did everything in her power to inspire Lady Byron and her family to reconsider the separation. There’s no word on Lady Byron’s personal response, but it doesn't sound like she was swayed. Another letter of separation went out shortly after. This time, Lord Byron received it directly. 

His reaction was, honestly, heartbreaking.Jonny Lee Miller as Lord ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

36. He Couldn’t Believe It

Somehow, despite their entire relationship and reports that he asked his wife to leave, Lord Byron couldn't actually believe Lady Byron sent the letter of her own accord. It was simply impossible that his wife would want to leave him. He refused to legally end their marriage unless she somehow proved that she actually wanted to end things.

He would regret ever giving her the chance.

Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady Byron,BBC, Byron (2003)

37. She Revealed Him

Lady Byron sent word back to her husband, accusing him of a laundry list of things, including an intimate relationship men, women, and his own sister, just for starters. She held back to punches, and even the delusional Lord Byron got the message. He gave in, and their relationship ended. Well, technically.Jonny Lee Miller as Lord ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

38. She Kept Quiet

While we retain all the sordid details of their horrible relationship on this side of things, Lady Byron didn’t actually speak up during her life. In fact, close family and friends claim she maintained a sort of commitment to her ex husband, continuing to hope he’d commit to the betterment of his soul. It didn’t at all work that way.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady Byron in blue dressBBC, Byron (2003)

39. He Ran Away

With his reputation tarnished in England, Lord Byron took off to mainland Europe to continue his "work". When asked, he gave his own version of the events of his marriage. He made it seem as though his passionate love just wasn’t a match for Lady Byron’s rigid demeanor. However, his end might have changed things.Jonny Lee Miller as Lord Byron in gray suitBBC, Byron (2003)

40. He Relented

After leaving his wife and England behind, Lord Byron experienced several years of literary success. He managed to recreate his image abroad with ease, creating a romantically heroic version of himself for the history books. However, when he took ill in 1824, he seemed to have some final confessions to get off his chest—and there was only one person he wanted to hear them. 

He called for his long estranged ex-wife, Lady Byron. Jonny Lee Miller as Lord ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

41. He Tried To Confess

Even if he wanted to make amends, Lord Byron never got the chance. The last day Lady Byron actually saw her ex-husband was the day she she left him back in 1814, a decade prior. But in his final moments, she was on his mind. 

As his soul prepared to leave his body, Byron seemed to be confessing something. Sadly, the only words that came through in his muttering were the names of his wife, his daughter, and his sister, so we'll never know what he wanted to get off his chest.Lord ByronEdwin, David, Wikimedia Commons  

42. She Did It Alone

While Lady Byron lived very well with her parents, her separation forced her to take on the responsibility of caring for her daughter, and it instilled a single fear in her mind: She worried her ex-husband might one day try to come take their daughter back. 

Lady Byron took precautions against it by documenting all of their communication. This proved the least of her worries, though.Ada Lovelace in white dressMargaret Sarah Carpenter, Wikimedia Commons

43. She Tried To Save Her

Lady Byron worried about her daughter inheriting the same mental issues she believed Lord Byron had. As such, she encouraged her daughter to stay away from literature as much as possible, shifting her focus to math and science. This worked in Ada’s favor, as she went onto become an essential and pioneering figure in the history of computer science. 

Unfortunately, her accomplishments didn’t save her from following in her father's footsteps.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

44. She Got It From Her Dad

Unfortunately, Ada did in fact find herself given to the same swinging moods as her father. She also struggled with gambling, building up another mass of debt for Lady Byron. She married at 19 and rebelled against her mother throughout her life. However, Ada’s tune eventually changed too—and just before it was too late. Ada Lovelace PortraitAlfred Edward Chalon, Wikimedia Commons

45. She Went Early

In 1852, doctors diagnosed Ada with cancer. In her final days, she reconciled with her mother, and even converted to Christianity. She passed shortly after, at the same young age her father did—36. Lady Byron lived for several more years, finding herself providing comfort at the sick bed of the least likely candidate.Ada Lovelace Antoine Claudet, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

46. She Was A Saint

Despite everything she had been through, Lady Byron’s insistent willingness to forgive, help, and think the best of people never seemed to falter. When Augusta Leigh took ill, Lady Byron attended to her too, and even helped care for her child (the one possibly conceived with Lord Byron) after she passed. Her charity didn’t stop there, either.Lady ByronUnknown author, Wikimedia Commons

47. She Gave It Away

Lady Byron never flaunted her status or wealth, even refusing to use her rightful title of Baroness. Instead she dedicated herself to good works, using her money to support abolition and education. But as she herself neared the end of her life, her close friends and family pressed her to return to her past one final time.Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

48. She Told All

In the late 1850’s, doctors diagnosed Lady Byron with cancer. With her end imminent, her friends pressed her to document her truth about her marriage to Lord Byron. She did so just a few years before death, relaying her entire story to a friend and writer, Harriet Beecher Stowe. It’s a good thing she did, too, considering what happened next.Harriet Beecher-StoweUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

49. They Tried To Discredit Her

Lady Byron succumbed to her disease in May 1860. Almost a decade later, one of Lord Byron’s many mistresses published a book about his life. In her own account, she praised Lord Byron as a romantic with a troubled though passionate heart, calling his wife everything but. And finally, Stowe couldn’t keep the truth to herself anymore.

Portrait Of Harriet Beecher StoweSchlesinger Library, Wikimedia Commons

50. Her Redemption Came

Stowe finally published Lady Byron’s account of her marriage in 1869. With great detail, she pointed out the inconsistencies in the book, as well as revealed all the horrors of what Lady Byron quietly survived in her relationship. Though she lived her life in pious silence, Lady Byron’s side of the story remains now for all to see.

Julie Cox as Annabella Milbanke, Lady ByronBBC, Byron (2003)

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