George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788 - 1824) was a leading figure in the Romanting movement of literature, known for several influential poems, numerous love affairs and meeting his demise while participating in the Greek War of Independence (1821 - 1830).
Byron was born to Captain John Byron, nicknamed "Mad Jack", and his second wife Catherine Gordon. Both parents were members of aristocrating families and Byron claimed descent from James I of Scotland. However his father's extravagant lifestyle and substance abuse left the family impoverished during his childhood. Mad Jack died in 1791. Byron later believed his father had commited suicide, but the circumstances of death were ambiguous. Catherine raised her son alone while "regularly experiencing mood swings and bouts of melancholy".
The fate of Byron changed when William Byron, 5th Baron Byron (1722 - 1798), a grand-uncle, died of old age. Known as the "Wicked Lord" and the "Devil Byron", William was known for an adversarial relationship with his own son and grandson. He regularly squandered his considerable fortune in order to ensure his heirs would not enjoy a grand lifestyle. He managed to survive the both of them and left behind a modest estate for his grand-nephew. Ten-year-old George became the 6th Baron. He claimed to have lost his virginity soon after to May Gray, his governess.
Byron was a bisexual. Some of his first loves included distant cousins Mary Duff and Margaret Parker . teenage crush Mary Chatsworth and school friends John FitzGibbon, 2nd Earl of Clare and John Edleston . Relationships with this small group are believed to have been mostly platonic though Byron would recall them fondly in later years. Byron left Britain to travel around the Mediterranean from 1809 to 1811. The most famous object of his affections during this perior was Teresa Makri, a Greek girl living in Athens. He wrote the poem "Maid of Athens" for her and tried to woo her. However the Makri family rejected this adult suitor of their twelve-year-old daughter.
Byron started writing poetry in his teenage years,gradualy developing his archetypical "Byronic hero". Effectively idealised characters with tragic character flaws and often "cursed". An interest in the culture of Eastern Europe influenced several of his poems. Particularly his poem "The Giaour" (1813) is credited with introducing and popularizing the vampire legend in the literature of Western Europe. The following verses would inluence the Western depiction of vampires through the 19th century:
"Bur first, on earth as Vampire sent, /Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place, /And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife, /At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce /Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire/Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them, /Thy flowers are wither'd on the stem.
But one that for thy crime must fall, /The youngest, most beloved of all,
Shall bless thee with a father's name --- /That word shall wrap thy heart in flame !
Yet must thou end thy task, and mark/Her cheek's last tinge, her eye's last spark,
And the last glassy glance must view/Which freezes o'er its lifeless blue;
Then with unhallow'd hand shalt tear/The tresses of her yellow hair,
Of which in life a lock when shorn, /Affection's fondest pledge was worn,
But now is borne away by thee, /Memorial of thine agony !
Wet with thine own best blood shall drip/Thy gnashing tooth and haggard lip;
Then stalking to thy sullen grave, /Go --- and with gouls and Afrits rave;
Till these in horror shrink away /From spectre more accursed than they ! "
Returning to Great Britain, Byron started a series of scandalous affairs.The first was Lady Caroline Lamb, a novelist married to a politician. Byron abandoned her following a few months of an affair. She kept pursuing him, was left emotionaly disturbed and lost considerable weight while depressed. Byron simply jested about being "haunted by a skeleton". Lamb would later influence negative depictions of Byron, summarized in her famous description of him "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" .
Byron also wooed Augusta Leigh, a married half-sister of his. The affair resulted in the birth of Elizabeth Medora Leigh (1814 - 1849). Byron next picked a wife in Anne Isabella "Annabella" Milbanke, an intellectual with a reputation for coldness. Byron wooed her persistently from 1812 to 1814. They were married in 1815 but already seperated in 1816. The only child of this marriage was Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815 - 1852), later a famous mathematician. Ada is known for her theoretical work in creating an "analytical engine", an early mechanical general-purpose computer.
Byron left Great Britain for good in 1816. He travelled with John William Polidori, his personal physician, to continental Europe. He rented Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva. There the duo were joined by fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, his fiancee Mary Godwin (married name Mary Shelley) and her half-sister Claire Clairmont. Claire happened to be a former lover of Byron. He was initially unhappy to see her but they rekindled their relationship. Byron gained his third daughter Clara Allegra Byron (1817 - 1822) ffrom this affair.
Their stay in the Villa was productive in more ways than one. The friends spend rainy days reading "Fantasmagoriana or Tales of the Dead" (1813), an anthology of horror fiction. They challenged each other to write a story containing horror elements. Byron never finished his story. But Polidori used some of Byron's half-formed ideas and his own creativity to write "The Vampyre" (1819), the first fully fleshed vampire literary story and the progenitor to an entire horror genre. Vampire protagonist Lord Ruthven was based on Byron himself. While Mary Shelley developed her own story to a full novel, "Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus" (1818). A novel which was also highly influential.
Byron spend the period from late 1816 to 1823 in Italy, mostle Venice, Rome and Pisa. He spend much of his time developing his masterpiece "Don Juan". He also had affairs with Marianna Segati, Margarita Cogni and a longer-lasting one with Teresa, Contessa Guiccioli. Guiccioli would later write a biography of Byron focusing on his Italian period. By 1823 he had grown bored with Italy and Guiccioli. He headed east for Greece and joined the Greek side of the War of Independance. He notably helped finance the Greek fleet. He was given his own military command but died of a fever in 1824. The Greeks still honor him as a national hero.
Byron' influence could be felt in literary and musical works throughout the 19th century. He has indirect influence to 20th and 21st century literature and film, mostly through the works of his successors and imitators.