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THE LIFE OF LORD BYRON,
BY THOMAS MOORE, ESQ.
In Doomsday-book, the name of Ralph de Burun | Saracen or Moor, with a European female on one ranks high among the tenants of land in Nottinghamshire; and in the succeeding reigns, under the title of Lords of Horestan Castle, we find his descendants holding considerable possessions in Derbyshire, to which afterwards, in the time of Edward I., were added the lands of Rochdale in Lancashire. So extensive, indeed, in those early times, was the landed wealth of the family, that the partition of their property, in Nottinghamshire alone, has been sufficient to establish some of the first families of the county.
side of him, and a Christian soldier on the other. In a second group, which is in one of the bedrooms, the female occupies the centre, while on each side is the head of a Saracen, with the eyes fixed earnestly upon her. Of the exact meaning of these figures there is nothing certain known; but the tradition is, I understand, that they refer to some love-adventure, in which one of those crusaders, of whom the young poet speaks, was engaged. Of the more certain, or at least better known, exploits of the family, it is sufficient perhaps to say, that, at the siege of Calais under Edward III., and on the fields, memorable in their respective eras, of Cressy, Bosworth, and Marston Moor, the name of the Byrons reaped honours, both of rank and fame, of which their young descendant has, in the verses just cited, shown himself proudly conscious. It was in the reign of Henry VIII., on the dissolu
Its antiquity, however, was not the only distinction by which the name of Byron came recommended to its inheritor; those personal merits and accomplishments, which form the best ornament of a genealogy, seem to have been displayed in no ordinary degree by some of his ancestors. In one of his own early poems, alluding to the achievements of his race, he commemorates with much satisfaction of the monasteries, that, by a royal grant, the tion, those "mail-cover'd barons" among them,
who proudly to battle
Near Askalon's towers John of Horiston slumbers,
As there is no record, however, as far as I can discover, of any of his ancestors having been engaged in the Holy Wars, it is possible that he may have had no other authority for this notion than the tradition which he found connected with certain strange groups of heads, which are represented on the old panel-work in some of the chambers at Newstead. In one of these groups, consisting of three heads, strongly carved and projecting from the panel, the centre figure evidently represents a
church and priory of Newstead, with the lands adjoining, were added to the other possessions of the Byron family. The favourite, upon whom these spoils of the ancient religion were conferred, was the grand-nephew of the gallant soldier who fought by the side of Richmond at Bosworth, and is distinguished from the other knights of the same Christian name, in the family, by the title of "Sir John Byron the Little with the great beard." A portrait of this personage was one of the few family pictures with which the walls of the abbey, while in the possession of the noble poet, were decorated. At the coronation of James I., we find another representative of the family selected as an object of royal favour, the grandson of Sir John Byron the Little being, on this occasion, made a Knight of the
Gordons of Gight, having been a descendant of that Sir William Gordon who was the third son of the Earl of Huntley by the daughter of James I.
Bath. There is a letter to this personage, preserved land can boast,—his mother, who was one of the in Lodge's Illustrations, from which it appears that, notwithstanding all these apparent indications of prosperity, the inroads of pecuniary embarrassment had already begun to be experienced by this ancient house. After counselling the new heir as to the best mode of getting free of his debts, "I do therefore advise you," continues the writer,(1)" that so soon as you have, in such sort as shall be fit, finished your father's funerals, to dispose and disperse that great household, reducing them to the number of forty or fifty, at the most, of all sorts; and, in my opinion, it will be far better for you to live for a time in Lancashire rather than in Notts, for many good reasons that I can tell you when we meet, fitter for words than writing."
After the eventful period of the Civil Wars, when so many individuals of the house of Byron distinguished themselves—there having been no less than seven brothers of that family on the field at Edgehill-the celebrity of the name appears to have died away for near a century. It was about the year 1750, that the shipwreck and sufferings of Mr. Byron (2) (the grandfather of the illustrious subject of these pages), awakened in no small degree the attention and sympathy of the public. Not long after, a less innocent sort of notoriety attached itself to two other members of the family,-one, the grand-uncle of the poet, and the other, his father. The former, in the year 1765, stood his trial before the House of Peers for killing, in a duel, or rather scuffle, his relation and neighbour, Mr. Chaworth; and the latter, having carried off to the continent the wife of Lord Carmarthen, on the noble marquis obtaining a divorce from the lady, married her. Of this short union one daughter only was the issue, the honourable Augusta Byron, now the wife of Colonel Leigh.
From the following reign (Charles I.) the nobility of the family dates its origin. In the year 1643, Sir John Byron, great-grandson of him who succeeded to the rich domains of Newstead, was created Baron Byron of Rochdale in the county of Lancaster; and seldom has a title been bestowed for such high and honourable services as those by which this nobleman deserved the gratitude of his royal master. Through almost every page of the History of the Civil Wars, we trace his name in connexion with the varying fortunes of the king, and find him faithful, persevering, and disinterested to the last. "Sir John Biron (says the writer of Colonel Hutchinson's Memoirs), afterwards Lord Biron, and all his brothers, bred up in arms and valiant men in their own persons, were all passionately the king's." There is also, in the answer which Colonel Hutchinson, when governor of Nottingham, returned, on one occasion, to his cousin-german, Sir Richard Biron, a noble tribute to the valour and fidelity of the family. Sir Richard, having sent to prevail on his relative to surrender the castle, received for answer, that, "except he found his own heart prone to such treachery, he might consider there was, if nothing else, so much of a Biron's blood in him, that he should very much scorn to betray or quit a trust he had undertaken."
Such are a few of the gallant and distinguished personages, through whom the name and honcurs of this noble house have been transmitted. By the maternal side also Lord Byron had to pride himself on a line of ancestry as illustrious as any that Scot
(1) The Earl of Shrewsbury.
In reviewing thus cursorily the ancestors, both near and remote, of Lord Byron, it cannot fail to be remarked how strikingly he combined in his own nature some of the best and, perhaps, worst qualities that lie scattered through the various characters of his predecessors-the generosity, the love of enterprise, the high-mindedness of some of the better spirits of his race, with the irregular passions, the eccentricity, and daring recklessness of the world's opinion, that so much characterized others.
The first wife of the father of the poet having died in 1784, he, in the following year, married Miss Catharine Gordon, only child and heiress of George Gordon, Esq. of Gight. In addition to the estate of Gight, which had,however, in former times, been much more extensive, this lady possessed, in ready money, Bank shares, etc., no inconsiderable property; and it was known to be solely with a view of relieving himself from his debts that Mr. Byron paid his addresses to her. A circumstance related, as having taken place before the
(2) Afterwards Admiral.