Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Princess of Parallelograms

by Lauren Gilbert

Anne Isabella Lady Byron

She was born May 17, 1792 at Elemore Hall, Pittington, Durham as Anne Isabella Milbanke (nicknamed Annabella), daughter and only child of Sir Ralph Milbanke, 6th Baronet, and his wife the Hon. Lady Judith Milbanke. Her aunt was Elizabeth Milbanke Lamb, Lady Melbourne, mother-in-law of Caroline Lamb. She was something of a country cousin to the young Lambs, growing up in Seaham in County Durham.

Annabella was an intellectual, widely read and interested in mathematics and astronomy, which she studied with a tutor. She was also sincerely religious. Unfortunately, she seemed not to have much of a sense of humor. Her parents were enlightened, and were early proponents of inoculation, with Annabella and her adopted sister being among the first to be inoculated. Her father was a Member of Parliament and an outspoken abolitionist. She was raised to think about the poor, the condition of tenants on the estate, and education.

Annabella had her first season in 1810, and met George Gordon, Lord Byron at a waltzing party given by her aunt, Lady Melbourne March 25, 1810. Although Caroline Lamb and others were pursuing him, he still noticed Annabella. Her greatest attractions for him seemed to be her indifference, aloofness and disapproval combined with her status as an heiress. She was very different from Caroline and other young ladies who pursued and idolized him, which also piqued his interest. She was only twenty years old, not sophisticated, and was modest, even rather prim. She was also attractive.

An added quirk to the situation: Lady Melbourne, aunt of one target and mother-in-law of another, was a friend and confidante to Lord Byron. It was in writing to her that he referred to Annabella as “my Princess of Parallelograms.”

Byron first asked Annabella to marry him in 1812 and she refused him. However, they began to correspond, discussing literature. By all accounts he found her refusal difficult to accept, firstly because of wounded vanity and secondly because he didn’t know how to deal with her. She seems to have confused him. He continued his confidences to Lady Melbourne, admitting that he was not in love with Annabella although he admired her, and continued his affairs.

Lord Byron sent a half-hearted second proposal by letter dated September 9, 1814, to Annabella. Available data indicates he expected her to refuse again. However, she accepted. Despite Byron’s efforts to postpone the ceremony, the couple was married privately, by special license, at Seaham Hall in County Durham on January 2, 1815.

It would appear that their wedding and honeymoon were an unmitigated disaster, between his sulking, his quarrelsome attitude, and his streak of malice that enjoyed shocking or hurting her. In spite of his best efforts, they seem to have had moments of closeness. However, there were intimations of abuse of Annabella on his part, including sodomy, which surfaced later. Also during the honeymoon, his relationship with his half-sister Augusta became a problem; he expressed his affection for Augusta to Annabella, comparing Annabella to her unfavorably and implying a more than brotherly love for her.

The Byrons rented a house in London from Lady Bessborough, mother of Caroline Lamb. Gossip regarding an implication of an incestuous relationship between Byron and Augusta began circulating. In the late stages of pregnancy, Annabella feared Byron might have been going mad. In November 1815, she wrote to Byron’s half-sister Augusta Leigh and told her of Byron's moods and behavior. In answer to her sister-in-law's letter, Augusta traveled to Byron’s home to help.

At the beginning of her visit, Byron was openly affectionate to Augusta, and let Annabella know that she was a poor second. Augusta did not seem to realize that she was causing problems and tried to give Annabella useful advice on dealing with Byron’s moods. As Annabella’s pregnancy progressed, Byron became even more hateful, telling her he hoped she would die in childbirth and their child with her. On December 10, 1815, Annabella gave birth to their daughter whom they named Augusta Ada (soon to be known only as Ada). Byron's mood deteriorated and he rejected both Annabella and Augusta with violence and bitterness.

On January 6, 1815, after threatening to bring an actress into their home, Byron ordered Annabella out of their house. Her mother had invited Annabella, Byron and their daughter to visit her in Leicestershire; he told her to go and take their child with her. She left London for her parents’ home January 15, 1815. He did not say goodbye, and she never saw him again. Annabella wrote to him a few times, trying to preserve something, with no success.

Once ensconced in her parents’ home, Annabella’s ordeal finally came out, and they consulted an attorney about a separation. Ironically, February 8, 1816, Byron wrote to Annabella, saying “…yet I still cling to the wreck of my hopes, before they sink for ever. Were you, then, never happy with me...”(1)

The rumors about Byron’s relationship with his half-sister began circulating again, and he left England April 25, 1816 after signing the deed of separation, under a cloud, and never returned. (It did not help his situation that Caroline Lamb published her novel GLENARVON at this time, a sensational novel in which he, Lady Melbourne and several other leaders of society were thinly disguised and attacked.)

Byron died in 1824 in Greece, actively participating in the Greek war for independence. On his deathbed, he supposedly left a message for Annabella with his man, Fletcher, but apparently Fletcher was unable to understand most of what he said. Fletcher visited her but could not tell her much of Byron’s last words. Supposedly, after his death, Byron’s autobiography was purchased from the publisher and destroyed by Annabella.

After Byron’s death, Annabella occupied herself with raising and educating her daughter, which led to a continued interest in education for the poor. She established the Ealing Grove School and an agricultural School as well. She also became interested in improving slums and women’s issues. In 1856, she told her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe the story of her marriage to Lord Byron.Annabella died of breast cancer on May 16, 1860, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in London. After her death, her friend, Ms. Beecher Stowe published her story in 1869, including the allegations of incest, which damaged Byron’s reputation irretrievably.


(1) Kelahan, Michael (comp.)THE WORLD’S GREATEST LOVE LETTERS. New York: Fall River Press, 2011; p. 191,    and EnglishHistory.net.  Lord Byron: Selected Letters. http://englishhistory.net/byron/letters/bywife.html


Blyth, Henry.CARO The Fatal Passion. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc. 1972.

Chapman, Caroline and Dormer, Jane.ELIXABETH AND GEORGIANA The Duke of Devonshire and His Two Duchesses.Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2002.

Kelahan, Michael (comp.)THE WORLD’S GREATEST LOVE LETTERS. New York: Fall River Press, 2011.

EnglishHistory.net. “Lord Byron: Selected Letters.” http://englishhistory.net/byron/letters/bywife.html

“Milbanke, Anne Isabella.” Published 1/1/2006, updated 7/14/2012. http://androom.home.xs4all.nl/biography/p006574.htm

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. “Noel (Nee’ Milbanke) Anne Isabella suo jure Baroness Wentworth and Lady Byron. (1792-1820) Philanthropist” By Joan Pierson. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/printable/45789

The Lady and The Poet. The World of Lady Byron. http://theworldofladybyron.blogspot.com

Image of Lady Byron: Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/09/Annabella%2C_Lady_Byron.jpg/462px-Annabella%2C_Lady_Byron.jpg


Lauren Gilbert is the author of  HEYERWOOD A Novel, a historical novel set in the late Georgian/Regency era.  Another novel  is due out later this year.  She lives in Florida with her husband.  Visit her website at http://www.lauren-gilbert.com to find out more!


  1. Super article. Annabel sounds a worthy mother of an astounding daughter. Have you seen the Ada Lovelace comic?

    1. No, I have not seen it. I will have to look for it. Annabella seems to have managed satisfaction and achievement throughout her life. I appreciate your comment!

    2. No, I have not seen it. I will have to look for it. Annabella seems to have managed satisfaction and achievement throughout her life. I appreciate your comment!


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