Anne Isabella Milbanke was married to Lord Byron for less than a year when, after being subjected to his increasingly violent temper, she asked for a divorce. During the proceedings she revealed her suspicion that Lord Byron had an incestuous relationship with his sister, Augusta Leigh. The statement was, in part, motivated by Milbanke’s fear that her daughter (Ada Lovelace) would be placed in Lord Byron’s care (custodial laws of the time tended to favor the husband). Her strategy was effective, and she was eventually awarded custody. In the letter below, Byron discusses the final particulars of their settlement.
More last words—not many—and such as you will attend to; answer I do not expect, nor does it import; but you will at least hear me.—I have just parted from Augusta, almost the last being whom you have left me to part with.
Wherever I may go,—and I am going far,—you and I can never meet in this world, nor in the next. Let this content or atone.—If any accident occurs to me, be kind to Augusta; if she is then also nothing—to her children. You know that some time ago I made my will in her favour and her children, because any child of ours was provided for by other and better means. This could not be prejudice to you, for we had not then differed, and even now is useless during your life by the terms of our settlements. Therefore,—be kind to her, for never has she acted or spoken towards you but as your friend. And recollect, that, though it may be an advantage to you to have lost a husband, it is sorrow to her to have the waters now, or the earth hereafter, between her and her brother. It may occur to your memory that you formerly promised me this much. I repeat it—for deep resentments have but half recollections. Do not deem this promise cancell’d, for it was not a vow.
I have received from Mr. Wharton a letter containing one question and two pieces of intelligence. The carriage is yours, and, as it only carried us to Halnaby, and London, and you to Kirkby, it will yet convey you many a more propitious journey.
The receipts can remain, unless you find them troublesome; if so, let them be sent to Augusta, through whom I would also receive occasional accounts of my child. My address will be left with Mrs. Leigh; the ring is of no lapidary value, but it contains the hair of a King and of an ancestor, and I wish it to be preserved to Miss Byron.
With regard to a subsequent letter from Mr. Wharton I have to observe that it is the “law’s delay” not mine, and that, when the tenor of the bond is settled between him and Mr. H., I am ready to sign.
From The Works of Lord Byron. Letters and Journals. Vol. III. Edited by Rowland E. Prothero. London: John Murray (1904) pp. 333-334.
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Lady Byron made a statement concerning her suspicions of incest between Lord Byron and Augusta Lee.
Read an article on Lord and Lady Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace, who became known as the first computer programmer.