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Lord Byron: Childhood

George Gordon Byron was born 22 January 1788 in London, the only child of Catherine Gordon and Captain John "Mad Jack" Byron, so named because storms seemed to blow wherever he sailed. (A quick word on Byron's name - he was given the name George Gordon Byron at birth. When he inherited the title, his name officially became George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron. Somewhere along the way he adopted the name "Noel" as a middle name. It's confusing, and to save ourselves all a lot of trouble we're going to just call him "Byron" or "Lord Byron." We suggest you do the same.)

Baby Byron was born with a condition known as club foot, which caused one of his feet to twist inward. All his life he took great pains to wear special boots that hid his disability, and lashed out at anyone who teased him about it. Byron believed that his disability was caused by the too-tight corsets his mother wore in pregnancy. This was just one of many grudges Byron held against his mother Catherine, an overbearing woman whom he openly resented. While other boys may have defended their mothers passionately on the playground, Byron responded to one boy who mocked his mother's intellect with "I know it but you must not say so."5

Catherine Gordon was the daughter of a wealthy family. Mad Jack, her dissolute husband, spent up all her money before abandoning his wife and child to live with a lover in France. Impoverished, Catherine moved the family to Aberdeen, Scotland in 1790 to be closer to her relatives. Mad Jack died just a year later. In his will, he left his three-year-old son responsible for his many debts.

Byron's great-uncle was William Byron, known as the Wicked Lord for murdering his friend during an argument. He also held the hereditary title of 5th Baron Byron. With both his son and his grandson having predeceased him, at the Wicked Lord's death on 19 May 1798 young George Gordon Byron received word that he was next in line to claim the noble title of 6th Baron Byron. Overnight, he and his mother's circumstances changed from poverty to nobility. They packed up their things and moved to Newstead Abbey, the Byron family estate in England, which was said to be haunted by the ghost of a monk furious that his abbey had been taken over by a clan as wicked as the Byrons.6 The newly-minted baron soon adopted a sense of entitlement to match his new role. Already a spoiled boy with a reputation as a troublemaker, Byron proved himself a nasty little brat toward his mother, the Newstead servants and anyone else he believed to be in his employ.

In 1801, Byron entered Harrow, a prestigious boys' boarding school. While home at Newstead for the summer holiday in 1803, he met his cousin Mary Chaworth, a young girl who lived not far from his estate. Byron fell in love - hard and fast - for the first time. He refused to return to Harrow and even withdrew from school for a few months to be closer to her. When he departed for college a few years later and learned she'd married someone else, Byron was devastated. He never really got over that first love, and Mary continued to be an inspiration for his poetry for years to come.

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