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Anne Isabella Milbanke

Anne Isabella Milbanke
Anne Isabella Milbanke

Anne Isabella Milbanke (May 17 1792 - May 16 1860), or Annabella as she was called, was born in London, the only child of Sir Ralph Milbanke and his wife, Lady Judith Milbanke née Noel, daughter of the ninth Lord Wentworth. She was a gifted child, and, to cultivate her obvious intelligence, her parents hired as her tutor a former Cambridge University professor by the name of William Frend . Under his direction, Annabella's education proceeded very much like that of a Cambridge student, her studies involving classical literature and philosophy, as well as science and mathematics, in which she particularly delighted. This fascination led her husband Lord Byron to nickname her his "princess of parallelograms".

Annabella developed into a stiff, religious woman with strict morals. She was very aware of her intellect and unashamed to demonstrate it in her social realm. Often described as cold and prim, she seemed an unlikely match for the man who would become her ultimate obsession, the dramatically dark and morally fractured Lord Byron. Their first meeting occurred in March of 1812 and Annabella later confessed to her mother that though she would not venture to introduce herself to Byron, she would certainly accept his introduction of himself to her if it were offered.

Following the success of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage , when Byron's popularity was soaring, Annabella continually rejected his attentions. Spurned, Byron committed himself to the pursuit of her and, in October of 1812, he proposed marriage. In response, Annabella wrote a summary of his character and three days later refused him. However, both were plagued with a persistent interest in one another.

In August of 1813, Annabella contacted Byron in writing for the first time. The letters continued into the next year, some offering reassurance and support during times in which public opinion of him was not favorable, others describing the "imperfect attachment" she felt for him. During this time, he honored an invitation from Sir Ralph Milbanke to visit Seaham Hall , the family home in Durham County.

Lord Byron made a second proposal to Annabella in September of 1814 and she accepted. The couple exchanged vows in a private ceremony at Seaham Hall on January 2nd, 1815, and made their home at Piccadilly Terrace in London. Byron was in the throes of extreme financial distress. He rejected money he was offered for his written works, feeling the sums were insufficient, and he was having difficulty selling his estates at Newstead Abbey and Rochdale to clear his debt. During the summer of 1815, he began to unleash his anger and hostility on Annabella. His moods were dark and he began to drink heavily. In a letter to his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, he stated his suspicions that Annabella had broken the lock on his desk and searched it. Later in the year, he began an affair with Susan Boyce, a London chorus girl.

Annabella became increasing distressed. She was in the late stages of pregnancy and feared Byron may have been going mad. In November of 1815, she wrote to Augusta and told her of Byron's moods and behavior. In answer to her sister-in-law's letter, Augusta traveled to the Byrons' home to assist. Upon her arrival, she became the recipient of Byron's wrath. Annabella believed him to be temporarily insane. On December 10th, she gave birth to their only child, a daughter whom they named Ada. This did nothing to quiet Byron's despair. The event, instead, seemed to mount it.

In January of 1816, as the Byron's passed their first anniversary, Lord Byron suggested they rid themselves of the house at Piccadilly Terrace. He recommended that Annabella take Ada to the home of her parents and stay there temporarily until he settled their finances. In disbelief, Annabella sought medical advice. She was now certain her husband had gone mad. She invited a physician to their home to assess Byron. Byron was unaware of the true purpose for the visit. It was recommended to her that she do as Byron requested and relocate to her parents' estate.

Annabella began a detailed documentation of Byron's behavior, moods, and speech. She contacted his solicitor and friend, John Hanson, and communicated her concerns that Byron would take his own life. She also provided Hanson with a pamphlet on hydrocephalus accompanied by notes that suggested Byron could be suffering from this particular infliction. Following this conversation, Annabella took Ada and traveled to her parents' residence at Kirkby Mallory in Leicestershire. She would not see Byron again.

During the first month at Kirkby Mallory, Annabella wrote to Byron affectionately, addressing him as "dearest Duck". Her mother wrote to him and invited him to come to their home. However, concern for the preservation of Annabella soon became prevalent, and her parents sought legal counsel. A legal separation was recommended and a letter proposing the separation was sent to Byron. Augusta, who had remained with Byron at Piccadilly Terrace since Annabella's departure, intercepted the letter, fearing Byron would commit suicide if he knew of it. She returned the letter to Kirkby Mallory and communicated her opinion that greater consideration should be taken in the matter of the Byrons' marriage. A week later, however, the proposal was sent once again to Byron by the hand of a messenger. This time it reached him and he refused to believe Annabella no longer desired to continue with their union. He asked Augusta to question Annabella herself and wrote to his wife. He responded to the proposal with a refusal to dissolve their marriage, but changed his mind a short while later when Annabella made clear her suspicions that Byron's relationship with Augusta was incestuous. He then agreed to grant Annabella's request if only she would prove to him that the desire for legal separation was her own and not that of her parents. In response, Annabella personally communicated her feelings to Augusta and Byron kept his word. In March of 1816, the separation was made legal in a private settlement.

Following the settlement, Augusta attempted to contact Annabella and received a response to her private note from Annabella's solicitor. This cold treatment of his half-sister enraged Byron. Not long after the dissolution of his marriage, he left England and lived the remainder of his days abroad.

Though she wished to have Byron abdicated from her life, Annabella obsessed over him until her death. She had spent the duration of their relationship trying desperately to save his soul and secure him a place in Heaven. In the years following their separation, she convinced herself that the time she had spent with Byron certainly guaranteed he would experience God's embrace upon his death. She retained correspondence that had occurred between herself and Byron as well as letters received from other parties in which reference to him was made. She carefully documented their relationship, supposedly in preparation for any challenge Byron may have made for custody of Ada. He never did pursue his daughter, though he did send for both her and Annabella shortly before his death in Greece on April 19th, 1824. Annabella drew deep personal satisfaction from this final gesture. Her obsession with Byron did not end with his death. Instead, Annabella allowed Byron to ultimately define her life. Though she faithfully committed herself to various causes, such as prison reform and the abolition of slavery, he continued to haunt her for the remainder of her days.

As Ada grew, Annabella feared her daughter would be predisposed to Byron's behaviors and dark moods. She attempted to keep Byron's genes at bay by schooling Ada in science and mathematics, and discouraging literary study. Though her effort was great, it eventually seemed in vain. Ada was a gifted mathematician, but expressed mathematics in metaphors. She also embodied many of her father's rebellious qualities. She married at nineteen years of age, had three children, and amassed considerable gambling debt before dying from cancer on November 27, 1852. She was thirty-six years old at the time of her death, just as Byron had been. Annabella was estranged from Ada when she died and did not attend her funeral.

Annabella died on May 16, 1860, the day before her 68th birthday. Her death was the result of a lengthy illness. She is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery at Kensal Green in London. Prior to her death, she shared the story of her marriage to Byron with Harriet Beecher Stowe who published the account in 1869 and all but destroyed Lord Byron's reputation. It was the first time suspicions of an incestuous relationship between Byron and his half-sister were publicized.

Last updated: 02-10-2005 01:06:24
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01