Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1722, was born William Byron.

Byron, known as ‘The Wicked Lord’ or ‘Devil Byron’, was an eccentric aristocrat, infamous for scandal and insanity.

Byron inherited his title of 5th Baron Byron, at the age of fourteen. He served in the Royal Navy, married well to an heiress, Elizabeth Shaw, who bore him a son, and became a Freemason. In 1752, he was favoured by the king and appointed Master of the Royal Staghounds. From then on, his career went downhill. 

In 1765, Byron took part in a duel with a distant relative, William Chaworth. The dispute cantered on the most efficient method of hanging game, Byron being so vehemently opposed to Chaworth’s opinion that he defied him to take the matter up with swords. The duelling location was an ill lit room in the Star and Garters Tavern and, in the resulting melee, Chaworth was struck through the abdomen and died after a brief while, pausing only to offer a further opinion that the duel had not been fought in the best of conditions. Byron was tried for murder, found guilty of manslaughter and fined. Upon his release, he had the sword used to kill his opponent mounted on the wall of his stately home, Newstead Abbey.  

Byron took to drinking heavily and his behaviour became more outrageous. He build a miniature caste in the grounds of Newstead Abbey and staged mock battles. He shot his coachman in a dispute and thereupon propped up the body in the carriage next to his wife and took up the reins himself.

When his son, William, wanted to marry his cousin, Julianna Byron, Byron opposed the match saying that his son must marry outside the family to an heiress who would restore the family fortune. He went further and stated that inbreeding produces madness, a fact born out by the fact that the Byron dynasty had intermarried on several occasions and produced the 5th Baron. When his son eloped with his cousin, Byron was enraged and resolved to destroy the family inheritance.  

Byron allowed the stately pile to crumble into disrepair. He hunted and killed the two thousand head of deer in the Abbey grounds and felled the huge acreage of timber. He sold off the family coalmines in Rochdale and spent the proceeds on debauchery, resulting in the total impoverishment of the estate.   

Ironically, Byron’s son predeceased him as did his grandson leaving him with no direct heirs. The mad baron left his title and the pitiable domain to his great nephew, the 6th baron, George Gordon Byron the poet.  

Byron is buried in St Mary Magdalen Church, [Ogle Street, Hucknall, Notts. NG15 7FQ] together with his great nephew the poet Byron. Their coffins are in a vault under the slab of rosso antico on the church floor.

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