George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, FRS, lived from 22 January 1788 to 19 April 1824. He was a leading poet of the Romantic movement and viewed by many as one of the greatest of all European poets. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
George Byron was born in London, the son of a naval captain and the grandson of a vice-admiral. His mother, Catherine, whose ancestral home was Gordon Castle in Aberdeenshire, moved back to Aberdeen without his father when George was a boy and he received his early education at Aberdeen Grammar School. On 21 May 1798, the 10 year old Byron's great-uncle died leaving him to inherit the title of 6th Baron Byron, plus estates at Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire. Catherine returned to England with George in 1801, and installed him at Harrow School, where he represented Harrow during the first Eton v Harrow cricket match at Lord's in 1805. After leaving Harrow he studied at Trinity College, Cambridge.
Byron had his first collection of poetry published in 1806 at the age of 18, though he subsequently withdrew the work from publication. His second collection, Hours of Idleness, attracted some strong criticism in Scotland, which Byron mocked in his highly popular English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. After the publication of the first two parts of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage in 1812, Byron found himself famous, regarded as one of the best poets of his day and at the forefront of the Romantic movement. He had become the first "celebrity" in the modern sense. Subsequent works were equally well received by the popular audience of the day, and he firmly established the idea of the "Byronic hero" is an idealised but flawed central character: exemplified in many people's eyes by Byron himself.
Byron seems to have been highly attractive as an individual, despite being, as an ex-lover, Lady Caroline Lamb, later said "mad, bad and dangerous to know". From an early age he formed close attachments with a long list of young ladies and young men including cousins, schoolfriends, a young choirboy, and possibly Byron's half-sister. His 1812 affair with the married Lady Caroline Lamb caused a scandal at the time. In 1815 Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke, usually known as "Annabella", a cousin of Lady Caroline Lamb. The marriage lasted just over a year before Annabella left Byron, amid a new round of rumours about his conduct and his relationships.
Between 1809 and 1811, Byron had travelled extensively through Europe. After Annabella left him in 1816 he again went abroad, settling in a house overlooking Lake Geneva, where he was visited by many friends and ex-lovers. In 1817 he moved on to Rome where he eloped with the young Countess Guiccioli. He then moved to Genoa, all the time continuing to write and publish his poetry.
In 1823 Byron abandoned Countess Guiccioli in Genoa and travelled to Greece to assist in the movement for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. Here he provided financial support for Alexandros Mavrokordatos, a Greek politician leading a revolt against the Ottomans. Together they planned an attack on the Ottoman fortress of Lepanto in the Gulf of Corinth using an army partly paid for by Byron. In February 1824, Byron fell ill before the attack could be mounted. He did not recover, and died on 19 April. Byron became a national hero in Greece, and Britain went into deep shock at the news. A burial in Westminster Abbey was declined by the Abbey on grounds of morality, and he was eventually buried in the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. It has been suggested that had he lived he would have been made King of Greece on the successful completion of the Greek War of Independence in 1829.