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William Byron, 5th Baron Byron

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William Byron, Lord Byron
Born (1722-11-05)5 November 1722
Died 19 May 1798(1798-05-19) (aged 75)
Title Baron Byron
Term 8 August 1736 – 19 May 1798
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Shaw
Children Hon. William Byron (d.1776)
Parent(s) William Byron, 4th Baron Byron
Hon. Frances Berkeley
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
18 August 1736 – 19 May 1798
Hereditary Peerage
Preceded by William Byron
Succeeded by George Byron

William Byron, 5th Baron Byron (5 November 1722 – 19 May 1798), was a British nobleman, peer, politician, and great uncle of the poet George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron who succeeded him . As a result of a number of stories that arose after a duel, and then because of his financial difficulties, he became known as "the Wicked Lord" and "the Devil Byron".

Early life

Byron was the son of William Byron, 4th Baron Byron and his wife Hon. Frances Berkeley, a descendant of John Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton. He inherited his title upon the death of his father on 18 August 1736.[1] With the title came responsibilities; he became Lieutenant in the Royal Navy at the age of sixteen and at seventeen represented his family as a founding Governor of the Foundling Hospital, a popular charity project to look after abandoned babies. He went on to marry Elizabeth Shaw, daughter and heiress of Charles Shaw of Besthorpe in Norfolk, on 28 March 1747. The following month, he was elected Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England, a position he held until 20 March 1752. He also served as Master of the Staghounds from 1763 until 1765.


On 26 January 1765, Byron killed his cousin and neighbour, William Chaworth, in a duel at the Stars and Garters Tavern in London. The fight resulted from an argument the two had been engaged in over cups of wine, with both insisting they had more game on their estates. Lord Byron and his cousin retired to a dim room to resolve their disagreement and it was there that Lord Byron thrust his sword through Chaworth's stomach. Chaworth lived until the following day, expressing his disgust that he had not been of sound enough mind to insist they fight in a location outfitted with better lighting before finally succumbing to his injury. Lord Byron was tried for Chaworth's death, but was found guilty only of manslaughter. He claimed the benefit of the statute of Edward VI and so instead of being "burned in the hand" was forced to pay a small fine.[2][3]


This incident gave rise to a number of stories about Lord Byron, some perhaps based in reality, all highly exaggerated, including that he:

  • mounted the sword he used to kill Chaworth on the wall in his bedroom at Newstead Abbey;
  • shot his coachman during a disagreement, then heaved the body into the coach on top of his wife and took over the reins himself;
  • had a miniature castle built in the woods at Newstead and held lavish parties within its walls;
  • oversaw construction of two forts on his property and used them, in conjunction with a small cannon, to stage naval battles;
  • hesitated to travel away from Newstead Abbey, but when travel became necessary he did so under the alias of Waters.

These stories contributed to his being nicknamed "the Wicked Lord", a title he very much enjoyed. The stories have been propagated particularly by biographers of Byron's great nephew, the poet.

Elizabeth left him in this period after the duel. Upon her departure, Byron took one of the servants as his mistress. The woman's name was Hardstaff, but she was known primarily as "Lady Betty".[4]

Financial problems

Byron schemed to resolve his serious financial difficulties through a judicious marriage of William, his son and heir, into a wealthy family. But just before the marriage William eloped with his cousin Juliana Byron, the daughter of Byron's younger brother, the naval captain and later Vice-Admiral John Byron. Lord Byron felt that intermarrying would produce children plagued with madness and strongly opposed the union, but his main concern was that he needed his son to marry well in order to escape the debt.[5]

A myth propagated particularly by the 6th Baron was that

  • Byron became enraged at the defiance of his son and committed himself to ruining his inheritance such that, in the event of his death, his son would receive nothing but debt and worthless property;
  • he laid waste to Newstead Abbey, allowing the house to fall into disrepair, cutting down the great stands of timber surrounding it, and killing over 2000 deer on the estate; and
  • he also illegally leased the coalmines in Rochdale, an act that created an enormous financial burden for years to come.

The neglect of Newstead did not occur until after the death of Byron's son William in 1776.[6]

Deaths and legacy

Byron also outlived his grandson, a young man who, at the age of twenty-two, was killed by cannon fire in 1794 while fighting in Corsica. The barony was then left to his great nephew, George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, who became the 6th Baron Byron when Lord Byron died on 21 May 1798, at the age of seventy-five.[1] Upon his death, it is said that the great number of crickets he kept at Newstead left the estate in swarms. Lord Byron is buried in the Byron vault at Hucknall Torkard in Nottinghamshire.


  • J. V. Beckett,(with Sheila Aley) "Byron and Newstead: The Aristocrat and the Abbey" University of Delaware Press, 2001
  • W. S. Ansley Ferrall, "On the Duel" London: Houlston and Stoneman, 1838.


  1. ^ a b Courthope, W. (1838). Debrett's Complete Peerage of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. J. G. & F. Rivington. p. 258. Retrieved 6 November 2017. 
  2. ^ Beckett p.37
  3. ^ Ferrall, p. 24
  4. ^ Beckett pp. 37-39
  5. ^ Beckett p.66
  6. ^ Beckett p. 61

Masonic offices
Preceded by
The Lord Cranstoun
Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England
Succeeded by
The Lord Carysfort
Political offices
Preceded by
Lord Robert Manners-Sutton
Master of the Staghounds
Succeeded by
The Viscount Galway
Peerage of England
Preceded by
William Byron
Baron Byron
Succeeded by
George Gordon Byron
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