Marry in Haste in the Month of May

Mr Farquar of Doctor’s Commons has a copy of the certificate of my marriage which he got from Bath…..I was married however on the 12th or 13th May (I don’t know which) – 1785 at St. Michaels Church, Bath (and St Michaels Parish I suppose but I don’t know for certain) and this is all I can inform you about it.

Catherine Gordon Byron

It is interesting that Byron’s mother should have been unsure as to the precise date of her fated marriage to John Byron in the year 1785.

With her Scottish ancestry for omens and superstition perhaps Catherine’s confusion is understandable for she did indeed marry ‘Mad Jack’ Byron on Friday May 13 and by all accounts their brief marriage was a disaster.

And even though our last May Friday 13 was in 2016 – I can still remember a day not entirely free from mishap much like the fated Catherine Gordon Byron some two hundred and thirty one years ago!

With the suicide of her father who had been found drowned in the Avon Canal in Bath on January 9 1779 that the ‘romping good-humoured girl of sixteen, inclined to corpulency’ became the 13th and final Laird of Gight and with a passion for dancing and with a temper to match, the wealthy, outspoken and superstitious Miss Gordon was introduced to Bath society in 1785.

Her presence had been quickly noted by John ‘Mad Jack’ Byron who despite his grief for the death of his wife Amelia, Baroness Conyers and the plight of his motherless daughter Augusta; was in desperate need of a wife who could continue to support him in the manner to which he had become accustomed and weeks later the marriage by License of ‘John Byron Esq… a Widower’ of less than one year to the young and naive spinster was held in the beautiful ‘Parifh’ Church of St Michael in Bath – the town synonymous with the romance of my favourite Jane Austen novel Persuasion.

Their marriage was ‘folemnized’ in the presence of two of Catherine’s friends who despite being anxious for her welfare had been unable to halt her dash into the charismatic and feckless orbit of John Byron and with no marriage settlement in place, all Byron had to do was to agree to take the name of Gordon and then he could make free with his wife’s money.

The star of their ill-starred union would be born on January 22 in 1788 but by then most of Catherine’s wealth had been swallowed up by her husband’s wild spending or by his creditors.

O where are ye gaein’, bonny Miss Gordon,
O where are ye gaein’ sae bonnie and braw.
Ye’ve married, ye’ve married wi’ Jonny Byron,
To squander the lands of Gight awa

In August 1791 John Byron died in France and Catherine was left to raise her son ‘Geordie’ alone with only the meagre allowance that had been salvaged from what remained of her wealth in addition to her strong will and determination to do all that she could for her only child :

George is well….but at present he is my only comfort and the only thing that makes me wish to live..’

However, on Monday January 2 1815 Catherine’s ‘only comfort’ was to star in his own ill-starred marriage to Annabella Milbanke at Seaham Hall in County Durham having presented his bride with the wedding ring that had once belonged to his mother.

Clearly, the Gordon trait for fearing bad omens and superstition was ignored – again!

Sources used:
My Amiable Mamma A Biography of Catherine Gordon Byron Megan Boyes (J.M. Tatler & Son Ltd. 1991)

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'For I Was Rather Famous in My Time, Until I Fairly Knocked It Up with Rhyme.' Lord Byron

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