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"Mad, bad and dangerous to know"

And a Greek hero to boot!

Lord Byron in Albanian dress by Thomas Phillips, 1813

George Gordon Byron (1788-1824), generally known as Lord Byron, was an English peer, politician, and a leading Romantic poet and figure of his day. Born into a minor aristocratic family that was quickly losing its footing and dysfunctional as well, he began writing poetry as a teenager and swiftly found fame - and later infamy.

Lord Byron travelled extensively throughout Europe, including Greece, only intermittently returning to England. However, following his separation from his wife, extensive rumours about his private life and rising debts, he left for Europe and never returned.

He spent the next handful of years in Italy, writing, breaking hearts and entertaining, until, in 1823 he joined the Greek War of Independence. Byron first stayed on the island of Kefalonia where the different Greek factions sought to recruit him. Later that same year, Byron pledged £4000 (approximately a tidy £332,000 today!) to the Greek cause and its provisional government, to be used for emergency funds, namely a fleet to support Missolonghi.

Despite the stories of Byron's financial generosity, this cheque was only recently discovered by the British Observer, and confirms the accounts on Byron. While Byron's fame meant that forgeries occurred, his distinctive and bold letters are in stark contrast to that of the clerk's and seemingly confirm the note's authenticity.

Note for £4,000 signed by Lord Byron ("Noel Byron"). Photograph: General State Archives of Greece

The cheque was cashed in Malta and Byron made his way to Missolonghi, a strategic and important Greek bastion. Here, allied with Alexandros Mavrokordatos, independent Greece's first leader, he helped with the war effort by not only using his fame to raise money but pledging more of his own. A passionate philhellene and supporter of Enlightenment values, Byron sought to rally and inspire more to the cause, and helped bring the conflict to the international stage.

The Reception of Lord Byron at Missolonghi, by Theodoros Vryzakis, 1861. Wikimedia Commons.

In February 1824, before he could set sail for an attack, he fell ill in Missolonghi. In spite of making a partial recovery, in April he caught a violent cold and became seriously feverish. On April 19 1924, he was dead.

He had spent less than a year in the land he fought to help free.

In spite of never uniting the Greek factions or winning any victories, Lord Byron secured both sympathy and increased involvement from western nations for the war effort. He is remembered as generous and brave; a man who gave all he had, including his life in the end, to Greece's liberation and is considered a hero in Greece today.

And they say the arts don't pay well.

Read The Guardian article on the discovery here X


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