On April 19, we commemorate the memory of Lord Byron, one of the greatest Philhellenes in Greek history.
A cheque recently found by the British paper, In the cheque, Byron stipulates that £4,000 – roughly £332,000 today – be paid to Giovanni Orlando, a representative of the provisional government that, alarmed by how the war was going, had approached the British for funds.
In the cheque, Byron stipulates that £4,000 – roughly £332,000 today – be paid to Giovanni Orlando, a representative of the provisional government that, alarmed by how the war was going, had approached the British for funds.
The money was to go towards emergency needs – notably financing a fleet to defend Missolonghi from besieging Ottoman Albanians. Both sides agreed it would be repaid against a much bigger loan to be raised in London, where Orlando was headed.
Dr Christine Kenyon Jones, who studied many of the poet’s manuscripts, told The Observer that “because of his fame, Byron was much forged.”
“But it looks as if this is an original signature attached to the script of a clerk, which he seems to have impatiently corrected," she said.
"Byron’s handwriting, like his personality, was fast and free, so there’s a contrast between the clerk’s careful hand and his confident signature with its bold, open ‘B’ and characteristic flourish on the ‘n’," the professor explained.
Ms Jones said it was extraordinary that the document should have lain unnoticed in Greece’s archives for so many years.
The cheque that helped create modern Greece
From the outset, Byron used his fame to internationalise the Greeks’ fight for liberty, inspiring a motley crew of foreign Philhellenes to rally to the cause – both on and off the battlefield.
“Byron helped the revolution resolve itself in the way it did, creating what at the time would be a progressive… modern nation-state,” Roderick Beaton, emeritus professor of Modern Greek studies at King’s College London, told The Observer.
But Byron’s willingness to part with such a large slice of his fortune also had an immediate impact – that Mr Beaton believes helped change the course of events.
“His financial contribution was crucial,” said the academic whose book, Byron’s War, is the definitive account of the poet’s involvement in the revolution.
“No historian of the war has really paid attention to this fact, but the Ottoman Albanian troops besieging Missolonghi suddenly disappeared as soon as word got out that Byron had lent this money and the fleet was sailing out of Hydra and Spetses.”
Byron’s loan, combined with a loan later raised in London, had the effect of “tipping the scales crucially in favour of the elected Greek government and against the warlords.”
On the lesser-know of Byron's life was involved in politics. He came from a well-off family, and his privileged position enabled him to serve terms in the House of Lords.
But more notably, he actively participated in the Greek War of Independence to end Ottoman rule there, offering financial and logistical support.
It would also be in Greece, the country which still praises him as a hero, where Lord Byron died in 1824.
At 22, Byron left Britain and began an extensive voyage around the Mediterranean.
This journey inspired Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, which revolves around a typical theme and setting of the Romanticism days: a young man fascinated by nature and his exploration of foreign countries.
Byron eventually reached Greece in 1809.
Byron visited many monumental, ancient sites in the country known as the cradle of civilization. He also became acquainted with the Greek cause
well enough, his later contributions will forever remain in the annals of Greek history.
During this first stay in Greece, Byron also found a love interest in the daughter of the British consul and dedicated her to the poem Daughter of Athens.
The British poet postponed his departure as much as he could and returned to the country repeatedly.
In 1812, Byron wrote another poem in Greece — The Course of Minerva. Unlike the previous one, this one was more politically charged. It was his way of condemning Lord Elgin, whom he despised for dismantling and administrating the shipping of almost half of the Parthenon sculptures to Britain. Half of those marbles are still in London, housed in the British Museum.
The remainder is displayed in the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
Byron’s half-sister Augusta carried a daughter in 1814, with many speculating the child was his.
The year after, he wedded Annabella Milbanke, who gave birth to the lustful poet’s only legitimate daughter.
Milbanke left Byron in 1816, and he freely proceeded with his pleasure-seeking.
Such a way of life affected Byron’s reputation to the point he self-exiled from Britain in the spring of 1816, never coming back.
That summer, he spent at Lake Geneva with Percy and Mary Shelley.
It was the so-called “Year without Summer” when heavy rain poured all summer in Europe, flooding the continent’s biggest rivers and destroying crops.
Inspired by the weather, the writers spent hours telling each other scary stories, eventually leading Mary Shelley to devise her infamous fantasy character — Frankenstein’s Monster.
During his stay there, Byron became involved with Claire Clairmont, Mary’s half-sister, who also resided in the house and with whom he had yet another daughter.
From Switzerland, Byron moved to Italy and eventually to Greece after being asked in 1823 to actively join the Greek struggle against the Ottomans.
At this point, Byron would invest large amounts of his fortune to fund the maintenance of Greek warships, and he even launched his fighting unit.
He first stayed on the island of Cephalonia but eventually relocated to Missolonghi, a town on mainland Greece's west coast that suffered heavily in the war. It was here that the poet died.
Before his death, Lord Byron collaborated with Alexandros Mavrokordatos, a prominent leader of the Greek revolutionary movement.
Byron also established himself as a link between the Greek revolutionaries and the London Philhellenic Committee, a group of British philhellenes who channelled more money to support the Greek military.
However, things were not going so well within the circle of Greek revolutionaries. Byron would soon voice his concerns that some Greek leaders spent the fundraised money not for liberation but for other political means.
Things got heated between the various rebel Greek factions since the poet wrote to a close friend in September 1823 that “the Greeks seem to be at a greater danger among them, rather than from the enemy’s attacks.”
The war concluded in 1830, effectively helping Greece declare independence — but by then, its faithful helper, Lord Byron, was long gone.
Early in 1824, Byron succumbed to an illness amid all the stress of keeping things together.
It took only a few months for the disease to extinguish all life from him. He passed away in Missolonghi, on April 19, 1824, shortly after his 36th birthday.
His early death was grieved both in Greece and Britain.
His remains were returned to Britain, where he was laid to rest in Nottinghamshire.