William Byron, 5th Baron Byron, also known as “the Wicked Lord” and “the Devil Byron”, was born on bonfire night (5 November) in 1722. He was a British peer, nobleman, politician, Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, masonic Grand Master and the poet George Gordon Byron’s great uncle.
William Byron took the title of Baron Byron at the age of 14, when his father died. He became Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, undertook charitable deeds, got married, but in 1765, he began a descent into madness and scandal.
He killed his cousin in a duel at an inn in London after an argument on which of them had more game on their estates.
He was tried for murder, but found guilty only of manslaughter and had to pay just a small l fine. When he returned home to Newstead Abbey, he mounted the deadly sword on the wall in his bedroom, as an ornamental trophy. He enjoyed the fact that the incident earned him the nickname of “the Wicked Lord.”
Later he shot his coachman during a disagreement, and on various occasion he violently attacked his servants and even his wife, who eventually left him.
The ruin of the Byrons’ wealth and property began when Lord Byron’s son and heir eloped with his own cousin. Lord Byron was against this union because he felt that intermarrying would produce mad children, but mostly because he needed his son to marry into money so that the family debts might be wiped out. He was so furious that he decided to ruin his son’s inheritance, so as to leave him nothing but debts and worthless property. However, he outlived his son and even his grandson, so the legacy of misery was left to his great nephew, the poet George Gordon Byron, who became the 6th Baron when he passed away in 1798. It is said that he died in the scullery because it was the only room that was dry and that the hundreds of crickets he kept at Newstead suddenly left the estate in swarms.
Afterword: George Gordon Byron’s father was nicknamed “Mad Jack” and his grandfather, a vice-admiral in the Royal Navy- the brother of “The Wicked Lord” or “Devil Byron”-, was known as “Foul weather Jack” because of his apparent ability to attract storms at sea as a result of which he was shipwrecked twice.