January 2 1815: Best Man Describes Lord Byron’s Wedding

John Cam Hobhouse, Byron’s best man, describes his wedding:

Monday January 2nd 1815: I dressed in full dress with white gloves, and found Byron up and dressed, with Noel in canonicals. Lady Milbanke [and] Sir Ralph soon came, also dressed. Her ladyship could not make tea. Her hand shook. Miss did not appear – the Reverend Wallis came in, also in canonicals – at half-past ten we parted company. Byron and I went to his room – the others upstairs.

In ten minutes we walked up into the drawing-room and found kneelingmats disposed for the couple, and the others. The two clergymen, the father and mother and myself were in waiting, when Miss Milbanke came in attended by her governess, the respectable Miss Clermont. She was dressed in a muslin gown trimmed with lace at the bottom, with a white muslin curricle jacket, very plain indeed, with nothing on her head. Noel was decent and grave – he put them, Byron and Miss, opposite their cushions. Lady Milbanke placed Sir Ralph next to his daughter. I stood next to Sir Ralph; my lady and Mrs Clermont were rather opposite in the corner. Wallis read the responses.

Miss Milbanke was as firm as a rock, and during the whole ceremony looked steadily at Byron – she repeated the words audibly and well. Byron hitched at first when he said “I, George Gordon”, and when he came to “with all my worldly goods I thee endow”, looked at me with a half-smile – they were married at eleven. I shook Lady Byron by the hand after the parson, and embraced my friend with unfeigned delight – he was kissed by my lady Milbanke – Lady Milbanke and Mrs Clermont were much affected. Lady Byron went out of the room, but soon returned to sign the register, which Wallis and I witnessed. She again retired hastily, her eyes full of tears when she looked at her father and mother, and completed her conquest, her innocent conquest.

She came in her travelling dress, corn after a slate-coloured satin –pellice trimmed with white fur – and sat quietly in the drawing-room – Byron was calm and as usual I felt I had buried a friend. I put a complete collection of Byron’s poems bound in orange morocco into the carriage for Lady Byron as a wedding gift – it was inscribed thus:

To the Right Honourable
Lady Byron
These volumes, the production of a poet the admiration of his countrymen, the delight of his associates, & the approved choice of her understanding and her heart are presented as a sincere token of congratulation on her union with his best friend by her faithful & devoted ser[vant]
John C. Hobhouse” –

At a little before twelve I handed Lady Byron downstairs and into her carriage. When I wished her many years of happiness she said, “If I am not happy it will be my own fault”. Of my dearest friend I took a melancholy leave – he was unwilling to leave my hand, and I had hold of his out of the window when the carriage drove off.

I left Seaham at twelve. Lady Milbanke asked me if she had not behaved well – as if she had been the mother of Iphigenia. It is not wonderful that the mother of an only daughter and child born seventeen years after marriage should cause a pang at parting. Whilst at Seaham we saw the sword dance of the colliers, a singular custom / exhibition, begun and ended by a sort of pantomime games led by a pantaloon and fool, who ends by having his head cut off. The great address consists of the parties uniting themselves by holding their swords at each end, and going through all the contortions without letting them go. The business is opened with a song, which is to be found in the Tyne Melodies, and by a slow circular procession, dictated and controlled by the fool and pantaloon – the cutting off the head we did not see. The men are about ten in number, fantastically dressed, and although it is a Christmas, sport in their shirts.

The little bells of Seaham church struck up after the wedding, and halfa-dozen fired muskets in front of the house. The couple went to Halnaby, Sir Ralph Milbanke’s estate in Yorkshire.

I went in a post-chaise to Sunderland and saw the iron bridge, which is indeed an incomparable structure – its span is 263 feet, its width 32, its height from the water 100. It cost £36,000, one third the cost of a stone bridge, and lets for £2,375 per annum. It is remarkable that when it was opened in 1796, the ferry across the Wear did not let for less money than before, and now lets for double its former value. The bridge opens  communication between Sunderland, Shields, and Newcastle – carriages pay

half a crown – foot-passengers a halfpenny. The property, which belongs to Mr Burdon, the bankrupt member for Durham, is now to be raffled for. Lady Milbanke told me that in July and August last, 3,700 colliers cleared out of the port of Sunderland.44 The population of the place is about 36,000. I went fifteen miles to Durham, and put up at the cheapest inn in England. I walked about on the beautiful banks of the river, and saw the open court of justice,46 which until two years [ago] was used here – it is very “foolish and rheumatic”, as a Mr Darnell,47 a clever clergyman who, with Parson Noel, walked about with me, observed.

I dined at Mr Hoare’s, Sir Ralph and Lady Milbanke with Noel, Darnell, the Lord Barrington, a gold prebend  and others, at a sort of wedding dinner. I talked incessantly, and badly, and drank too much port, impelled by Noel, who is a good fellow.

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