March 15 1816: Romilly’s Conflict of Interest

NPG 1171,Sir Samuel Romilly,by Sir Thomas Lawrence

“In the morning Kinnaird called and told us Romilly was employed by Lady Byron. After what we had heard of Hanson enquiring, we could not believe this; however, I went off to Hanson – found him [at] 29 Bloomsbury Square. He made light of the matter,205 said perhaps Sir Samuel Romilly might be consulted in the case, but as for pleading, he could not. He seems confident of Byron’s case, and wonders he should think so much about it!!! From him I walked to No 5 Lincoln’s Inn, Romilly’s chambers. Found him out, but found that Lady Byron had retained Romilly since 13th of February – that Byron had retained him in 1806. I wrote Romilly a note asking him if he had been consulted by Lady Byron. Came home – called on Byron. He agreed to make Romilly sole and final arbitrator, and signed a paper empowering me to tell him so. I went to Romilly, saw him, and showed the paper. He was not aware that Byron had ever retained him. His clerk showed him the retainer. He said, “I have done a very incorrect thing in being consulted by Lady Byron”. He lamented the affair was not likely to be terminated amicably – he said it might easily be done – however, he declined arbitrating, even if Lady Byron would permit him, and I took my leave and came home.”

—  John Cam Hobhouse writes in his diary, March 15 1816.

Samuel Romilly was a great Whig lawyer who had acted for Byron in the past, and which Byron had asked John Hanson to retain to act on his behalf to negotiate with his wife. It is not clear whether Hanson did so, and Romilly was consulted by Lady Byron. Romilly believed his created a conflict of interest, and professionally he refused to act further, even with the consent of all parties.

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