Byron goes to War (sort of)
True to his revolutionary principles, in 1823 Byron involved himself in the Greek War of Independence, fighting for Greece’s freedom from the Ottoman Empire. Before he set sail, he told Lady Blessingham that, âI have a presentiment I shall die in Greece’. After a series of mishaps, Byron’s hired brig, the Hercules, reached Missolonghi in January 1824. Along the way, his deep pockets and spendthrift nature caused widespread squabbling amongst rival Greek factions over which cause he should join. After all, he had personally shelled out Â£4, 000 to refit the Greek fleet. He eventually allied himself with Alexandros Mavrokordatos.
Farcically, even the enemy got wind of Byron’s wealth, and the garrison meant to be protecting the Ottoman fortress at Navpaktos offered to surrender to him without a fight if he would pay them the wages they claimed to be owed by their employers! Even when the Ottomans executed the mutineers and restocked the fortress with loyal soldiers, Byron still could not launch an attack on Navpaktos because the men he had been assigned kept demanding more money from him, and eventually he sent them all home with the words, âthey may go to the Turks or the devil!’
Byron sold his remaining property in England for a handsome price, and planned to plunge all of his wealth into the Greek war effort. Byron even paid for his own unit of 30 officers and 200 men, known as âByron’s Brigade’, out of his own pocket. He nevertheless still found the time to fall deeply in love with his Greek page, Lukas Chalandritsanos, upon whom he lavished around Â£25, 000 in today’s money. His affections were, unusually, not returned. But before Byron saw any serious military action, he developed sepsis, and died in Missolonghi on April 19th 1824.
Fallen ill, Byron had his blood let with field instruments, which is presumed to have caused the lethal infection. The Greeks mourned deeply for Byron, and crowds flocked to see his body as it lay in state in London, but the Deans of both Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral refused to bury his body, and instead he was interred in the Byron family vault in Hucknall Torkard, near Newstead. Although there is now a memorial to him in Westminster Abbey, Byron’s beloved Newfoundland dog, Boatswain, still has a more elaborate memorial than his more famous master at Newstead Abbey.
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