Famous Exhumations English Poet Lord Byron

About the English poet Lord Byron and history of his exhumation.


GEORGE GORDON, LORD BYRON (1788-1824), English Romantic poet

After Lord Byron died in Missolonghi, Greece, his body was returned to London. He had expected to be buried in "a marble tomb in Westminster Abbey," but the dean of Westminster refused, feeling the poet had been too notorious for a place in Poets' Corner. Finally, on July 12, 1824, Lord Byron was laid to rest, alongside 15 other Byrons, in the family vault beneath Hucknall Parish Church at Hucknall Torckard, not far from Newstead, England.

The vault was opened twice in the decades that followed. The first time was in 1852, when a velvet-draped coffin containing the body of Lord Byron's 38-year-old daughter, Augusta Ada (Lady Lovelace), by his wife Annabella, was lowered into it. During the interment of Ada, Lord Byron's coffin was not disturbed.

The second and last official opening of the family vault occurred on the evening of June 15, 1938, and this time the lid of Lord Byron's coffin was removed and the poet was seen again 114 years after his burial. What had motivated the opening of the vault had been the desire of the church vicar, Rev. Canon T. G. Barber, "to clear up all doubts as to the poet's burial place and compile a record of the contents of the vault." There were 40 witnesses on hand for the vault opening, but only the males descended into the vault itself. Of these, three remained, and another appeared later, for a glimpse of Lord Byron in the 20th century.

First, the wooden lid of Lord Byron's lead casket was easily raised. Inside was another lid made of lead, and when this was raised, there was still a third lid, made of wood. The final lid was pulled off, and there lay Byron plain. One of the witnesses, A. E. Houldsworth, the church warden, noted what they saw:

"...we were able to see Lord Byron's body which was in an excellent state of preservation. No decomposition had taken place and the head, torso, and limbs were quite solid. The only parts skeletonised were the forearms, hands, lower shins, ankles and feet, though his right foot was not seen in the coffin. [Houldsworth later wrote biographer Elizabeth Longford: Ă«His right foot was detached from his leg and lay at the bottom of the coffin.'] The hair on his head, body and limbs was intact, though grey. His sexual organ shewed quite abnormal development. There was a hole in his breast and at the back of his head, where his heart and brains had been removed. These are placed in a large urn near the coffin."

The following day the coffin was closed, the vault was sealed, and Lord Byron was left to sleep his eternal sleep in privacy once more.

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