A banknote unearthed by British paper The Observer sheds new light on Lord Byron‘s generosity and commitment to the Greek War of Independence.
The Observer found in Greece’s state archives a cheque by Lord Byron stipulates that 4,000 British pounds– roughly $460,000 today – be paid to Giovanni Orlando, a representative of the provisional government that, alarmed by the way the war was going, had approached the British peer for funds.
The money was to go towards emergency needs – notably financing a fleet to defend Missolonghi from besieging Albanians. Both sides agreed it would be repaid against a much bigger loan to be raised in London where Orlando was headed.
Speaking to the Observer, Dr Christine Kenyon Jones, who studied many of the poet’s manuscripts, said that “because of his fame, Byron was much forged.”
“But it looks as if this is an original signature attached to the script of a clerk,” she adds.
That the document should have lain unnoticed in the country’s archives for so many years was extraordinary, Jones told the Observer.
Byron agreed to the loan in Kefalonia, part of the British-run Ionian Islands where the poet and his coterie of fellow travelers had stopped on their way to Greece.
The cheque, subsequently cashed in Malta, was taken in the form of silver Spanish dollars and transported in trunks to Missolonghi by the poet.
The money was then used to fund fighting ships run as a commercial enterprise by profit-minded Greek islanders.
Lord Byron: The romantic poet who died for Greece
Lord Byron is one of the first and best-known philhellenes, who actively participated in Greece’s War of Independence, eventually losing his life in Missolonghi on April 19, 1824.
Born in 1788, George Gordon, who had the title of Lord Byron, became the leading figure of British Romanticism at the beginning of the 19th century.
He lived a full life in every aspect and died young for a cause he loved, which made him into even more of a romantic legend than he had been while a living poet.
Young, handsome and aristocratic, Byron lived exuberantly and had innumerable romances and scandalous relationships — although his acts of selfless heroism became part of a wider historic struggle.
For Greeks, Λόρδος Βύρωνας, as he is called, epitomized the concept of philhellenism because he died at the age of 36 for the freedom of a homeland that was not even his own.
Byron was also a bitter opponent of Lord Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon sculptures, denouncing the “theft” in the poem “The Curse of Minerva.”
Ode to the memory of Lord Byron
Sometime during 1823, Byron received an invitation to actively support the Greek struggle for independence from Ottoman rule.
He spent a tremendous amount of his personal fortune to repair ships in the Greek fleet and he even set up his own military squad, composed of fighters from Souli.
After staying for six months in Cephalonia, he decided to move to Morias in the Peloponnese, but he finally stayed in Missolonghi.
While there, he contacted Alexandros Mavrokordatos, to whom he donated another large installment of his personal fortune for the furthering of the Greek revolution.
At the same time, Lord Byron acted as a channel of communication between Greek fighters and British philhellenes in the creation of the first revolutionary loan, as a member of the London Philhellenic Committee.
Seeing the political controversies which had already erupted among the leaders of the Greek rebels, Byron called for the exclusive use of money for the liberation of the nation, instead of being used for political purposes.
Along with his concern for the military course of the Greek Revolution, the English aristocrat assumed the role of the bridge between the chieftains.
He points out in one of his letters: “As I come here to support not a faction, but a nation and to work with honest people rather than speculators or abusers (charges that are exchanged daily among the Greeks), it will take much effort to avoid and I understand that this will be very difficult, because I have already received invitations from more than one of the parties fighting, always on the grounds that they are the true representatives of the nation.”
In a letter to a trusted friend in September 1823, Byron further complained: “The Greeks seem to be at a greater danger among them, rather than from the enemy’s attacks.”
After attempting for so long to mediate the infighting among the leaders of the Greek Revolution, Byron suddenly fell ill in February of 1824.
The great philhellene, perhaps the greatest there ever was, died on April 19, 1824 in Missolonghi, at the young age of 36.
The lamentations after the great poet’s death came not only from among the Greek freedom fighters who saw him as hero of their own people, but also in England, where the distinguished romantic poet was mourned publicly.
Dionysios Solomos – Greece’s national poet, who also wrote the National Anthem – eventually composed a long ode to the memory of Lord Byron, certainly one of the greatest admirers the nation Greece has ever had.