A 1924 Greek stamp issue commemorates the death centenary of Lord Byron, the quintessentially English poet – why would Greece wish to commemorate an English poet specifically? The answer reveals the interesting history of one of the first international celebrities, a political influencer and an individual with a complex and sometimes troubled personality.
Lord Byron was born George Gordon Byron on 22 January 1788. He was born into the aristocracy and would become the 6th Baron Byron and a peer in the House of Lords, the second chamber of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. He became an advocate of social reform and provided support for the Luddite movement who took action against the mechanisation of the textile industry that was forcing many out of work. His theatrical speeches before the Lords often included clever but sarcastic references that ridiculed the opposition including the Duke of Wellington.
However, Lord Byron is probably best known as one of the greatest English poets and a leading light of the Romantic Movement; an artistic and intellectual movement that swept through Europe towards the end of the 18th century and reached it’s peak in the early to mid 1800s. His notable works include Don Juan, a lengthy poem that spans 17 cantos and is ranked as one of the most important poems published in England, and Irish Avatar, a satirical pamphlet that voiced veiled support for Irish nationalism.
Lord Byron also travelled extensively across Europe and lived for seven years in Italy where he spent time with his friend and fellow English romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelly. It was in July 1823, whilst living in Genoa, that he decided to head to the Ionian island of Kefalonia to support the movement for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. At that time the Ionian islands (off the west coast of mainland Greece) were under British rule and Byron used his own money to refit the Greek fleet before sailing to the mainland at Missolonghi. He raised further funds for the cause by selling his manor estate in England whilst also bringing together rival forces in an attempt to unite against the Ottomans during the first and second sieges of Missolonghi. Soon afterwards he fell ill from a violent fever and died in Greece on April 1824, aged just 36.
The 1924 Greek issue commemorates the death centenary of Lord Byron and comprises two stamps, one denominated 80l featuring a portrait and the other of 2d featuring an image of Byron at Missolonghi (featured image). Fifty years later, Greece commemorated Lord Byron in a second issue, again comprising two stamps, one denominated 2d.50 featuring a painting of Lord Byron in traditional Suliot costume and the other of 4d.50 featuring Byron taking the Oath at the grave of Markos Botsaris, a hero of the Greek War of Independence and chieftain of the Souliotes.
Greece would eventually achieve independence from the Ottoman Empire with the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829 but the role of Lord Byron is widely celebrated by the Greek nation as his actions brought the fight for independence to the attention of sympathetic nations such as Great Britain, France and Russia. For many, Lord Byron remains a controversial figure having left his wife, Lady Byron, just a month after the birth of his only legitimate child, Ada. Lord Byron died when Ada was aged eight but she would go on to achieve greatness in her own right … Ada Lovelace is widely acknowledged as one of the founders of computer programming.
To view postal issues of Greece, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.