Today, 26th January, is the anniversary of a notorious sword fight which took place in 1765 in a London pub and resulted in the death of a man called William Chaworth. His killer was William, 5th Baron Byron, a loose cannon of a man who was known as “the Wicked Lord” or “the Devil Byron”, epithets which he liked and indeed encouraged. Byron was the great uncle of the famed poet and adventurer who succeeded him to the Baronetcy in 1798, the 5th Baron’s own son and grandson both having pre-deceased him.
Byron and Chaworth had been drinking in the Star and Garter tavern (sometimes described as a hotel) in Pall Mall. They had neighbouring estates in Nottinghamshire and indeed were kinsmen. They were in the company of other Nottinghamshire worthies who met for dinner and drinks every month. Fully refreshed with wine, the two men got into an argument about wildlife management, and specifically who had more deer on his estate. They decided to have it out with swords in an upstairs room of the pub and Chaworth was mortally wounded, dying the following day. Byron, far from showing any contrition, mounted his sword in pride of place on the wall in his home. He was found guilty of manslaughter by his peers in Westminster Hall and given a small fine. One would love to have been a fly on the wall on the fateful day. There is a fuller account based on contemporary articles here.
On another occasion, Byron killed his own coachman, plonking the dead man’s body on top of his wife as he continued the journey at the reins himself. In the 1770s he expended much energy destroying his own estate, Newstead Abbey, in order to ensure that his estranged son (who had eloped with his own first cousin) inherited only debt. This backfired badly when the young man died in 1776: Byron didn’t really think that one through.
On the plus side, the Wicked Lord was a founding Governor of the Foundling Hospital.
For another famous duel on this blog, read Pistols in Putney.