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March 7 1812: Byron's Lines To A Lady Weeping

On  March 7, 1812, Lord Byron published anonymously in the Morning Chronicle a small poem entitled "Lines to a Lady Weeping." The poem was a rather vicious attack on the Prince of Wales, who was to become George IV on the death of his father George III on January 29, 1820.

In 1812, George III was still alive but incapacitated following the death of his youngest daughter, Princess Amelia. Parliament had responded by passing the Regency Act of 1811 which provided that the Prince of Wales, now the Prince Regent, could exercise most, if not all, the powers of the crown. It had been expected that the Prince Regent would replace the Tory government and support a government led by the Whig leader, William Wyndham Grenville. This did not happen as the Prince Regent allowed the Tories to continue in power. The Whigs, Lord Byron among them, were deeply disappointed in the Prince Regent for not having put them in power. 


It is interesting that in 1812 the principle was still not established that it was the person who controlled a majority in the House of Commons who formed the government. The crown still had a very influential role which was to decline during the regency. The Prince Regent allowed his Tory ministers to control government affairs. This did not stem from a farsighted principle but because of his innate laziness and devotion to his mistresses and dissolute social life. George III, despite his many faults, had been far more faithful to his government duties, often with disastrous consequences. His son by his laziness probably contributed significantly to the establishment of the parliamentary form of government that we have today. History is funny that way.

Byron's poem was based on an incident that happened a month earlier. Prince Charlotte, the Regent's young daughter, was supposed to have cried when she heard her father speaking against the Whigs. [Benita, Eisler, Byron: Child of Passsion, Fool of Fame (New York, Random House, 1999) ] On March 7, 1812, under the cover of anonymity, Lord Byron attacks the Prince Regent:

Lines  To A Lady Weeping

Weep, daughter of a royal line,
A Sire's disgrace, a realm's decay; 
Ah! happy if each tear of thine
Could wash a father's fault away!

Weep--for thy tears are Virtue's tears­
Auspicious to these suffering isles; 
And be each drop in future years
Repaid thee by thy people's smiles!





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