The Byronic look: overweight and unattractive.
BBC series on Regency Britain paints an unflattering portrait of 'self-regarding poser' Lord Byron. By Mark Brown, Friday 26th August 2011.
When a man is noted for his Byronic looks he is generally chuffed – dark, handsome, attractively unavailable. Slightly morose, it's true, but in a sexy way.
The reality though should now be amended to overweight, not at all attractive and thoroughly unpleasant. Or, as historian Lucy Worsley puts it: "Self-regarding poser."
Worsley, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, believes that the word Byronic is bandied around without people really knowing what it means.
She makes her claim in her new three-part series on Regency Britain made for BBC4.
"Byron certainly wasn't born a Regency pin-up," she said. "He made himself into one through very careful manipulation of his image."
That Byron had a serious weight problem became obvious when the filmmakers visited Berry Brothers wine merchants in St James where, 200 years ago, the poet would weigh himself on enormous scales along with his fellow dandies.
There are still ledgers recording the results and the 5ft 8in (1.73m), 18-year-old Byron weighs in at a hefty 13st 12lbs (88kg), which the programme makers are classing as "borderline obese" because he had his boots on.
Byron went to great efforts to lose his weight, such as playing cricket with seven waistcoats and a great coat on and going to steam rooms to sweat it off.
And to be fair, Worsley said, he was down to 9st 11lbs when he was 23.
Byron also suffered from a problem foot from childhood resulting in a life long limp.
"He would not waltz," said Worsley. "He could not be seen on the dance floor as it would be contrary to his dignity. He wouldn't let his girlfriend, Lady Caroline Lamb, waltz either if he couldn't do it."
Of course, in portraits he looks handsome, not least in the famous Thomas Phillips painting – with Byron in Albanian dress – which is in the National Portrait Gallery.
But that was all part of his studious manipulation of his image.
"There were images that he would not allow to be reproduced in his books of poetry because he looked too boyish," said Worsley. "He wanted to look theatrical and dramatic.
"There are lots of images where he looks like a pallid, slightly podgy young man. Just not impressive."
His poetry of course struck a huge chord in Regency Britain and he became very famous, very quickly, known for his scandalous behaviour. "I think he enjoyed being a little bit 'mad, bad and dangerous' to know, as Lady Caroline called him."
Any redeeming features about Byron are heavily offset by his appalling abuse of the opposite sex. "What he did to women was dreadful – getting them pregnant and stealing their kids from them," said Worlsey. " I don't admire him at all."
The series begins on Monday on BBC4 and Byron features in the third episode.
It covers much of the excess of Regency Britain, not least of the Prince Regent himself. The makers visit Brighton Pavilion where there is a replica of one of his corsets and a pair of his 54-inch waist breeches. But, Worsley adds, this was a man described as "having for breakfast two pigeons, three beef steaks, a glass of brandy and some champagne."