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About Medora Leigh
The identity of Medora's father is contested; she may have been a product of the incestuous relationship between her mother Augusta and Augusta's half-brother, the poet Lord Byron.
Elizabeth Medora Leigh (15 April 1814 – 28 August 1849) was the third daughter of Augusta Leigh. It is widely speculated that she was fathered by her mother's half-brother Lord Byron, although her mother's husband Colonel George Leigh was her official father.
Three days after her birth, Byron visited Augusta and the baby. He later wrote to a friend, Lady Melbourne: "Oh! but it is 'worth while' – I can't tell you why – and it is not an Ape and if it is – that must be my fault." There was a folk belief, common in the 19th century, that a child born of incest would be an ape. Byron was forced to go into exile as a result of the scandal surrounding his break-up from his wife Annabella Milbanke and his relationship with Augusta. The child's middle name was taken from the heroine of Byron's poem The Corsair. In the family, she was known as Elizabeth or "Libby", but she also later used the name Medora.
Medora Leigh's later life was a troubled one. As a teenager, she had an affair with her older sister Georgiana's husband Henry Trevanion, and ran away with him. Trevanion fathered her daughter Marie Violette (19 May 1834 - 1873), who became a Roman Catholic nun in France in 1856 under the name "Sister St. Hilaire". Leigh and her daughter were supported financially and emotionally for a number of years by Byron's former wife, Annabella Milbanke, and by Byron's only legitimate daughter, Ada Lovelace. Milbanke told Lovelace that Leigh was her half-sister and had been fathered by Byron.
Marriage and France
Leigh later had an affair with a French officer who abandoned her. She ultimately ended up with his servant, a former sergeant called Jean-Louis Taillefer with whom she went to live in south Aveyron (a hilly region in southwestern France) in Versols et Lapeyre (near St. Affrique and Sylvanes). She bore Taillefer a son, Elie, (27 January 1846 - 29 January 1900), who later became a Roman Catholic priest in Aveyron. Leigh married Taillefer on 23 August 1848, legitimizing both children.
She died in France on 28 August 1849 in Versols-et-Lapeyre, where the grave can be visited.
More on Medora
"Medora" is the name of one of the heroines in Byron's poem The Corsair, which was written at Newstead Abbey during the three weeks in January 1814 when the poet and a pregnant Augusta were snowbound there together. However, Augusta's husband, George, never questioned the paternity of Medora, and she grew up among her brothers and sisters unaware that she might be the first of Byron's three daughters.
In fact, they were entertained by his in-laws at the family home in Leicestershire for several weeks after Byron had married Annabella Milbanke. At that time Augusta wrote to her sister-in-law about Medora, saying: "The likeness to Byron... makes her very good-humoured". In another she wrote, knowing it would be shown to Byron, "Here comes Medora".
Medora did become aware of her possible paternity years later and she and her child were assisted financially by Augusta Ada Byron (better known by her later name of Ada Lovelace), who was also a source of emotional support when Medora fell on hard times. Neither Medora nor her mother met Byron's daughter by Claire Clairmont, Allegra Byron, who died at age five in 1822 in an Italian convent.
Medora had 6 (possible half) siblings by her mother and her husband Colonel George Leigh of the 10th Dragoons. One of her sisters, Georgiana Augusta Leigh, married Henry Bettesworth Trevanion. The marriage between Georgiana and Henry was not harmonious and Medora was often used as a "chaperone". Medora's life became more complicated as a result.
Medora's father, Colonel Leigh, subsequently discovered that she was pregnant with a child by Henry Trevanion (her brother-in-law). Colonel Leigh sent Medora to an establishment in Maida Vale, London, where upper-class girls went to have their illegitimate offspring. Henry arranged for her escape.
Henry Bettesworth Trevanion and Medora went to Normandy, where her child was stillborn. However, Henry was so infatuated with Medora that he wanted a living child by her.
Henry ran away again with Medora and prevailed on her to set up in an ancient, tumble-down chateau near Morlaix in France. There they lived as brother and sister and passed as such, for they looked very much alike. With no idea of money on either side they were reduced to poverty; as aristocratic delinquents they never considered turning their hands to work. In exile they used the surname AUBIN.
By 1833 Henry and Medora were living in Brittany, at the Breton Carhaix.
Medora became a Catholic and declared her intention of entering a convent. However, she got pregnant again by Henry. The Abbess was tolerant and found Medora lodgings outside the convent, where a living child was born on 19 May 1834; she was baptised Marie Violette Trevanion on 21 May 1834. [CHRISTENING: See page 116 of "Byron's Daughter" by Catherine Turney (1975) biography of Elizabeth Medora Leigh]
Due to poverty and illness, the pair eventually had to beg their families for money. Henry's father, Major John Purnell Bettesworth Trevanion of Caerhays Castle, Cornwall, thought Medora was to blame for the situation. He sent one of Henry's uncles to Brittany to persuade Henry to return to England. Henry refused to leave. Augusta Maria (Byron) Leigh was now keeping her other daughter Georgiana's three children by Henry, but sent what money she could to Medora. However, Augusta eventually lost touch with Medora, who had become ill in Brittany after a series of miscarriages.
In 1838, Henry Trevanion and Medora Leigh finally parted permanently. In an autobiography, Medora later wrote of Henry that he "gave himself up to religion and shooting". Henry died in 1855 in Brittany, France.
Medora left for the south of France with her daughter Marie Violette, who later entered a convent and became known as Sister Saint Hillaire. Marie Violette is said to have died within the order she joined in 1873.
Medora travelled in poverty and eventually met Monsieur Jean-Louis Taillefer whom she married in Aveyron, France on 23 August 1846. In 1846 they had a son, Elie Taillefer, who lived until 22 June 1900. Marie Violette took the surname of her stepfather and became Marie Violette Taillefer.
Medora died on 28 August 1849 at Lapeyre, Aveyron, southern France, and is believed to be buried there.