Academic journal article The Byron Journal

'Byron's Fletcher' and 'Byron's Lega'

Academic journal article The Byron Journal

'Byron's Fletcher' and 'Byron's Lega'

Article excerpt

In August 1840, a concerned query appeared in The Era, a popular London weekly:

M. S.-Can you inform me whether Wm. Fletcher, Lord Byron's travelling valet, be still living?

The answer was:

-But a short time since Fletcher kept an Italian warehouse in Charles-Street, Berkeley Square. We have not heard of his death.1

M. S. and The Era correspondent were not alone in losing track of Fletcher. Harold Nicolson and even Doris Langley-Moore imagined he had lived on into his 80s.2 They had all missed the newspaper reports of early December 1839. The Oxford City and County Chronicle of 7 December quoting that week's London Morning Chronicle had this short entry:

FLETCHER, the faithful servant of Lord BYRON, and whose name so often occurs in Moore's Life of the poet, died recently we are sorry to hear, in by no means affluent circumstances. We are told that the annuity formerly allowed to him by Mrs. Leigh, Lord BYRON's only sister, has of late, for some unexplained reason, been withheld.3

The Dublin Morning Register of 4 December had included a rather longer piece:

DEATH OF BYRON'S 'FLETCHER'. Those who reverence the memory of genius will hear with regret of the death of Fletcher, the attached attendant of Byron. Fletcher was faithful to the memory of his illustrious master, as he had been during his life affectionate in the discharge of his duties. He has left a son, who married Lega, 'Byron's Lega.' Poor Fletcher died in circumstances approaching to great distress; and his son is like the father, a pensioner on fortune. Higher testimony to the devotedness of the bard 's follower cannot be given than is to be found in the fact, that the Hon. Mrs Leigh, Byron's only sister [...] was the warm patroness of her brother's faithful adherent to the last.4

The two reports (and their many nationally syndicated versions) are divided: Mrs Leigh was either the 'warm patroness [.] to the last' or someone who, without explanation, withheld funds and implicitly hastened Fletcher's death. New dramatis personae appear in the second version: Fletcher's son as a 'pensioner on fortune' apparently married to someone called 'Byron's Lega'.

Anyone who has read Langley Moore's 1974 Lord Byron Accounts Rendered will know part of the story behind these rather odd reports. Alongside details of Byron's financial affairs, she found the account of the linked fates of his two chief servants, William Fletcher and Lega Zambelli, in the British Library's twelve volume collection of Zambelli papers. She speculated at the end of the book's epilogue on the 'delightful hope of treasures still to be found' in the cache.5 This essay sketches out Fletcher and Zambelli's lives before and after the years in Byron's service and the sometimes bizarre doings of their descendants up to the death in the late 1940s of the last survivor, Ethel Lega-Weekes, Fletcher and Zambelli's great-granddaughter.

I

Antonio Lega Zambelli had already suffered many upheavals when he first encountered the lovers Countess Teresa Guiccioli and Byron in Venice. Originally a priest from an old-established family in Brisighella, south west of Ravenna, Lega abandoned the priesthood in 1800 during the French occupation, entering Count Guiccioli's service as 'segretario' around 1815 in his mid-40s.e There he met Francesca 'Fanny' Silvestrini, the lively Guiccioli family governess and Teresa's personal friend, and, unable to revoke his holy orders, he and Fanny lived together unmarried. She bore him two children, of whom only the lengthily named Aspasia Maria Paola Andrianna (or Adriana), born in 1817, seems to have survived. In late 1819, Teresa engineered a meeting that ended in Lega leaving Guiccioli's employ to work for Byron. Lega and the pregnant Fanny would be separated within a couple of months when the peripatetic Byron removed his caravanserai from Venice to Ravenna, followed by further moves to Pisa and Genoa and finally Greece.

Byron claimed to be unimpressed by his new employee. …

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