Clairmont, Claire

BORN c27 Apr 1798, Brislington (near Bristol) - DIED 19 Mar 1879, Firenze
REAL NAME Clairmont, Clara Mary Jane
GRAVE LOCATION Antella (near Firenze), Toscana: Cimitero Monumentale della Misericordia di Santa Maria, Via di Montisoni (tomb disappeared (bones reburied under the arcades) )

Stepdaughter of the philosopher Willam Godwin and therefore stepsister of Mary Godwin. In 2010 it was discovered that her father was John Lethbridge (1746-1815). Her mother was Mary Jane Clairmont.

After a short romance with Lord Byron - whom she saw first as early as 1812 - she gave birth to his daughter Allegra after travelling through Europe in 1816 with Mary Godwin and her husband to be Percy Bysshe Shelley. She was also present during the night that Byron and Shelley told ghost stories, inspiring Mary Shelley to write her Frankenstein.

Claire agreed that Byron would take care of Allegra because her daughter would have better prospects that way and she surrendered her to him reluctantly. Allegra died in a convent a few few years later and Claire would hate the poet all her life, allthough many young children died in those years and it could hardly be called his fault.

After Shelley's death she went to Vienna in October 1822, where her brother Charles was living. She was very poor and became seriously ill, but she recoved enough to go to St. Petersburg to work become - helped by her command of five languages - a paid companion for the daughters of Countess Zotoff in 1823. By the spring of 1824 she was the governess of the children of the lawyer Zachar Nicolaivitch and his wife Marie Ivanovna in Moscow. Unfortunately, their daughter Dunia died in 1825.

Claire moved on to another family and on 27 December 1826 in Moscow there was talk about the nobleness of Lord Byron and in her diary she wrote: "Amongst other things he said that this paragon of generosity had pensioned Shelley's widow. Oh my God, the lies there are in the world."

In 1828 she left Russia and returned to London, but in 1829 she accepted a job as a governess in Dresden. In 18366 she returned to England again and she cared for her mother when she was dying in 1841. After Mary Jane's death she went to Pisa where she livewd with Lady Margaret Mount Cashell, a former pupil of Mary Wollstonecraft,for a while.

In the 1840s she lived in Paris, from where she travelled frequently to England. In 1844 she received an inheritance of 12,000 pounds from Shelley after his father's death but soon she lost most of the money in a theatre scheme. In 1870 she settled in Florence, where she lived with her niece Paulina. She eventually became a catholic (she had hated catholicism earlier in life).

Claire kept in touch with Mary Shelley (until her death in 1851) and E.J. Trelawny, another member of the Byron and Shelley circle. By the time William Michael Rossetti visited her in Florence in 1873 she had become a strange old lady. Henry James' novella "The Aspern Papers" is based on her later years, when visitors tried to get their hands on her Shelley memorabilia.

• Daughter: Byron, Allegra

Related persons
• was the lover of Byron, George Noel Gordon
• is brother/sister of Clairmont, Charles Gaulis
• was painted by Curran, Amelia
• is stepbrother/stepsister of Shelley, Mary
• was a friend of Shelley, Percy Bysshe
• was a friend of Trelawny, Edward John

1812/1/20: Claire Clairmont sees Lord Byron attending a public reading
Her stepfather William Godwin had taken her to a lecture on Shakespeare by Coleridge. Byron was also attending the lecture.
1814/7/28: Shelley and Mary Godwin leave London to elope to France
They secretly left London in the company of Claire Clairmont. They left for Dover, crossed the Channel in an open boat and travelled to Paris.
1814/9/27: Shelley and Mary move to 5 Church Terrace, Pancras, London
Claire Clairmont went with them.
1815/1/1: T.J. Hogg declares his love to Mary Godwin, encouraged by P.B. Shelley
Mary accepted his affection, but she didn't answer it physically since she was pregnant from Shelley. Shelley was a strong advocate of free love and it is possible that he had sexual relations with her stepsister Claire at the time.
1815/1/10: Shelley and Mary move to 4 Hans Place, London
Claire Clairmont was once more in their company.
1815/3/2: Shelley and Mary move to Arabella Road, Pimlico, London
In their company were Claire Clairmont and Clara, Mary and Shelley's baby girl.
1815/5/13: Claire Clairmont leaves Shelley and Mary Godwin for Lynmouth
In Lynmouth, she stayed with a Mrs.Bickwell. It was probably an attempt by mer mother Mary Jane Clairmont to move her away from Shelley and Mary.
1816/5/2: Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont leave London for Geneva
1816/6/16: Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin, Claire Clairmont, Lord Byron and John Polidori tell each other ghost stories
They told each other stories all night and decided that each of them would write a ghost story. Mary Shelley wrote "Frankenstein" and John Polidori wrote "The Vampyre".
1816/6/21: Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont go to Chamonix
1818/3/11: Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Claire Clairmont leave for Italy
They crossed the Channel on the 12th.
1818/6/11: The Shelleys and Claire Clairmont move to the Casa Bertini in Bagna di Lucca
1818/8/17: Shelley travels to Venice with Claire Clairmont
Claire wanted to visit het daughter Allegra who was with the father, Lord Byron. Mary Shelley stayed in Bagni di Lucca.
1819/2/27: Shelley registers a daughter, Elena, in Naples
The child was named Elena Adelaide. Shelley gave 27 Dec 1818 as her birthdate and himself and his wife Mary as her parents. It seems impossible that the child was Mary's. According to Mary's diary Claire Claimont was 'unwell' on 27 Dec. But there is no further evidence that Claire had been pregnant, so it's unlikely as well that Claire was the mother. The child was probably adopted by another family. Only in 1936 the existence of Elena was discovered by Newman Ivy White.
1819/6/10: The Shelleys and Claire Clairmont leave Rome for Leghorn
In Leghorn they wanted to visit the Gisbornes, who lived there.
1820/8/12: Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont visit Castruccio's grave in Lucca
The grave was located at the San Francesco Church and was marked by two tablets. Mary's novel "Valperga" was about Castruccio.
1822/4/30: The Shelleys and Claire Clairmont move to Casa Magni, San Terenzo
The Williams family joined them one day later.
1822/9/11: Mary Shelley leaves Pisa to tracel to Casa Negroto, Genoa
Jane Williams travelled with her and continued to London from Genoa.
1829/1/13: Last meeting of all the Godwin/Clairmont children

• Gittings, Robert and Jo Manton, Claire Clairmont and the Shelleys 1798-1879, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992
• Jones, Kathleen, Learning not to be first, the Life of Christina Rossetti, The Windrush Press, Gloucestershire, 1991
• Kingston Stocking, Marion, The Journals of Claire Clairmont, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968


Portrait of Claire Clairmont by Amelia Curran at Newstead Abbey.
Picture by Androom (21 Jun 2009)


Clairmont, Hermine

Published: 1 Jan 2006
Last update: 10 Jun 2017