Clairmont, Claire

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

Stepdaughter of the philosopher Willam Godwin and therefore stepsister of Mary Godwin. In 2010 it was discovered that her father was John Lethbridge, Baronet of Sandhill Park in Somerset (1746-1815). Her mother was Mary Jane Clairmont, who married William Godwin in 1801.

After a short romance with Lord Byron - whom she first saw as early as 1812 - she gave birth to his daughter Allegra after travelling through Europe in 1816 with Mary Godwin and Mary's future husband 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, although 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. During the 1930s she lived with Margaret King in Italy and she considered this the happiest time of her life. In 1836 she returned to England again. She worked as a music teacher and she cared for her mother when she was dying in 1841.

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's will after Shelley's father had finally died. 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
• was a friend of King, Margaret, Lady Mount Cashell
• has a connection with Rossetti, William Michael
• is stepbrother/stepsister of Shelley, Mary
• was a friend of Shelley, Percy Bysshe
• was a friend of Trelawny, Edward John

20/1/1812Claire 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. [Byron, George Noel Gordon ][Godwin, William]
28/7/1814Shelley 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. [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
27/9/1814Shelley and Mary move to 5 Church Terrace, Pancras, London. Claire Clairmont went with them. [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
1/1/1815T.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. [Hogg, Thomas Jefferson][Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
10/1/1815Shelley and Mary move to 4 Hans Place, London. Claire Clairmont was once more in their company. [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
2/3/1815Shelley and Mary move to Arabella Road, Pimlico, London. In their company were Claire Clairmont and Clara, Mary and Shelley's baby girl. [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
13/5/1815Claire 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. 
0/4/1816Lord Byron and Claire Clairmont become lovers [Byron, George Noel Gordon ]
2/5/1816Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont leave London for Geneva [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
16/6/1816Percy 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". [Byron, George Noel Gordon ][Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
21/6/1816Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont go to Chamonix [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
0/9/1816Mary Godwin, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Claire Clairmont arrive in Bath. After their return to England they travelled to Bath where they took lodgings at 5 Abbey Church Yard. In Bath Mary attended lectures by Dr Wilkinson at the Kingston Lecture Room and Wilkinson suggested that electricity might be used to bring inanimate matter to life. This was an inspiration to Mary's novel "Frankenstein". [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
9/3/1818William and Clara Shelley and Allegra Byron baptised at St Giles-in-the-Fields in London. The baptism took place before Percy, Mary and Clare left for the continent for the second time. The current church is from 1810 and the font is probably the same as at the time of the baptism. [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
11/3/1818Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Claire Clairmont leave for Italy. They crossed the Channel on the 12th. [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
11/6/1818The Shelleys and Claire Clairmont move to the Casa Bertini in Bagna di Lucca [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
17/8/1818Shelley travels to Venice with Claire Clairmont. Claire wanted to visit her daughter Allegra who was with the father, Lord Byron. Mary Shelley stayed behind in Bagni di Lucca. [Byron, Allegra][Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
27/2/1819Shelley 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. [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
10/6/1819The Shelleys and Claire Clairmont leave Rome for Livorno. In Leghorn they wanted to visit the Gisbornes, who lived there. [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
30/9/1819Mary Shelley meets Lady Mount Cashell. She visited her in Pisa together with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Claire Clairmont. [King, Margaret, Lady Mount Cashell][Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
12/8/1820Mary 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. [Shelley, Mary]
15/4/1822Claire Clairmont arrives in Pisa 
30/4/1822The Shelleys and Claire Clairmont move to Casa Magni, San Terenzo. The Williams family joined them one day later. [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe][Williams, Edward Ellerker][Williams, Jane]
11/9/1822Mary Shelley leaves Pisa to tracel to Casa Negroto, Genoa. Jane Williams travelled with her and continued to London from Genoa. [Shelley, Mary][Williams, Jane]
15/9/1822Claire Clairmont leaves Genoa for Vienna. She went to her Brother Charles Clairmont. [Clairmont, Charles Gaulis]
22/3/1823Claire Clairmont leaves Vienna for Moscow. There she was to work as a governess for the two daughters (14 and 16 years old) of Countess Zotoff. 
23/9/1825Claire Clairmont's protégée Dunia dies. Claire Clairmont was the governess of the Russian girl. Dunia fell ill and died soon afterwards. The funeral took place on October 8th. 
16/10/1828Claire Clairmont arrives in London. She had worked for several years in Moscow as a governess and on her way home she had taken a cure in Dresden before she returned to England. 
13/1/1829Last meeting of all the Godwin/Clairmont children [Clairmont, Charles Gaulis][Shelley, Mary]
0/0/1836Claire Clairmont returns to England. She returned to England in the year that William Godwin died. She worked as a music teacher and cared for her mother when she was dying. After her mother's death in 1841 she moved to Pisa. 
0/6/1873William Rossetti visits Claire Clairmont in Florence. She was supposed to posess some papers about Byron and Shelley that he wanted to buy for someone else. Claire was in bad health after a fall and he never got to see the papers. However, he did have some interesting conversations with her. [Rossetti, William Michael]


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


Memorial stone for Claire Clairmont under the arcades of the Cimitero Monumentale della Misericordia di Santa Maria, Antella.
Picture by Androom (20 Feb 2018)


Memorial stone for Claire Clairmont under the arcades of the Cimitero Monumentale della Misericordia di Santa Maria, Antella.
Picture by Androom (20 Feb 2018)


• Feldman, Paula R. and Diana Scott-Kilvert, The Journals of Mary Shelley, 1814-1844, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1987
• 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
• Mellor, Anne K., Mary Shelley, her Life, her Fiction, her Monsters, Routledge, New York, 1989
• Rees, Joan, Shelley's Jane Williams, William Kimber, London, 1985
• St Clair, William, The Godwins and the Shelleys, Faber and Faber, London, 1990
• Tomalin, Claire, Shelley and his World, Thames and Hudson, London, 1980
A Chronology of the Life of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley | Romantic Circles
Claire Clairmont - Wikipedia
10 sites from Mary Shelley’s London…6. St Giles-in-the-Fields… – Exploring London

Clairmont, Hermine

Published: 01 Jan 2006
Last update: 20 Feb 2022