Claire Clairmont

Clara Mary Jane Clairmont




BORN   Brislington (near Bristol)  on 27 April 1798               PARENTS - Mary Jane Vial - Sir John Lethbridge

(Conceived 27 July 1797 approx)

DIED 19 Mar 1879, Firenze, Toscana

GRAVE LOCATION     Antella, Firenze, Toscana: Cimitero Monumentale della Misericordia di Santa Maria, Via di Monti

(tomb disappeared (bones reburied under the arcades, pavement inscription) )

Claire Clairmont was a central, if minor, figure in the Romantic Era intellectual and literary circle of the Godwins, Shelleys and Byron.

Her mother was Mary Jane Vial, who married William Godwin in 1801.

As the stepdaughter of William Godwin, she was the stepsister and confidante of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and close friend and

inspiration to poet Percy Shelley.

Although her life has been closely studied, her true paternity seemed to be a secret that died with her mother -- until now.

In 2010 it was discovered that her father was John Lethbridge, Baronet of Sandhill Park in Somerset (1746-1815).

(see Child Support Documents)

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 and 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 1830s 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

• is the sister of Charles Gaulis Clairmont

• is the stepsister of Mary Shelley
• was the lover of George Noel Gordon Byron
• was a friend of Percy Bysshe Shelley

• was a friend of Edward John Trelawny
• was painted by Amelia Curran

20/1/1812    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.  

28/7/1814    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.  

27/9/1814    Shelley and Mary move to 5 Church Terrace, Pancras, London. Claire Clairmont went with them.  

1/1/1815    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.  

10/1/1815    Shelley and Mary move to 4 Hans Place, London. Claire Clairmont was once more in their company. 

2/3/1815    Shelley and Mary move to Arabella Road, Pimlico, London. In their company were Claire Clairmont and Clara, Mary and Shelley's baby


13/5/1815    Claire Clairmont leaves Shelley and Mary Godwin for Lynmouth. In Lynmouth, she stayed with a Mrs.Bickwell. It was probably an

attempt by her mother Mary Jane Clairmont to move her away from Shelley and Mary. 

2/5/1816    Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont leave London for Geneva  

16/6/1816    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".  

21/6/1816    Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont go to Chamonix.  

11/3/1818    Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Claire Clairmont leave for Italy. They crossed the Channel on the 12th.  

11/6/1818    The Shelleys and Claire Clairmont move to the Casa Bertini in Bagna di Lucca  

17/8/1818    Shelley 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.  

27/2/1819    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.  

10/6/1819    The Shelleys and Claire Clairmont leave Rome for Leghorn. In Leghorn they wanted to visit the Gisbornes, who lived there. 

12/8/1820    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. 

30/4/1822    The Shelleys and Claire Clairmont move to Casa Magni, San Terenzo. The Williams family joined them one day later. 

11/9/1822    Mary Shelley leaves Pisa to tracel to Casa Negroto, Genoa. Jane Williams travelled with her and continued to London from Genoa.  

13/1/1829    Last meeting of all the Godwin/Clairmont children  

0/0/1836    Claire 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 died she moved to Pisa. 


Portrait of Claire Clairmont by Amelia Curran. This is situated at Newstead Abbey.

• 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
• 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

Percy's whereabouts (from Letters to Claire)
    30 Dec 1816        London    To Mrs Clairmont 12 New Bond Street, Bath,+Bath+BA1+1BE

               Allegra was born 12th January 1817   


    30 Jan  1817        London

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