Claire Clairmont was a central, if minor, figure in the Romantic Era intellectual and literary circle of the Godwins, Shelleys and Byron:  stepdaughter of William Godwin, stepsister and confidante of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, close friend and inspiration to poet Percy Shelley, paramour of Lord Byron and mother of his infant daughter Allegra.  Although her life has been closely studied, her true paternity seemed to be a secret that died with her mother -- until now.

Papers of Dodson and Pulman, Solicitors of Taunton 

Among the papers archived with the Somerset Record Office by the legal firm of Dodson and Pulman, of Taunton in Somerset, are a collection of documents relating to the estate and affairs of the Lethbridge family, formerly of Sandhill Park, near Taunton and Westway House, Devon.

A bundle of 60 or so documents (catalogued DD\DP 17/11) are the surviving records kept between 1798 and 1814 by Taunton attorney Robert Beadon on the matter of Sir John Lethbridge's maintenance of his illegitimate daughter by Mary Jane Vial.   The daughter was named Mary Jane after her mother, but later came to be known as Claire Clairmont.
The papers kept by attorney Beadon establish beyond doubt that Sir John Lethbridge accepted (albeit grudgingly) that he was Claire's father, her birth being the result of a liaison with Miss Vial during some undetermined period in 1797.

The depositors and the Somerset Record Office have kindly given permission for me to transcribe the Lethbridge/Vial documents and make the transcriptions available for non-commercial use by scholars, historians, genealogists and others who may be interested in filling in a hitherto blank space in a fascinating history.

How to access the letters

  • To view the letters on screen in chronological order, go to 'View the letters'  and use the chronological links to open each letter in a separate page.  
  • To download the letters as Word documents (indexed under their Somerset Record Office copy number), go to 'File downloads'.
  • For a summary of the events covered in the letters, as well as links to the more significant, go to the Chronology and events pages.
  • To see a complete index of the letters, with notes, comments and editorial conventions used, go to 'The Lethbridge Papers: Index and editorial notes'.

Contact me

I can be contacted by email to VickiPS__snailything_gmail_dot_com.
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You can also find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/vpstafford, and on Twitter @VickiPS

What's new

  • New book

    The Vampyre Family: Passion, Envy and the Curse of Byron by Andrew McConnell Stott

    Andrew McConnell Stott's latest book examines how the lives of Romantic poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley and their close associates Mary Godwin Shelley, her step-sister Claire Clairmont and Byron's doctor, John Polidori, intertwined during that famous summer of 1816 that they spent on the shore of Lake Geneva.  Quoting the inside cover blurb:

    It was a period of extraordinary creativity from which would emerge Frankenstein, the gothic masterpiece of Romantic fiction, Byron's Childe Harold, Shelley's Mont Blanc, and John Polidori's The Vampyre, the first great vampire novel...It was also a time of remarkable drama and emotional turmoil. For Byron and the Shelleys, their stay by the lake would serve to immortalise them in the annals of literary history. But for Clair and Polidori, the Swiss sojourn would scar them forever.

    Professor Stott's book is the first major publication to incorporate the facts now known about Claire's birth; her true parents, Mary Jane Vial and Sir John Lethbridge; and Mary Jane Vial's own parentage and early life. An endnote to the book references the material on this website. I am of course very grateful for Professor Stott's kind acknowledgement of the relevance of the material to his research.

    Reference:    Stott, Andrew McConnell, The Vampyre Family: Passion, Envy and the Curse of Byron (Edinburgh, Canongate Books, 2013)
    Posted 13 Nov 2013, 21:50 by Vicki Parslow Stafford
  • Mary Jane Vial's grandfather, Samuel Tremlett Jnr
    More information from Exeter baptismal records strongly suggests that Mary Jane Vial's grandfather and Mary Tremlett's father was probably Samuel Tremlett, Junior, born before 1720 and most probably the eldest son of Samuel Tremlett (1690 - 1765) and his wife Elizabeth (d. 1773).  The baptism register of the Exeter Non-Conformist congregation of Rev. Jos. Hallett Jnr records the baptism, on 13th March 1740, of Mary, daughter of Samuel Tremlett Jnr and his wife Mary.   The register was commenced in 1720, and the first recorded baptism of a child of Samuel and Elizabeth was of a daughter in 1722, so if Samuel Jnr is indeed their eldest son, his birth would have been before 1720.

    The collection Wills and Administrations Proved in the the Bishop of Exeter, 1559-1799 contains reference to the will of a Samuel Tremlett who died in 1755.  This is consistent with the absence of references of Mary's father in the wills of Samuel Snr and other family members.

    This new information has been included in the page about Mary's family: her family tree has also been updated.
    Posted 2 Apr 2012, 09:26 by Vicki Parslow Stafford
  • New pages: Peter de Vial and Mary Tremlett
    Having now obtained an abstract of the documents held in Devon Record Office (found by Anne Speight in 2006) that provide the probative link between:
    • Mary Jane Vial and her sister Sophia Elizabeth Pilcher (nee de Vial)
    • Peter de Vial, merchant of Exeter, their father, and
    • Mary Tremlett, wife of Peter De Vial and mother of Sophia and Mary Jane,
    I have updated all of the relevant pages to reflect these facts.  Mary Jane Vial's 'Birth and parentage' page has been revised.  Two new pages provide as much information as I have about Mary Jane and Sophia's father, Peter de Vial, and their mother Mary Tremlett.  A family tree for Mary Tremlett is available to view or download from the File Downloads page.
    Posted 2 Apr 2012, 09:06 by Vicki Parslow Stafford
  • Family Tree updated
    Claire Clairmont's family tree has been updated to reflect the recently-discovered information about her maternal grandparents, Peter de Vial and Mary Tremlett.  Devon Record Office research service has provided a transcript of the of the 1791 lease and release deed that establishes the marital relationship between Mary Tremlett and Peter de Vial, and identifies Mary Jane de Vial and Sophia de Vial as children of the marriage.
    Posted 22 Sept 2011, 06:09 by Vicki Parslow Stafford
  • New information about Mary Jane Vial's parents
    Legal documents found in the Devon Record Office in 2006 by English family history researcher Anne Speight prove that Mary Tremlett and Peter de Vial were the parents of both Sophia Elizabeth de Vial and Mary Jane Vial.  Mary Tremlett and Peter de Vial were married in Exeter in 1764.  Mary made her will on 7 April 1776, leaving certain property settled on her at the time of her marriage to her infant daughters, Sophia and Mary Jane.  Mary Tremlett died in 1776, shortly after making her will.  Peter de Vial subsequently married Catherine Oak in 1782: she was the mother of Charlotte de Vial, Mary Jane's other known sister, as well as several other children.

    An abstract of the documents has been requested from Devon Record Office.  More information will be added to these pages when this is to hand.
    Posted 22 Sept 2011, 06:12 by Vicki Parslow Stafford
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