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.
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.
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