Poetry News

Sip from Lord Byron's Skull Cup

By Harriet Staff
Lord Byron

Hyperallergic has the scoop on an auction headed to Charterhouse Auctioneers and Valuers that promises to be a bit ghoulish. According to the story, up for auction is a cup, crafted from [ew!] a human skull, with an inscription that suggests it was used by Lord Byron. "Fashioned from a human skull," Allison Meier writes, "the cup going to auction at Charterhouse Auctioneers and Valuers in Sherborne, England, has a metal rim with these words: 'SKULL DRINKING CUP USED BY LORD BYRON AT NEWSTEAD ABBEY.'" From there: 

 Whether or not the skull was indeed employed by the famed Romantic poet to sip wine, the object, part of a two-day auction October 19 and 20, recalls the macabre practice of turning a fellow human’s head into a drinking vessel.

Kristina Killgrove wrote on Forbes that there is “a surprisingly long tradition of using skullcaps as bowls or cups,” with the earliest known cups dating back to the 13th millennium BCE. They were found in Somerset, England, on the same landmass where, so the story goes, Lord Byron transformed some skeletal bits unearthed at his Newstead Abbey estate. In a 2016 post, Strange Remains shared this account attributed to Byron:

The gardener, in digging, discovered a skull that had probably belonged to some jolly friar or monk of the abbey, about the time it was demonasteried. Observing it to be of giant size, and in a perfect state of preservation, a strange fancy seized me of having it set and mounted as a drinking cup. I accordingly sent it to town, and it returned a mottled color like a tortoiseshell.

Stephen Massett, in his detailed essay on “A Day at Newstead Abbey,” wrote that it “was always produced after dinner when Byron had company at the abbey, and a bottle of claret poured into it.”

More where that came from at Hyperallergic

Originally Published: October 18th, 2017