Byron’s Prisoner of Chillon Arose from Visit to Château De Chillon

face of a prisoner

Lord Byron’s poem The Prisoner of Chillon is quite closely tied to specific circumstances. While sailing on Lake Geneva on June 22, 1816, Byron and Shelley stopped at the Château de Chillon. Byron subsequently composed The Prisoner of Chillon in a few days while staying with Shelley and others at a hotel in Ouchy. The poem was probably completed by July 2, 1816. The historically famous prisoner of Chillon was François Bonivard (1496-1570). The prisoner in Byron’s poem was imprisoned for refusing to forsake his father’s faith. The actual story of Bonivard is rather more earthy.^

A similar romancing of a prisoner occurred more recently with Robert Stroud. Known as the “Birdman of Alcatrez,” he was the hero of a best-selling book and movie. The actual facts of Stroud’s life seem rather less romantic.^ Imperatives for success in competing for attention create characteristic biases in representations of prisoners and imprisonment.

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