Alfred Tennyson was born August 6th, 1809, at Somersby, Lincolnshire, fourth of twelve children of George and Elizabeth (Fytche) Tennyson. The poet's grandfather had violated tradition by making his younger son, Charles, his heir, and arranging for the poet's father to enter the ministry. (See the Tennyson Family Tree. ) The contrast of his own family's relatively straitened circumstances to the great wealth of his aunt Elizabeth Russell and uncle Charles Tennyson (who lived in castles!) made Tennyson feel particularly impoverished and led him to worry about money all his life.
He also had a lifelong fear of mental illness, for several men in his family had a mild form of epilepsy, which was then thought a shameful disease. His father and brother Arthur made their cases worse by excessive drinking. His brother Edward had to be confined in a mental institution after 1833, and he himself spent a few weeks under doctors' care in 1843. In the late twenties his father's physical and mental condition worsened, and he became paranoid, abusive, and violent.