Henry Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey

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Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey Bt, (16 June 1875 – 14 March 1905), styled Lord Paget until 1880 and Earl of Uxbridge between 1880 and 1898, and nicknamed "Toppy", was a British Peer who was notable during his short life for squandering his inheritance on a lavish social life and accumulating massive debts. Regarded as the "black sheep" of the family, he was dubbed "the dancing marquess" for his habit of performing "sinuous, sexy, snake-like dances".[1]

The Complete Peerage says that he "seems only to have existed for the purpose of giving a melancholy and unneeded illustration of the truth that a man with the finest prospects, may, by the wildest folly and extravagance, as Sir Thomas Browne says, 'foully miscarry in the advantage of humanity, play away an uniterable life, and have lived in vain.'"

Family background[edit]

Paget was the eldest son of the 4th Marquess by his father's second wife, Blanche Mary Boyd. However, rumours persisted that his biological father was the French actor Benoît-Constant Coquelin, a rumour that gained some currency when, according to some sources, after the death of his mother in 1877, when he was two years old, Paget reportedly was raised by Coquelin's sister-in-law in Paris until he was eight.[1] That story seems to have been a confusion of facts. The sister-in-law, née Edith Marion Boyd, was the fourth marquess's aunt, one of his mother's sisters, and she did not wed Coquelin's brother Gustave until 1891. His stepmother from 1880 was an American, Mary "Minna" Livingston King, the widow of the Hon. Henry Wodehouse.

He attended Eton College, later receiving private tuition, and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. On 20 January 1898 he married his cousin Lilian Florence Maud Chetwynd (1876—1962).[2] Upon the death of his father on 13 October 1898, he inherited his title and the family estates with about 30,000 acres (120 km²) in Staffordshire, Dorset, Anglesey and Derbyshire, providing an annual income of £110,000 (equivalent to £11 million per year in 2014).[3]

Lifestyle[edit]

Paget swiftly acquired a reputation for a lavish and spendthrift manner of living. He used his money to buy jewellery and furs, and to throw extravagant parties and flamboyant theatrical performances. He converted the chapel at the family's country seat of Plas Newydd, Anglesey, into a 150-seat theatre, named the Gaiety Theatre. Here he took the lead role, opulently costumed, in productions ranging from pantomime and comedy to performances of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband and Shakespeare's Henry V. For three years he took his company on tour around Britain and Europe. His wife disapproved of his lifestyle and obtained a decree nisi of divorce on 7 November 1900; it was later annulled due to nonconsummation, according to Lady Anglesey's grandson by her second marriage, the historian Christopher Simon Sykes.[1] The breakdown of his marriage effectively gave Paget more freedom to enjoy his self-indulgent lifestyle. By this stage he had already begun to mortgage his estates to raise money.

Theft[edit]

On 10 September 1901, Paget's French valet Julian Gault took the opportunity of his employer's absence at the theatre to steal jewellery to the value of £50,000. At the time, Paget was living in the Walsingham House Hotel in London. Gault, who was later arrested at Dover, testified in court that he had been instructed to steal the jewels by a French woman of his acquaintance called Mathilde (who had taken the jewels to France and was never found). Although Gault's testimony was believed to be true, he pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey on 22 October and was sentenced to five years imprisonment.

Sexuality[edit]

Paget's outrageous and flamboyant lifestyle, his taste for cross-dressing, and the breakdown of his marriage, have led many to assume that he was gay. Writing in 1970, the homosexual reformer H. Montgomery Hyde characterised him as "[t]he most notorious aristocratic homosexual at this period".[4] There is no evidence for or against his having had any lovers of either sex – performance historian Viv Gardner believes that he was "a classic narcissist: the only person he could love and make love to was himself, because, for whatever reason, he was 'unlovable'".[5] The deliberate destruction by his family of those of his papers that might have settled this matter has left any assessment speculative. The only certainty is that he did not have sexual relations with his wife who initially left him after just six weeks - “The closest the marriage ever came to consummation was that he would make her pose naked covered top to bottom in jewels and she had to sleep wearing the jewels..”[6]

Financial trouble and death[edit]

By 1904, despite his inheritance and income, Paget had accumulated debts of £544,000 (£50 million in 2014)[3] and on 11 June was declared bankrupt. His lavish wardrobe, particularly his dressing gowns from Charvet,[7] and jewels were sold to pay creditors, the jewels alone realising £80,000.

In 1905, Paget died in Monte Carlo following a long illness, with his ex-wife by his side, and his remains were returned to St Edwen's Church, Llanedwen, for burial. The Times reported that despite all that was known of him, he remained much liked by the people of Bangor, who regretted to hear of his death. Lilian, Marchioness of Anglesey, married, in 1909, John Francis Grey Gilliat, a banker, by whom she had three children.

The title passed to his cousin Charles Henry Alexander Paget, who destroyed all the papers of the 5th Marquess and converted the Gaiety Theatre back into a chapel. It was at least in part owing to the debts left by the 5th Marquess that the family's principal English estate at Beaudesert, Staffordshire, had to be broken up and sold in the 1930s.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Eat your heart out Elton, here's the most eccentric English aristocrat ever". Daily Mail (London). 2007-10-27. Retrieved 2009-07-09. 
  2. ^ Barnett, Henry Walter ('H. Walter'). "Lilian Florence Maud Paget (née Chetwynd), Marchioness of Anglesey (later Gilliat)". vintage bromide print, 1902. National Portrait Gallery, London. 
  3. ^ a b UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2014), "What Were the British Earnings and Prices Then? (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  4. ^ Hyde, H. Montgomery (1970). The Other Love: an historical and contemporary survey of homosexuality in Britain. London: Heinemann. pp. 153–4. 
  5. ^ Would you trust this man with your fortune? The Guardian, 10 October 2007. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
  6. ^ Christopher Sykes, the grand-son of Lilian Florence Maud Chetwynd , The Aristocracy - Born to Rule 1875 - 1945, BBC , First broadcast: 29 Jan 1997
  7. ^ "The Marquis of Anglesey". Evening Post. 5 November 1904. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  • Cokayne, G.E.; Gibbs, Vicary (1910). The Complete Peerage 1 (2nd ed.). London: St. Catherine Press. 
  • "Obituary: Lord Anglesey". The Times (London). 15 March 1905. p. 10. 

External links[edit]

Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Henry Paget
Marquess of Anglesey
1898–1905
Succeeded by
Charles Paget