Lord Uxbridge's leg
Lord Uxbridge's leg was shattered by a cannon shot at the Battle of Waterloo and removed by a surgeon. The amputated limb went on to lead a somewhat macabre after-life as a tourist attraction in the village of Waterloo in Belgium, where it had been removed and interred.
Henry Paget, 2nd Earl of Uxbridge, later the 1st Marquess of Anglesey, commanded 13,000 Allied cavalry and 44 guns of horse artillery at the Battle of Waterloo. At about 2:30 pm, at a critical stage in the battle, he led a charge of the 2,000 heavy cavalry of the Household Brigade and the Union Brigade to throw back the columns of D'Erlon's French I Corps, who were threatening to push back Picton's severely outnumbered 5th Division, with some 15,000 French infantry advancing on 3,000 British. The charge succeeded in sweeping the French infantry away in disorder, but Uxbridge was unable to rally his troops, who ran on in pursuit and were cut up by counter-attacking French cavalry. Uxbridge spent the rest of the battle leading a series of charges by British light cavalry formations, and had eight or nine horses shot from under him.
One of the last cannon shots fired on 18 June 1815 hit his right leg, necessitating its amputation above the knee. According to anecdote, he was close to the Duke of Wellington when his leg was hit, and exclaimed, "By God, sir, I've lost my leg!", to which Wellington replied "By God, sir, so you have!"
After receiving his wound, Lord Uxbridge was taken to his headquarters in the village of Waterloo, a house owned by a certain M. Hyacinthe Joseph-Marie Paris, who was still in his residence at 214, Chaussée de Bruxelles. There, the remains of his leg were removed by surgeons, principally James Powell of the Ordnance Medical Department, and James Callander of the 7th Hussars, without antiseptic or anaesthetics. The Prince Regent created him Marquess of Anglesey and made him a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath five days after the battle.
Lord Uxbridge, true to his nature, remained stoical and composed. According to his aide-de-camp, Thomas Wildman, during the amputation Paget smiled and said, "I have had a pretty long run. I have been a beau these forty-seven years, and it would not be fair to cut the young men out any longer." According to another anecdote his only comment through the dreadful procedure was, "The knives appear somewhat blunt."
According to the account of Sir Hussey Vivian recorded by Henry Curling in 1847:
Just after the Surgeon had taken off the Marquis of Anglesey's leg, Sir Hussey Vivian came into the cottage where the operation was performed. "Ah, Vivian!" said the wounded noble, "I want you to do me a favour. Some of my friends here seem to think I might have kept that leg on. Just go and cast your eye upon it, and tell me what you think." "I went, accordingly", said Sir Hussey, "and, taking up the lacerated limb, carefully examined it, and so far as I could tell, it was completely spoiled for work. A rusty grape-shot had gone through and shattered the bones all to pieces. I therefore returned to the Marquis and told him he could set his mind quite at rest, as his leg, in my opinion, was better off than on."
A further anecdote reports him saying "Who would not lose a leg for such a victory?" The saw used to amputate his leg is held by the National Army Museum. Uxbridge was offered an annual pension of £1,200 in compensation for the loss of his leg, but refused.
Paris asked if he might bury the leg in his garden, later turning the place into a kind of shrine, as for a relic. Visitors were first taken to see the bloody chair upon which Uxbridge had sat during the amputation, before being escorted into the garden, where the leg had its own 'tombstone', inscribed as follows:
Here lies the Leg of the illustrious and valiant Earl Uxbridge, Lieutenant-General of His Britannic Majesty, Commander in Chief of the English, Belgian and Dutch cavalry, wounded on the 18 June 1815 at the memorable battle of Waterloo, who, by his heroism, assisted in the triumph of the cause of mankind, gloriously decided by the resounding victory of the said day.
- Here lies the Marquis of Anglesey's limb;
- The Devil will have the remainder of him.
The leg attracted an amazing range of tourists from European society of the very top drawer, from the King of Prussia to the Prince of Orange. It was a nice earner for Monsieur Paris and his descendants, all the way down to 1878, when it was the occasion for a minor diplomatic incident. Uxbridge's son visited, to find the bones not buried, but on open display. On investigation by the Belgian ambassador in London, it was discovered that they had been exposed in a storm which uprooted the willow tree beside which they were buried. The ambassador demanded repatriation of the relics to England but the Paris family refused, instead offering to sell the bones to the Uxbridge family, who, not surprisingly, were enraged. At this point the Belgian Minister of Justice intervened, ordering the bones to be reburied. However, the bones were not reburied; they were kept hidden. In 1934, after the last Monsieur Paris died in Brussels, his widow found them in his study, along with documentation proving their provenance. Horrified by the thought of another scandal, she incinerated them in her central heating furnace.
Uxbridge's close family lost several limbs in the service of the United Kingdom during the Napoleonic Wars: his brother, Major-General Sir Edward Paget, lost his right arm in the crossing of the Douro during the Second Battle of Porto in 1809, and his daughter lost a hand tending her husband on a battlefield in Spain.
Uxbridge himself used an articulated above-knee artificial leg invented by James Potts, with hinged knee and ankle and raising toes which became known as the Anglesey leg, after his marquessate. One of the artificial legs designed by Potts and worn by the marquess is still extant, preserved at Plas Newydd in Anglesey, as is also a leg of the hussar trousers worn by the 1st Marquess at Waterloo. The loss of his leg did not impede the Marquess of Anglesey's career – he rose to become a Field Marshal and Knight of the Garter, twice serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and twice as Master-General of the Ordnance; he is the "Marquess of Anglesey" after whom many British pubs are named.
Notes and references
- Leaves from a Soldier's Notebook, in Colborn's United Service Magazine and Naval and Military Journal for 1847, Part II (London, H. Hurst, 1847) p. 543
- Anglesey, ‘'Paget , Henry William, first marquess of Anglesey (1768–1854)’', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 10 Oct 2008
- Material on which this article is based can be found in the BBC History Magazine, vol. 3, no. 6, June 2002.
- Contemporaneous sources: ( For example: Edward Baines, History of the Wars of the French Revolution, from the Breaking Out of the War, in 1792, to the Restoration of a General Peace in 1815: Comprehending the Civil History of Great Britain and France, During that Period, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1818. p. 468 & George Jones, John Booth, The Battle of Waterloo: With Those of Ligny and Quatre Bras, Described by Eye-witnesses and by the Series of Official Accounts Published by Authority. ..., Published by L. Booth, 1852. p. 403) say right leg; some more recent sources say the left.
- Anglesey, ‘Paget , Henry William, first marquess of Anglesey (1768–1854)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 accessed 13 Nov 2007
- Reagan, Geoffrey. Military Anecdotes (1992) p. 34 Guiness Publishing ISBN 0-85112-519-0
- The house was demolished in the twentieth century (The Tomb of Lord Uxbridge's Leg) but the monument remains in the garden.
- Edward Baines, History of the Wars of the French Revolution, from the Breaking Out of the War, in 1792, to the Restoration of a General Peace in 1815: Comprehending the Civil History of Great Britain and France, During that Period, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1818. p. 468
- National Army Museum : Exhibitions : Changing the World : Key Objects
- Ci est enterré la Jambe de l'illustre et vaillant comte Uxbridge, Lieutenant-Général de S. M. Brittanique, Commandant en chef de la cavalerie anglaise, belge, et hollondaise, blessé le 18 juin 1815, à la mémorable bataille de Waterloo, qui, par son héroïsme, a concouru au triomphe de la cause du genre humaine, glorieusement décidéé par l'éclatante victoire du dit jour. (Notes and Queries, 3rd S. II, September 27, 1862, p. 249)
- Notes and Queries, 3rd S. II, September 27, 1862, p. 249
- The Edinburgh Monthly Review Waugh and Innes, 1821 Volume 5 (1821) p. 416
- Staff. The Gentleman's Magazine, F. Jefferies, 1819. p. 646 (Last full paragraph of the first column)
- Murphy Wendy B. Spare Parts: From Peg Legs to Gene Splices, Twenty-First Century Books, 2001. ISBN 0-7613-1355-9, ISBN 978-0-7613-1355-7. p. 25
- Anglesey, the Marquess of, One Leg, The Life and Letters of Henry William Paget, First Marquess of Anglesey, KG 1768–1854, Jonathan Cape (1961) reprinted Pen and Sword Books (1996), . ill. facing p. 128. ISBN 0-85052-518-7
- Pollard, Justin. Barmy armies: tales of derring-do (and derring-don't) , The Independent, 9 October 2008. (See the section "How Lord Uxbridge's leg met a legendary end")
- Schneider, John. The Tomb of Lord Uxbridge's Leg, Napoleonic Literature
- Melaisis, Petros Hero Of The Moment: Lord Uxbridge (or rather, his leg) The Three Rs, 15 January 2009