Henry Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Marquess of Anglesey
Paget c. 1900 by Welsh photographer John Wickens
Personal details
Born(1875-06-16)16 June 1875
Died14 March 1905(1905-03-14) (aged 29)
Monte Carlo, Monaco
SpouseLilian Florence Maud Chetwynd
Parent(s)Henry Paget, 4th Marquess of Anglesey
Blanche Mary Boyd
Alma materEton College

Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey (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"[1] and for his Butterfly Dancing, taken from Loie Fuller, where a voluminous robe of transparent white silk would be waved like wings.[2]

Vicary Gibbs, writing in The Complete Peerage in 1910, commented 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.'"[3]

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. That story seems to have been a confusion of facts. The sister-in-law, née Edith Marion Boyd, was the 4th 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).[4] 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 £13 million per year in 2021).[5]


Plas Newydd, Paget's country house on Anglesey
Interior of Paget's Gaiety Theatre at Plas Newydd
Henry Paget in theatrical costume, c.1900

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 renamed the family's country seat Plas Newydd as "Anglesey Castle" and converted the chapel there 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. Early performances from around 1899 were mostly variety performances of song and dance numbers, sketches and tableaux vivants in front of an invited audience of notable local people. In 1901, the Gaiety Theatre was refurbished and fitted out with electric stage lighting and re-opened as a public entertainment venue.[6]

For three years Paget took his theatre company on tour around Britain and Europe. His wife disapproved of his lifestyle and obtained a decree nisi of divorce on 7 November 1900; the marriage was later annulled due to nonconsummation, according to Lady Anglesey's grandson by her second marriage, the historian Christopher Simon Sykes.[7] 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.


On 10 September 1901, Paget attended the London premiere of Arthur Conan Doyle's stage adaptation of Sherlock Holmes at the Lyceum Theatre, London. At the time, Paget was living in the Walsingham House Hotel in London. 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. Distraught at the theft, Paget enlisted the help of Conan Doyle to find the stolen jewels. 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.[8]


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 homosexual. Writing in 1970, the homosexual reformer H. Montgomery Hyde characterised him as "[t]he most notorious aristocratic homosexual at this period".[9] One journalist wrote, "I am driven to the conclusion from much that I have seen that there are men who ought to have been born women, and women who ought to have been born men … Bearing the form of a man, he yet had all the tastes, something even of the appearance, of not only a woman, but, if the phrase be permissible, a very effeminate woman".[2] Norena Shopland wrote that "there is little doubt that Henry must be included in the history of gender identity."[2]

There is no evidence for or against his having had any lovers of either sex: performance historian Viv Gardner believes rather 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'".[10] The deliberate destruction by his family of those of his papers that might have settled this matter has left any assessment speculative.

According to Christopher Sykes, he did not have sexual relations with his wife, who initially left him after just six weeks. Sykes has reported: "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".[7]

Financial trouble and death[edit]

By 1904, despite his inheritance and income, Paget had accumulated debts of £544,000 (£60 million in 2021)[5] and on 11 June was declared bankrupt. His lavish wardrobe, particularly his dressing gowns from Charvet,[11] 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, on his Anglesey estate, for burial. The Times reported that despite all that was known of him, he remained much liked by the people of Bangor, who were sorry to hear of his death. In 1909, Lilian, Marchioness of Anglesey, married 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. The Paget family moved into Plas Newydd as their permanent residence.[12]


Plas Newydd remained in the possession of the Paget family until 1976, when it was donated to the National Trust. Today the house and gardens are open to the public, and the house contains an art collection which includes a number of photographs of the 5th Marquess in theatrical costume.[13][14]

In March 2020, a diamond tiara claimed to have been worn by the 5th Marquess was put up for auction (not by the Paget family) at the 2020 European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht. There is no proof Paget ever owned the tiara, but it was worn by Marjorie, Marchioness of Anglesey (wife of the 6th Marquess) at the coronation of King George VI in 1937.[15][16][notes 1]

Paget's style has often been compared to that of the flamboyant rock star Freddie Mercury.[17][18][19]

In 2017 the actor and composer Seiriol Davies wrote and performed in How To Win Against History, a musical based on Paget's life. The award-winning show was performed at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe before a tour of Wales and England.[18][19][20][21] In 2019 the show had its Irish premiere at the Dublin Theatre Festival.[22]

The British-American fashion designer Harris Reed cited Paget as an inspiration for his 2020 collection Thriving In Our Outrage.[23][24]


  1. ^ The BBC source[15] states that the tiara was worn in 1952 by Marjorie Paget, Marchioness of Anglesey at the coronation of Elizabeth II, alongside her husband, Charles Paget, 6th Marquess of Anglesey, but this is impossible, given that Marjorie died in 1946, Charles died in 1947; and the picture clearly shows her son, Henry Paget, 7th Marquess of Anglesey.


  1. ^ Saunders, Tristram Fane (23 November 2017). "'He bought diamonds as an ordinary man buys cigarettes': The story of Britain's most eccentric aristocrat". The Telegraph.
  2. ^ a b c Shopland 2017.
  3. ^ Cokayne and Gibbs 1910, p. 141n.
  4. ^ Barnett, Henry Walter ("H. Walter"). "Lilian Florence Maud Paget (née Chetwynd), Marchioness of Anglesey (later Gilliat)". vintage bromide print, 1902. National Portrait Gallery, London.
  5. ^ a b UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 11 June 2022.
  6. ^ Cochrane, Claire (2016). Theatre History and Historiography: Ethics, Evidence and Truth. Springer. pp. 69–70. ISBN 9781137457288. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
  7. ^ a b Christopher Sykes [grandson of Lilian Florence Maud Chetwynd], The Aristocracy: Born to Rule 1875–1945, BBC, first broadcast 29 January 1997.
  8. ^ Costello, Peter (2012). Conan Doyle, Detective. Little, Brown Book Group. ISBN 978-1-4721-0365-9. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  9. ^ Hyde, H. Montgomery (1970). The Other Love: an historical and contemporary survey of homosexuality in Britain. London: Heinemann. pp. 153–154.
  10. ^ Gardner, Viv (10 October 2007). "Would you trust this man with your fortune?". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  11. ^ "The Marquis of Anglesey". Evening Post. 5 November 1904. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  12. ^ "Beaudesert Hall Remains, Longdon, Staffordshire". British Listed Buildings. Archived from the original on 25 July 2017. Retrieved 25 July 2017.
  13. ^ National Trust web page for Plas Newydd Country House and Garden. See also interactive maps of NT property ownership.
  14. ^ Ltd, e3 Media. "Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey (1875-1905) in theatrical costume 1175699.1". www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk. Retrieved 11 March 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ a b Herd, George (7 March 2020). "A tiara, scandals and 'erased queer history'". BBC News. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  16. ^ "The Anglesey tiara". TEFAF. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  17. ^ Saunders, Tristram Fane (23 November 2017). "'He bought diamonds as an ordinary man buys cigarettes': The story of Britain's most eccentric aristocrat". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  18. ^ a b "'Freddie Mercury' Ynys Môn" (in Welsh). BBC. 12 September 2017.
  19. ^ a b Wright, Steve (18 October 2017). "Imagine Freddie Mercury running through a branch of Elizabeth Duke wearing a Sellotape suit". B24/7.
  20. ^ "How To Win Against History". Curtis Brown. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  21. ^ Gardner, Lyn (21 August 2017). "How to Win Against History review – spotlight shines again on a starstruck Victorian toff". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  22. ^ "How to Win Against History: Seiriol Davies on his 'campy' musical". RTÉ. 24 September 2019. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  23. ^ Mead, Rebecca (27 September 2021). "Height of Glamour – How the designer Harris Reed helps Harry Styles and Solange play with masculinity and femininity". The New Yorker. Reed's designs draw inspiration from the lavish garb of the Victorian aristocrat Henry Paget, who was, Reed said, "shamelessly his truest self".
  24. ^ Peters, Alex. "Harris Reed on the angelic, sordid beauty of their final collection". Dazed. Retrieved 29 September 2021. The collection took inspiration from figures such as Henry Paget and the New York Dolls.


Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Marquess of Anglesey
Succeeded by