He lived fast and died young
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"I must apologise for not appearing before you in peacock-blue plush wearing a diamond and sapphire tiara, a turquoise dog-collar, ropes of pearls and slippers studded with Burma rubies; but I prefer, and always have preferred, Scotch tweed."
These were the words of Henry Cyril Paget, the 5th Marquis of Anglesey, during an interview with the Daily Mail in 1904. As suggested in his words, the aristocrat was an eccentric, who lived an extraordinary life filled with wealth and opulence.
He spent millions on fancy dress, strutted the streets of London with pink pampered poodles and adapted his five luxury cars so perfume would billow from their exhausts. Not only did he fascinate his contemporaries, but over the years, he has fascinated many historians.
Read more: The Welsh woman who stole £2m from would-be husbands then faked her own death
Today, his legacy lives on at Plas Newydd – a grand country house near Llanfairpwll on Anglesey where he once lived. Henry Cyril Paget or "Toppy" as he was known to his friends was the eldest son of of the 4th Marquess and the great-grandson of noble war hero Field Marshal Henry William Paget.
The field marshal was a famous historical figure known for his bravery on the battlefield, in which at one point he lost his leg at the Battle of Waterloo. The story goes that when a cannon ball swept Henry William Paget's leg clean from his body, he responded with: "By God, sir, I've lost my leg!" to which the Duke of Wellington replied: "By God, sir, so you have!"
In recognition for his services at the battle, he was later given the title Marquess of Anglesey in July 1815 and 60 years later, his great-grandson Henry Cyril Paget was born on June 16, 1875 in Paris. He was the son of Henry Paget – the Earl of Uxbridge and was later known as the 4th Marquis of Anglesey, and his wife, Blanche Mary Curwen Boyd.
Paget's mother died when he was just two years old. Rumours about his true paternity were rife, with many believing his father was in fact a French actor called Benoit-Constant Coquelin. Between the age of two until eight, the young Paget was raised by Coquelin's sister in Paris and the reason for this fostering remained unclear.
At the age of eight however, Paget moved from France to the UK and went to live with his father and his third wife, who was an American heiress, at Plas Newydd on Anglesey. Although his childhood in north Wales seemed to have been isolated, he learnt painting and singing in Germany and spoke fluent French, good Russian and grammatical Welsh. He went to study at Eton and was later commissioned a lieutenant in the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
Upon his father's death in 1898, he inherited the title and took control of the family estates, including the Paget family seat at Plas Newydd. The income earned from a family mining business brought over £110,000 a year, which is around £17 million by today's standards.
The 5th Marquis was expected to marry, have children and lead a respectable life as a man of high status and wealth in order to be accepted by his peers in a Victorian society. By convention therefore, he married his cousin Lilian Florence Maud Chetwynd on January 20, 1898.
But the marriage was brief and was later annulled after three years. With his wife gone, he was now able to bury all expected conventions and replace them with a new self-indulgent lifestyle. The marquis spent all his fortune on high-class jewellery, outlandish items and haute couture fashions. He spent millions on furs, costumes and parties.
At the age of 23, with an almost limitless fortune, one of his vehicles was modelled after a Pullman railcar – where railway passengers would usually dine, and completed the vehicle with leather furniture and a baroque covered ceiling.
The marquis was known for his love of performing. He transformed the family chapel at Plas Newydd into an extravagant 150 seat theatre, which he named The Gaiety. In each performance, he would take the lead role.
He first began performing to his servants before going on to perform free shows for the locals, in which he was always dressed in elaborate and expensive costumes. For his first production, which was Aladdin, he poached professional actors from London that were visiting the nearby seaside town on Llandudno and would promise them an unimaginable wage.
Eventually, he started hiring even more professional actors at an inflated salary to go on a European tour with him. An army of musicians and stage hands needed five trucks to carry the equipment needed to put on such a lavish performance.
A succession of costumes were made to order either by couturiers or by the London costumiers, Morris Angel, which were with real jewels. Outfits for one performance alone were believed to have cost in excess of £46 million.
By 1904 however, the Marquis had bankrupted the estate by spending thousands of pounds on jewels, furs, cars, boats, perfumes and potions, toys, medicines, dogs, horses and theatricals on a scale unimagined even among the profligate Victorian aristocracy. Everything was sold to meet his debts, including the contents of the potting shed and a parrot in a brass cage.
Paget "retired" and moved to France with an income of £3,000 a year. He went first to Dinan in Brittany before finally settling in Monte Carlo. But Paget died in 1905 at the young age of 29, with his former wife and Madame Coquelin by his bedside. The Gaiety theatre was swiftly removed following Henry Paget’s death and many of his photographs and documents were burned, erasing his memory from history.
But glimpses of Paget's interesting and extraordinary life can still be found in surviving photographs of him, reminding us of his love of costumes, performance and his vivacious spirit. Perhaps Victorian society expected Henry Cyril Paget to live a respectable life for a man of his status, to dress conservatively, marry and have children, but it is evident that Paget was determined to live the life that he chose.
He lived fast and died young