Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey (1768-1854), was a soldier, statesman and beau educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford who distinguished himself as one of the heroes of the Battle of Waterloo under the command of the Duke of Wellington. Paget entered the House of Lords as MP for Carnarvon in 1790 and held his seat until 1796 when his brother Edward was elected in his place. He was re-elected in the 1796 general election and held his seat until his resignation in 1804.
Paget served as temporary Lieutenant Colonel of his father the Earl of Uxbridge’s Staffordshire Volunteers and fought in the French Revolutionary Wars. He served with distinction in the Peninsular campaign under Wellington but was dismissed when it became known that the notorious ladies man was conducting an affair with Lady Charlotte Wellesley, the Dukes sister-in-law.
Despite Wellington’s disapproval, Paget eloped with Lady Charlotte after divorcing his first wife Lady Caroline Villiers in 1810. In 1815 on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, Paget was appointed Cavalry Commander and Wellington extended his command to include the Allied forces cavalry and horse artillery. On the 18th of June 1815, Paget led a spectacular cavalry charge that would precipitate the rout of the Emperor Napoleon’s army.
Paget was riding next to the Duke of Wellington when one of the last canon shots fired hit him in the leg. He was alleged to have said to Wellington, ‘By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg’ to which the Iron Duke replied ‘By God, sir, so you have’. Paget showed his mettle during the amputation allegedly saying ‘I have had a 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’. It was reported latterly that Paget had also said ‘who would not lose a leg for such a victory?’
Thus began the macabre story of Paget’s severed limb that, incidentally, had been removed without antiseptic or anesthetic. The owner of the house in Waterloo, a Monsieur Paris, buried the leg under a willow tree erecting a rather grand headstone that became something of a tourist attraction. One wag carved the following couplet into the stone: ‘Here lies the Marquess of Anglesey’s limb, The Devil will have the remainder of him’.
The limb was later disinterred and shown-off by Monsieur Paris causing a European diplomatic scandal. Only in 1934 did the widow of the last Monsieur Paris find the bones in her late husband’s study and burnt them in her central heating furnace. Two of the articulated artificial legs that Paget wore for the rest of his life are displayed in his country house Plas Newydd and in the Household Cavalry Museum on Horse Guard’s Parade in London.
In recognition of his heroism, Paget was created 1st Marquess of Anglesey and Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath by the Prince Regent. A year later a twenty-seven metre triumphal column topped by a statue of the dashing Marquess was erected on Anglesey close to his country estate Plas Newydd. He refused an annual pension of £2100 in compensation for the loss of his leg. The Marquess remained a favourite of the Prince Regent and was in attendance as Lord High Steward when the prince was crowned King George IV in 1821.
The Marquess of Anglesey would have witnessed the debacle at Westminster Abbey when King George’s estranged Queen Consort, Caroline of Brunswick, was refused entry despite numerous attempts to gatecrash her own coronation. It was said that the Marquess sympathized with the queen who had been dragged through the courts accused of adultery with an Italian peasant. When facing-down a London mob, he was said to have shouted ‘The Queen! May all your wives be like her’. Contemporary portraits of the ruddy-cheeked, porcine Queen Caroline suggest that the sentiment may not have been entirely kindly meant.
The King can’t have been too concerned about the Marquess of Anglesey’s loyalty because weeks after the coronation he was a house guest at Plas Newydd when word was sent that Queen Caroline was dying. King George IV was overheard telling fellow guest Sir William Knighton that the queen’s death gave him ‘a fair prospect of real and true happiness for the rest of my days’.
The Marquess returned to Parliament in 1827 when he was appointed a member of the Privy Council. He served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1828 under the Duke of Wellington’s administration and also under Prime Minister the Earl Grey. He retired from office in 1852 with the honorary titles of Field Marshal and Colonel of the Royal Horse Guards. His newly conferred titles go some way to explaining why a man of eighty-two would place his first and last order with Henry Poole & Co two years before his death.