July 22, 2023 | Dancy Mason

Extravagant Facts About Henry Paget, The Dancing Marquess

Born into wealth and power, the Marquess Henry Paget reveled in near-depraved luxury and extravagance—until the day it unraveled in an incredibly brutal way. Infamous during his time for his spending, his partying, and his almost unbelievable narcissism, Paget left an indelible mark on society…just not always in the good way.

1. He Was A Spoiled Brat

Life didn’t even start out normal for Henry Paget. Born on June 16, 1875, Henry Cyril Paget was the eldest son of the 4th Marquess of Anglesey, making him the heir to a vast amount of fortunes, lands, and manors. Sadly, by the end of his brief, tragic life, Paget would lose all these things and so much more. But really, his scandal started at the very beginning.

henry cyril paget

2. His Birth Was A Scandal

Just after little Henry was born, dark rumors went around about the circumstances of his birth. People started whispering that his mother, Blanche Boyd, had actually had an affair with the dashing French actor Benoit-Constant Coquelin, and was trying to pass off their lovechild Henry as the Marquess’s lawful son. Two years later, this rumor gained even further credibility…

Henry Paget factsWikipedia

3. He Had A Tragic Childhood

In 1877, tragedy came knocking at the Paget's ancestral door, and not for the last time. That year, Henry’s mother passed at a terribly young age, leaving her two-year-old son nearly completely alone and entirely motherless. But get this: Upon her passing, Henry went to live with acquaintances of his “father” Coquelin, which didn’t help the rumor mill. The curtains were opening on his drama.

Henry Paget facts Wikipedia

4. He Was A Strange Boy

To say that Paget was a strange child is like saying Tim Burton is a little odd; he was a full-on eccentric. Even from a young age, people noticed his “delicate” appearance, and one of his only companions was his elderly Scottish nanny. Though many people blamed his “difference” on his foreign upbringing and his supreme only-childness, as Paget grew up it became clear there were other forces at play.

The Nightmare Before Christmas factsGetty Images

5. He Made A Bizarre Request

By the time he hit his early 20s, Paget’s odd proclivities took a turn for the extravagant and hedonistic. The Marquess-in-training had piles of money to burn, and he was obsessed with spending it. One of his most famous—and strangest—whims was to install special exhaust fumes in his car that sprayed out…rose-scented perfume. And he was just getting started.

Henry Paget factsWikipedia

6. He Was A Partier

Besides cars that trailed his signature scent behind him, Paget was also naturally drawn to throwing lavish parties to display his wealth and taste to his entire social circle. When it came to his 21st birthday—a milestone in any self-respecting dandy’s life—Paget even put on a full week of celebrations. It did not go the way he planned.

Henry Paget factsShutterstock

7. He Had Mysterious Illnesses

Throughout his life, Paget’s excessive spending was intertwined with bouts of violent illness. In fact, he got so sick on the week of his birthday, he had to miss his series of parties entirely, and instead spent his days recovering in bed. Despite Paget’s reputation for robust carousing, a mere cold could often knock him into bed for weeks. As we’ll see, this sadly only got worse.

Henry Paget factsWikimedia Commons

8. He Loved A Man In Uniform

One of Paget’s more bizarre forays was when the delicate, consumptive aristocrat decided he wanted to join up with the army. He even found a post as a Lieutenant of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and got to live out a macho-man alter ego for a bit. Still, this was just the first of many roles he’d take on.

Henry Paget factsWikipedia

9. He Was Heir To A Fabulous Fortune

On October 13, 1898, the next biggest tragedy of Paget’s life hit. His father, the 4th Marquess of Anglesey, died, leaving Paget not only as an official orphan, but also as the next Marquess. The title came with an astronomical amount of land and property and literally millions of dollars in today’s money. It also brought about his downfall.

England factsShutterstock

10. He Committed Sacrilege

One of Paget’s first acts as Marquess was a real doozy. His family had a palatial ancestral seat in Wales called Plas Newydd, which he promptly renamed “Anglesey Castle.” He then set about converting the manor’s chapel into the 150-seat “Gaiety Theatre,” holy rights be darned. I wish I could say it didn’t get more cringey than this, but…it totally did.

Henry Paget factsWikipedia

11. He Was A Narcissist

Paget didn’t just build his theatre out of his deep love of the arts, oh no—he built it out of a deep love for himself. With his own personal auditorium, Paget could now stage lavish productions for all his friends, complete with incredibly expensive costumes and the Marquess himself in the lead roles, natch. There was just one big problem.

Henry Paget factsWikimedia Commons

12. He Was Out Of Touch With Reality

Although Paget put on exquisite productions of plays like Shakespeare’s Henry V, he was so out of touch with reality that he didn’t really know what a working theatre was even like. Case in point? As one expert put it, “He didn't understand the concept of costume jewelry—he thought it all had to be real.” One of his Aladdin “costumes” is worth over a million dollars today. And behind the scenes, things were even weirder.

Henry Paget factsWikimedia Commons

13. He Made A Gross Marriage

The same year he became Marquess, Paget also decided it was time to “settle down” and get married. His choice of bride was more than a little creepy. Aristocrats always seem to want to keep it in the family, and Paget was no different. He selected his own cousin, Lilian Chetwynd, as his lawfully wedded wife. To be honest, it couldn’t have gone worse.

Queen Joanna Of Naples factsShutterstock

14. He Was Notorious

It probably comes as no surprise that experts have debated Paget’s romantic orientation for years. With his extravagant tastes and fabulous eye for decadence, many have suggested that Paget was gay, with one commenter calling him “the most notorious aristocratic homosexual at this period.” The truth, however, may be much different.

Emperor Hadrian factsShutterstock

15. He Loved Himself…And Only Himself

In actuality, there’s no evidence that Paget had relationships with men—it’s just that there’s no evidence he had relationships with women, either. Some think he might have died a virgin, while one historian’s expert opinion is that Paget was so much of a narcissist, “the only person he could love and make love to was himself.” Wow.

So what was his bedroom life actually like? Strange and disastrous, as it turns out.

Henry Paget factsShutterstock

16. He Had Unusual Tastes

There is almost zero chance that Paget was having an intimate relationship with his new wife Lilian—but he did have one bizarre habit in bed. According to Lilian’s grandson, the nearest they ever got to doing the deed was when Paget would make her strip, place a bunch of jewels around her, and then make her pose with them. Um, and it got kinkier.

Henry Paget factsShutterstock

17. He Forced His Wife Into Strange Acts

Not content with just dressing up his wife in priceless jewels and nothing but priceless jewels, Paget also made poor Lilian sleep like that. I mean, diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but all those hard edges make it pretty difficult to get a good night’s rest. With zero satisfaction and 100% strange kinks, is it any wonder Paget and Lilian's relationship was doomed?

Henry Paget factsShutterstock

18. His Wife Abandoned Him

Besides probably not loving her jewel-laden bedroom life, it also didn’t take Lilian long to become fed up with Paget’s extravagance and total lack of money sense. In fact, according to reports, it took her just six measly weeks to unofficially leave him, which is even shorter than most Bachelor relationships. And then she did one better.

Henry Paget factsWikimedia Commons

19. His Wife Gave A Disturbing Reason For The Split

Just two years after they tied the knot, Lilian sought out first an annulment and then a legal separation, which were both no easy feats at the time. And her reasons? “Non-consummation,” AKA no one was getting any in bed. It might have been a hit to Paget’s pride, but his reaction probably didn’t make Lilian regret her decision.

Queen Joanna Of Naples factsShutterstock

20. He Made Horrible Decisions

Instead of making him rethink his choices, the dissolution of the Marquess’s marriage only gave him more freedom to make even worse decisions. He upped his spending again—something I honestly didn’t think was possible. At one point, he wanted a green jacket…so he just had it made out of pure emeralds. But he was about to have a very rude awakening.

Henry Paget factsShutterstock

21. He Got Embroiled In A Jewel Heist

As it happens, walking around in a casual jacket made of emeralds puts a bit of a target on your back, and soon enough the Marquess got royally swindled. In 1901, Paget went to see Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stage adaptation, and his enterprising valet took the opportunity to take a whopping £50,000 of his master’s jewelry.

Yeah, that’s dramatic enough—except honestly, Paget’s response was even better.

Henry Paget factsShutterstock

22. His Life Was Stranger Than Fiction

The Marquess was devastated at the loss of his precious baubles, so he took a totally normal, not melodramatic at all action: He enlisted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself to help him. After all, he’d just been at the famous novelist’s stage play, and didn’t this sound like a story out of one of Conan Doyle’s detective books? Then the plot thickened even further.

Arthur Conan Doyle FactsWikimedia Commons

23. He Made A Mysterious Enemy

Eventually, the authorities caught up to the valet and charged him, but he didn’t have the jewels on him. Instead, he claimed a mysterious French woman named “Mathilde” had told him to pilfer the valuables, and she had already escaped back to France, gems in hand. Paget never got his treasures back, though the valet earned five years behind bars.

The incident drew even more attention to the Marquess, and he started to relish in it.

Legal Disasters FactsPikrepo

24. He Was Photogenic

Unsurprisingly, the Marquess loved to photograph himself, and his self-devotion was staggering. He owned a vast collection of cameras, and even an early film apparatus, a Kinora “mutoscope.” After his theatrical performances, Paget also used to hand out postcards of, you guessed it, photographs of himself. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but it’s not the whole story.

Henry Paget factsWikimedia Commons

25. He Had A Dark Side

On the outside, Paget looked like an exquisite fairy tale come to life, as decked out as he was in giant jewels and glittering fabrics—yet inside he was hiding a dark secret. Isolated since he was a toddler, the Marquess suffered from the deep insecurity that no one loved him, and that he didn’t deserve love. Sadly, this had devastating consequences.

Henry Paget factsShutterstock

26. He Was Arrogant

Paget’s personality, even to the people who knew him, was reportedly distanced and haughty. While it doesn’t take Sigmund Freud to point out that this was probably a defense mechanism, it didn’t exactly make him likeable. As one commenter put it, he had the “self-conscious, half-haughty timidity of the man who knows he is not as other men.”

Sigmund Freud factsGetty Images

27. He Made A Rash Decision

Alright, we’ve definitely established that Henry Paget was misguided at best, and absurdly selfish at worst. But what if I told you he really went overboard on the misjudgments? Sometime in the early 1900s, Paget adopted a dark-skinned baby girl to “complete” his family—since, you know, his wife left him. As we’ll see, he probably should’ve waited.

Perfect Comebacks FactsPixabay

28. He Was A Black Sheep

During this time, Paget started to become the definite “black sheep” of his family. Ancestral British houses aren’t exactly famous for looking kindly on their more eccentric members, and Henry Paget definitely qualified as more than eccentric. Still, that doesn’t mean he deserved the punishment they would give him at the end.

Grace O’Malley FactsShutterstock

29. He Earned A Sultry Nickname

The gossip rags of the time loved to report on Paget’s prodigious spending, his taste for cross-dressing, and most especially, his sinuous performances on stage. He became famous for his “Butterfly Dancing,” where he would adorn himself in a transparent silk robe and flap the fabric about. These performances earned him the nickname “The Dancing Marquess.”

Henry Paget factsWikipedia

30. He Kept Strange Companions

Maybe because he thought he was so unlovable, Paget looked for affection in his animals instead, and owned practically a whole menagerie of poodles, which he often adorned in big pink ribbons before parading them around London, walking with them tucked underneath his arms and dressed to the nines himself.

Henry Paget factsShutterstock

31. He Didn’t Learn From His Mistakes

To give you some sense of just how ridiculous the Marquess’s life was, get this: He often left his nearly priceless theatrical costumes just lying around in the dressing room where anyone could steal them (again). When someone did exactly that (again) to his Aladdin costume, he just had a new one made. The Marquess was living the high life, but what goes up must come down...

Historical Villains factsShutterstock

32. He Had A Swift Downfall

By 1904, Henry Paget had only been the Marquess of Anglesey for a bare six years—but his downfall was brutal. His exorbitant spending and completely flawed decision making only led one direction: Total ruin. He was millions of dollars of debt, and on June 11 of that year, he had to officially declare bankruptcy. The fallout was nothing short of tragic.

Worst Mistakes FactsNeedpix

33. He Made A Vulnerable Confession

Disturbingly, Paget seemed absolutely flabbergasted by his cruel change of fortunes, and overwhelmed at just how ruthlessly his life was getting turned upside down. He sat down for a conversation with a French journalist in the direct aftermath and confessed, "In six years, I have run through that fortune, just how—I could not tell you." Yet the coming months revealed all.

William Randolph Hearst factsShutterstock

34. He Lost His Best Friends

In order to try to pay even a sliver of his debts, the Marquess had to start selling off everything he owned—almost literally. Although many of his baubles and clothing went to the auction block, perhaps saddest of all were his beloved dogs. He had so many, the auctioneers had to devote an entire day to selling off the pups. But then there were more embarrassing items…

Henry Paget factsShutterstock

35. He Aired His Dirty Laundry

The Marquess’s desperate attempts to get somewhere near solvency bared the deep, mortifying extent of his spending. For example, he spent £3,000 a year just on underwear, mostly because he insisted on having everything from his braces to his buckles made with solid gold. Even more embarrassing? He had to sell these underthings too.

Henry Paget factsShutterstock

36. He Fled In A Hurry

Most “shameful” of all, however, was what the Marquess did with himself after his fall from grace. In utterly reduced circumstances, he was forced to take his young adopted girl and retire to France on a “measly” income of £3,000 a year—again, this is what he used to spend on underwear—with just one manservant and a nurse to help him. Poor guy.

Astrid of Sweden FactsPikist

37. He Had A Wicked Sense Of Humor

Throughout it all, Paget never lost his flamboyant spirit. When he sat down for one of his “aftermath” interviews, he cheekily told his companion, "I must apologize 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.” We laugh so we do not spend.

Kit Harington factsShutterstock

38. He Was A Card Shark

During these “poor” years, Henry Paget sure didn’t seem like he was trying to reduce his expensive tastes. In fact, he just tried to find more clever ways to go bankrupt. His travels took him to the notoriously pricey Monte Carlo, where he reportedly set about inventing a new gambling system to get the better of the casinos. Spoiler: It didn’t work.

Henry Paget factsWikimedia Commons

39. His Body Failed Him

For those brief, glittering years, the Marquess of Anglesey had lived in a luxe, gilded fantasy precious few could even dream of affording—and when that fantasy came to an abrupt halt, Paget seemed to lose himself entirely. The first thing to go? His always precarious health. Within months, the Marquess was dangerously ill…and more terrifying times were ahead.

Henry Paget factsWikimedia Commons

40. He Had A Little-Known Talent

Even the Marquess’s most violent enemies—and, uh, he had a lot of them—had to admit one thing: He wasn’t a bad actor. One critic even grudgingly confessed that he was a thespian “of some real merit,” which is probably like Roger Ebert giving three thumbs up when it comes to the Marquess of Anglesey and the British press.

Oprah Winfrey factsGetty Images

41. He Was An Enigma

Opinions vary wildly about who the fluid, ever-changing, and theatrical Marquess really was. In his later years, one commenter noted with disappointment that “his tastes and lack of intellect have been enormously exaggerated.” Even so, another remembered him as "A tall, elegant and bejeweled creature, with wavering elegant gestures.”

History's Weirdest People FactsWikimedia Commons

42. There Is One Clue To His Inner Life

Although we may never know the Marquess’s inner feelings or his true sexuality, experts say there is one clue buried deep within Paget’s history. Paget once put on and toured with Oscar Wilde’s play An Ideal Husband right at the height of the gay playwright’s sodomy trial. Biographer Seiriol Davis says this is “quite daring” and could hint at a sympathy with Wilde’s identity. Nonetheless, we may never know.

Coolest Lines in History factsWikipedia

43. He Had A Strange Nickname

In the tradition of super-rich people everywhere, Henry Paget wasn’t just the Marquess of Anglesey, he also had an ultra-precious nickname. To his close friends and confidants, Paget was simply “Toppy.”

Henry Paget factsWikimedia Commons

44. He Suffered From An Infamous Affliction

Paget was so terribly sick at the end, even his ex Lilian Chetwynd traveled to be with him and stay by his bedside, hoping he would convalesce. Well, he didn’t. Over time, it became clear that the legendary eccentric was suffering from one of the most commonplace illnesses of his time: Tuberculosis. There was no happy ending in sight for the Dancing Marquess.

Franz Ferdinand FactsShutterstock

45. He Met A Sad End

On March 14, 1905, Henry Paget finally succumbed to his long illness, passing in Monte Carlo with Lilian at his side. He was just 29 years old, and he could have no Viking funeral, and no lavish affair with ribbons or jewels. After all, his creditors had forced him to sell all those luxuries off. But even with his reduced circumstances, no one could imagine how tragic his end was.

Henry Paget factsShutterstock

46. He Died In Disgrace

In an opening volley for Paget's tragic legacy, the obituaries that heralded the Marquess’s passing were “almost uniformly negative.” They pathologized his oddities, criticized his extravagance, and warned others against his behavior. Even one of the nicer ones called him out as “a strange and repellent spirit.” Gee, thanks for that one, guys. But that wasn't all.

Henry Paget factsShutterstock

47. He Brought Shame To His Family

Since Paget was an only child and had no children of his own, his title of “Marquess” passed to his cousin, Charles Alexander Henry Paget, who was a much more traditional member of the family and felt absolutely disgraced by his predecessor’s lewd behaviors. To “correct” his wrongs, Charles took drastic measures—and ruined Paget’s legacy in the process.

Henry Paget factsWikipedia

48. His Life’s Work Was Ruined

One of the new Marquess’s first actions upon receiving his title and lands was to turn Paget’s beloved “Gaiety Theatre” back into a regular old, boring chapel. Apparently this guy didn’t see the value in art, or maybe he just feared the wrath of God. If that was the extent of Charles’s destruction, though, it would be one thing. Sadly, he was just getting started.

Henry Paget factsWikipedia

49. He Took Secrets To His Grave

There are many mysteries still surrounding Paget’s private life and sexuality—and there’s a very disturbing reason for this. When the new Marquess Charles took over the Anglesey estate, he made sure to burn all of his predecessor’s papers, diaries, and any other trace left of him in the house. It was a muted end for such a provocative man.

Henry Paget factsWikipedia

50. His Own Family Abandoned Him

Although Paget was notorious in his day and his precipitous downfall was the talk of all the fashionable people in Europe, in death he seemed to fade entirely into obscurity. When his coffin returned to his Anglesey estate for burial, newspapers reported a devastating truth. No family members were there to meet its arrival.

Henry Paget factsWikimedia Commons

Sources:  1, 2, 3, 4

More from Factinate

Featured Article

My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.

Dark Family Secrets

Dark Family Secrets Exposed

Nothing stays hidden forever—and these dark family secrets are proof that when the truth comes out, it can range from devastating to utterly chilling.
April 8, 2020 Samantha Henman

Featured Article

Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.

Madame de Pompadour Facts

Entrancing Facts About Madame de Pompadour, France's Most Powerful Mistress

Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
December 7, 2018 Kyle Climans

More from Factinate

Featured Article

I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.

These People Got Genius Revenges

When someone really pushes our buttons, we'd like to think that we'd hold our head high and turn the other cheek, but revenge is so, so sweet.
April 22, 2020 Scott Mazza

Featured Article

Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.

Catherine of Aragon Facts

Tragic Facts About Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s First Wife

Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but very few people know her even darker history.
June 7, 2018 Christine Tran

Dear reader,

Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to contribute@factinate.com. Thanks for your time!

Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at contribute@factinate.com. Thanks for your help!

Warmest regards,

The Factinate team

Want to learn something new every day?

Join thousands of others and start your morning with our Fact Of The Day newsletter.

Thank you!

Error, please try again.