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.
Henry Paget Facts
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.
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…
3. He Had A Tragic Childhood
In 1877, tragedy came knocking at the Pagets’ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 military. 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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 blow to Paget’s pride, but his reaction probably didn’t make Lilian regret her decision.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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...
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.