Born in 1875 to a hugely wealthy family, Henry Cyril Paget was marked out for greatness the minute he came into the world, although perhaps not the kind of greatness that was expected of the time. A dazzling example of a Victorian eccentric, during his tragically short life Henry became known for his wild extravagance, passion for jewels and love of theatre (not to mention his infamously saucy ‘Butterfly Dance’).

Fabulous wealth and ill-fated marriage

Henry spent his formative years at the family seat of Plas Newydd, Anglesey and later finished his education at the prestigious Eton College, but it was in 1898 that his life changed forever. After the death of his father, Henry inherited the title of the 5th Marquess of Anglesey, a huge fortune and family estates in Wales, Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Dorset.

It was also the year that he married his cousin Lilian Chetwynd – a man of Henry’s social standing was expected to marry and have children. However, it seemed more of a nod to convention on Henry’s part than a true love match and the marriage was annulled just a couple of years later, reputedly on the grounds that it was never consummated. It’s possible Henry’s intimacy had never progressed further than his rumoured fondness for covering his prone, naked bride in jewels and staring at her for hours on end. Who knows?

Eccentricity and extravagance

Lavish doesn’t even come close to describing Henry Paget’s lifestyle. His dedication to excess was on another level. While his inheritance may have been valued at around £60 million in today’s money, Henry made short work of blowing through it in just a few years.

Theatre, costumes and jewellery were Henry’s particular peccadillos. His love of performing saw him transform the chapel at Plas Newydd into a theatre – known as ‘The Gaiety’ – where he’d invite locals to his extravagant productions.

Always the star of the show, the Marquess would appear in elaborate stage make up, draped in haute couture, jewel encrusted costumes worth millions. No performance was complete without ‘The Dancing Marquess’ swathed in white silk and dripping with diamonds treating the crowd to his scandalously sensual trademark moves during intermissions. Henry even took his troupe of performers on tour performing Oscar Wilde plays, a highly controversial thing to do at the end of the 19th Century.

As well as Henry’s theatrical extravagances, he spent outrageous amounts on wild parties, fancy dress, elaborate interior decorations and bejewelled custom cars that belched perfumed exhaust fumes. And one would imagine that hoarding luxury underpants and dyeing your pet poodles pink weren’t the cheapest indulgences either.

A sudden end to a dazzling life

Henry’s excesses finally caught up with him a year before his death when bankruptcy proceedings were started against him, and he had to sell everything he had to satisfy his creditors. He fled to France and just a few months later contracted TB and then the pneumonia that took his life on 14th March 1905 at the age of 29.

During his brief existence, Henry Paget was a flame who burned brilliantly, living as he wanted, rather than as he was expected to – a wild and free-spirited character who was the antithesis of the age. His bright light may have been extinguished far too early but his spirit lives on, inspiring modern-day eccentrics in Wales and beyond.