Friday, 20 January 2012

The Dancing Marquess

Viv Gardner, writing in The Guardian (10th October 2007):
"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."

This is how Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey, presented himself in an interview with the Daily Mail, shortly after his bankruptcy, and six months before his death in Monte Carlo at the age of 29. The reporter was "astonished" to find a man "so extraordinarily as other men are ... whose tastes and lack of intellect have been enormously exaggerated".

Astonishment was a common reaction to the Marquess. The public couldn't get enough of him. This was a man who frittered away a huge family fortune, mainly on costumes and jewels; who paraded through London with a poodle dressed in pink ribbons tucked under his arm; who amazed his audiences with his sinuous "butterfly dance"; who modified his car so that the exhaust pipe sprayed perfume.

Most of the Marquess's effects were sold from his family estates soon after he was declared bankrupt, and all his personal papers were destroyed by the Paget family after his death. Even today, the family are reticent about their forebear, who brought devastation and distress not just to the Pagets and their property, but to their servants, tenants, neighbours and tradesmen.

Not surprisingly, the 5th Marquess fascinated his contemporaries. A Mrs Anne Jones of Bangor kept an album of photographic postcards of him, which she eventually donated to the museum at Bangor. Clough Williams-Ellis, architect and founder of the village of Portmeirion, remembered him as "a sort of apparition - a tall, elegant and bejewelled creature, with wavering elegant gestures, reminding one rather of an Aubrey Beardsley illustration come to life".

Music hall performer Vesta Tilley, meanwhile, recalled wearing, in one of her performances as the glass-eye-sporting character Algy, "a vest of delicately flowered silk, one of the dozens which I bought at the sale of the effects of the late Marquess of Anglesey". The sexologist Iwan Bloch included Paget in his study of 20th-century sexuality, noting that, in the early 1900s, the Marquis was to be found walking the streets of Mayfair, perfumed and beringed, carrying the aforementioned poodle under his arm.

Paget was, according to one obituary, an actor "of some real merit". The obituary goes on to relate how "upon tour he travelled in great state and at considerable expense". Historian Christopher Simon Sykes describes how the company "travelled with specially painted scenery and their own orchestra, and many of their props were exact copies of furniture from Anglesey Castle [the renamed Plas Newydd]." The company - which was, at its largest, some 50 strong - required five trucks for the baggage and scenery. The Marquess travelled in a powerful Pullman motor car with a personal staff of four. When at Anglesey Castle, he kept actors in lodgings in the neighbouring village of Llanfair.

Each of Paget's costumes was specially designed and made to order, either by couturiers or by the London costumiers Morris Angel. One jewel-encrusted costume for a part in Aladdin was reportedly worth at least £100,000; another, for Henry V, at least £40,000. Alex Keith recalled that his changes of costume were so frequent that he required "a small army of dressers".

In many of his shows, the Marquess would entertain the audience in the interval with his performance of a "Butterfly Dance after the manner of Miss Loie Fuller" - a dancer known for her serpentine movements. This vignette earned the Dancing Marquis his nickname.

In 1970, Montgomery Hyde, the vocal campaigner for homosexual law reform, described Paget as the "most notorious aristocratic homosexual". We have no evidence either way.

The Dancing Marquess continues to inspire, however. In 2008 Marc Rees created a multi-media dance performance, inspired by his life:

Wikipedia entry for the 5th Marquess


  1. One of my all-time faves! Great post!

  2. I somehow imagine you in THAT outfit... Jx


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