Henry Cyril Paget, the Dancing Marquess

Hugh Cecil Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey

We're marking 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality by exploring the LGBTQ heritage at many of our places. Find out more about the lavish lifestyle of Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey and Plas Newydd, Wales.

Henry Cyril Paget was considered the 'black sheep' of the family for his eccentric behaviour and love of performance and costume, but he was undeterred. In his short life (1875 - 1905), his love of theatre and performance lead him to tour the country and transform the chapel at Plas Newydd into a theatre. Surviving photographs show Henry in costume, sometimes cross-dressing, with a confident gaze at the camera. He earned his nickname 'the dancing Marquess' for the sinuous dance he gave at his performances.

Breaking the mould

To be accepted by his peers, Henry was expected to dress conservatively, marry, have children, and live what would be considered a respectable life for a man of his status. But Henry was never cowed by the expectations of Victorian society. As the 5th Marquess of Anglesey, Henry had grown up accustomed to great wealth. Over the years, he indulged his passion for clothes and jewellery and amassed an astonishing collection of haute couture clothes and costumes.

Centre stage

Henry inherited Plas Newydd, the family seat, in 1898. He then converted the family chapel into an ornate, 150 seat theatre, which he named the Gaiety. He performed there regularly with his theatre company and invited the local people from Anglesey to attend performances free of charge. He also toured Europe with his company, and performed plays by Oscar Wilde – a bold move since Wilde had been jailed for 'obscenity'.

Theatre at Plas Newydd
Theatre at Plas Newydd

Records of a life

Henry's private life has been subject to speculation over the years. There is no evidence of Henry having same-sex relationships, but his brief marriage was annulled and recorded as 'unconsummated'.

When Henry died at just 29 years old, he had already lived a full and adventurous life. His spendthrift habits caught up with him however, and his possessions were sold in the 'forty day sale'. The auction listed hundreds and hundreds of items, from silk dressing gowns to fur coats. The photographs that survive of Henry, however, show his love of costume and performance and remind us of his vivacious spirit.

This article is adapted from our new guidebook, ‘Prejudice and Price: Celebrating LGBTQ Heritage’ by Alison Oram & Matt Cook. It is available now at National Trust shops and our online store.