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People and history at Plas Newydd

The 5th Marquess of Anglesey, Henry Cyril Paget, posing on a chair in fancy costume, with winged helmet and adorned in jewels.
Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquis of Anglesey in one of his theatrical costumes at Plas Newydd, Anglesey | © National Trust Images/John Wickens (1864-1936)

The 5th Marquess of Anglesey, Henry Cyril Paget, was famous for his lavish lifestyle and theatre performances. He inherited Plas Newydd in 1898 and renamed it Anglesey Castle, turning the chapel into a theatre called the ‘Gaiety’. From cross-dressing to flamboyant parties, learn more about the life of ‘the dancing Marquess’.

A Victorian rebel

Victorian society expected the 5th Marquess of Anglesey to live a respectable life for a man of his status. This meant dressing conservatively, marrying and having children. But Henry was determined to live the life he chose.  There is no evidence of Henry having same-sex relationships, but his brief marriage was annulled and recorded as 'unconsummated'. His private life has been subject to speculation over the years.

The ‘Gaiety’ theatre at Plas Newydd

When the 5th Marquess inherited Plas Newydd, he converted the family chapel into an ornate, 150-seat theatre. 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 and performed plays by Oscar Wilde. This was a bold move since Wilde had been jailed for 'obscenity'.

The Dancing Marquess

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 ‘butterfly dance’ he gave at his performances. He was considered the 'black sheep' of the family for his eccentric behaviour and love of theatre.

Lost fortune of Plas Newydd

Henry Paget grew up accustomed to great wealth. In his short life (1875–1905), he squandered his inheritance on lavish social events and a vast collection of haute couture clothes and costumes. By 1904, despite his estate and income, Paget had accumulated debts of £544,000 (the equivalent of over £70 million in 2022) and was declared bankrupt.

The ‘Great Anglesey Sale’

Henry died in 1905 at just 29 years old and his possessions were sold in the ‘Great Anglesey Sale’ also known as the ‘Forty Day Sale'. The auction listed hundreds and hundreds of items, from silk dressing gowns to fur coats. Some 17,000 lots were sold which included everything from his jewellery collection, right down to ping pong balls and hockey shin pads.

The Gothic Hall with a view of the music room at Plas Newydd on Anglesey in Wales.
The Gothic Hall and Music Room at Plas Newydd, Anglesey | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Legacy of the 5th Marquess of Anglesey

The Gaiety theatre was swiftly removed following Henry Paget’s death. Many of his photographs and documents were burned, erasing his memory from history.

Archive images

The photographs that survive of Henry Paget show his love of costume and performance, and remind us of his vivacious spirit. Previously unseen pictures of the enigmatic 5th Marquess, were unearthed while searching though archives. They are thought to be the only known images of the Marquess and his theatrical troupe, enjoying the garden at Plas Newydd.

Musical drama

The spirit of the ‘Dancing Marquess’ returned in 2017 for a highly acclaimed musical drama written by Seiriol Davies. ‘How to win against history’ was performed to audiences throughout the UK and formed part of an exhibition. Anglesey born writer and performer Davies was thrilled to bring the 5th Marquess back to the stage, after more than a century.

The East front of Plas Newydd, Anglesey, Wales, viewed across the Menai Strait from Glan Faenol

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