What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words,“The Battle of Waterloo?” I suppose for most people it would be the famous Abba song. Some may think about the defeat of Napoleon and the bravery of Wellington. I imagine almost no one thinks about Henry Paget, the Earl of Uxbridge, and Wellington’s second in command.
During the battle, Henry commanded the British Cavalry. He spent all of the battle charging the French lines again and again and had to change horses eight times during that day after they kept getting shot. By the end of the day, the Earl was watching the battlefield with Wellington when one of the last French cannonballs hit him in the leg. This incident led to one of the most famous conversations in British military history, when the Earl said to Wellington, “By God, Sir, I’ve lost my leg’’. To which Wellington replied with equal restraint, “By God, Sir, so you have’’.
You could say that the self-restraint demonstrated by two officers is just another example of the typically-reserved British character, but maybe it was based on something else, some sort of resentment, perhaps? Because actually Wellington had a very good excuse to be angry with Paget.
It all started in 1809 when Henry Paget fell madly in love with a noblewoman named Charlotte. Unfortunately, there were a few obstacles to their union. Firstly, Henry was married and a father to no less than eight children. Second problem: Charlotte was married as well and she had four children. And finally, she was married to the brother of the Duke of Wellington.
The Earl started his wooing very passionately. At first, Charlotte was not happy at all. She even asked her husband to stay next to her in public events to avoid Paget from bothering her, but eventually, his persistence paid off and they began a romance that led to a pregnancy. At this point, the couple eloped to Scotland.
You can probably imagine the scandal this caused in London, especially when Henry Paget’s brother did the exact same thing with another married noblewoman at the same time, making the author Jane Austen say she despised the entire Paget race. Charlotte’s brother decided he needed to defend the family honour and he challenged Paget to a duel which took place in Wimbledon. The brother shot and missed. Henry was an excellent soldier and he was not supposed to miss, but he decided to be a good brother-in-law and shot in the air and so honour was restored.
Charlotte’s husband decided to chase Paget through the courts. In those days, wives were considered to be the property of their husbands and so Paget was sued for damages and had to pay a fine of £24,000 (around £1.6 million in today’s money).
Charlotte was the first to get a divorce, thanks to the trial. Henry’s wife arrived in Scotland and filed for divorce, as in those times, a woman could file for divorce in Scotland but not in England. Henry and Charlotte married immediately. Surprisingly enough, Henry’s wife also remarried immediately to the Duke of Argyll and there are some claims that the two couples went on honeymoon together!
When it was time for Henry to go back to his army service, he was appointed as second in command to Wellington. At first, the Duke refused to accept Paget, but he was ordered to do so by the Prince Regent (the future George IV). Wellington was still unhappy about the appointment and is reported to have claimed to some of his officers, “Lord Uxbridge has the reputation of running away with everybody he can. I’ll take good care he doesn’t run away with me”.
So as you can see, Wellington had good reason to be angry with Henry Paget, but even he had to admit that during the battle of Waterloo, Henry fought heroically and his performance led the King to award him by giving him the title of ‘’Marquess of Anglesey’’. But how does the phrase from the title, ‘’One foot in the grave’’, relate to it all? Well, until the battle of Waterloo, this phrase described a person in a certain danger he could not avoid, but things changed during the battle.
After Paget got hit, an emergency amputation operation on him took place in a house not far away from the battlefield. At the end of it, the owner of the house requested to bury what was left from Paget’s leg in his garden. Later, he put a tombstone on top of the grave and the place became a popular tourist attraction that was visited by the King of Prussia and the Prince of Oranje. The Marquess continued to serve the British government, including the role of Lord High Steward of England. He lived until the age of 85 and in his final years, when people asked him about his health, he enjoyed starting the conversation with the phrase, “Well, I already have one foot in the grave…’’.
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