A Plas Newydd story

The name “Plas Newydd” means “New Hall” in Welsh. The name was given to the house in 1533, but for a few years, this house had another name. It was called “Anglesey Castle” and its master was the most outrageous and extravagant aristocrat of the Victorian times. His name was Henry Paget, fifth Marquess of Anglesey, also known as, “The Dancing Marquess”.

The Marquess loved dressing up, he loved jewels and shiny outfits and the Victorian public could not get enough of him. He was the Victorian version of Lady Gaga or Prince. He used to walk through the streets of London dressed up in his “finest” outfits, carrying decorated poodles under his arms. He had one of the first cars in London and it was modified in such a way that the exhaust pipe would spray perfume.

But his story was neither a happy one or a long one. He lost his mother before his second birthday and he grew up in the house of a French actor and his sister. Rumours spread that the French actor was actually his biological father and the 5th Marquess, who was also known as “Toppy”, used to call the actor’s sister auntie. When his father, who was remarried, inherited the title of the 4th Marquese, he brought “Toppy” back to Anglesey. The little boy was was only eight and he was very isolated and lonely, growing up with only a nurse and speaking very little Welsh.

Things changed rapidly when ‘’Toppy’’ turned 21. His father died and he not only inherited the family title of the ‘’Marquess of Anglesey’’, but also its fortune. He now had a guaranteed income of £8 million per year in today’s monetary value. The shy, lonely boy was ready to shine. With his new fortune, Henry started to spend, and to spend a lot. He married his cousin, Lilian Chetwynd, and took her to Paris where he bought her an enormous amount of jewellery. It seems like he became addicted to collecting them. The marriage was annulled in two years, with Lilian complaining that the Marquess used to make her lie naked on the bed, only to cover her body with jewels staging her as a glorious statue.  Some claimed he was homosexual, but to me, it seems that he just did not care about sex at all.

However, he did care about something else and this was the the theatre. Was it something he learned growing up in France? Or perhaps he inherited it in his genes (assuming we believe the rumours), but this was certainly Toppy’s great passion. He wanted to be the lead actor and he had the best way to ensure he would always get the biggest parts: he started his own theatre company. Henry converted the chapel in his Anglesey “castle” into a theatre and he headhunted a professional theatre group. During the Victorian days, you had to get a royal license in order to open an “official theatre”, so Henry decided to open an “unofficial” one which meant that he would let people see his plays for free. When he got bored with Anglesey, he took his new group on a tour around the country.

So Toppy was always the lead actor, but this was still not enough for him. He also needed to be the star of the show and to do so he spent a fortune on his own costumes. They were made especially for him using the best materials and were decorated with real gems. A single costume of his could cost today up to £100,000.

Henry’s lifestyle became legendary.  According to the people of Anglesey, one evening he took an evening walk in his garden wearing a fur coat worth about £4,000. During the walk, the weather started to warm up, so he literally threw the coat away. It is almost hard to believe, but Henry managed to waste his family’s entire fortune in less than six years. Even his guaranteed income could not cover his lavish lifestyle and eventually, his debts rose to about £50 million in today’s money and he had to file for bankruptcy. When his creditors started to sell his possessions, the sale took almost 40 days. His jewells alone were sold for £7 million. Henry was broken: he was left with a “small” pension of £300,000 per year and went back to France to live with his “aunty”. He died a year later aged only 27 and without an heir.

Anglesey Castle became Plas Newydd once again. The 6th Marquess, Henry Paget’s cousin, not only converted the theatre back to a chapel, he also made sure all the personal papers of Toppy would be destroyed forever.

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