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30 March 2009

Henry Cyril Paget (1875 - 1905) aristocrat, performer.

Henry was known as 14th Lord Paget de Beaudesert until 1880. His mother died when he was two. He went to live with the French actor Benoît-Constant Coquelin, who was rumoured to be his biological father. He always referred to Coquelin’s sister as his aunt. From 1880 till 1898 he was the 6th Earl of Uxbridge.

At the age of eight he went to live at the family estate Plas Newydd, on the Isle of Anglesey, his legal father having married for the third time, to an American heiress.

Paget missed his own week-long 21st birthday celebrations because of sickness. He studied painting and singing in Germany. He spoke good French and Russian, and reasonable Welsh. He also served as a lieutenant in the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

In 1898 he married his cousin Lilian Chetwynd, a society beauty, and, on the death of his father became the 5th marquis of Anglesey, inheriting the property in Angelsey, and more in Staffordshire. These estates brought in £110,000 per year (over £8 million in today’s money).

Lilian filed for annulment after two years of marriage. The Marquis was fond of dressing as a woman, and frequently entertained guests with theatrical presentations at his home. He converted the family chapel into a theatre. He purchased a professional theatrical company and toured with them for three years. He mainly played pantomime and light comedy, but he played Lord Goring in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, five years after Wilde’s trail when most troopes would not touch his plays.

In the intervals he performed ‘a Butterfly Dance after the manner of Miss Loie Fuller’ – a woman known for her serpentine movements. Thus, he became known as the Dancing Marquis. He was said to have the appearance of a beautiful woman in men's clothing, an effect that he enhanced by powder, toilet water and perfume. The theatrical costumes were expensively made and some were jewel-encrusted.

In 1901 his valet stole jewels valued at £50,000. A female accomplice took the jewels to France, and the valet was sentenced to five years imprisonment. 

By 1904 he was bankrupt, owing £544,000. Many of his gowns were purchased by the professional female impersonator, Bert Errol; Vesta Tilley, the male impersonator acquired many of his male costumes.

He retired to France on an income of £3,000 a year, and died in Monaco at the age of thirty, his former wife and Mme Coquelin at his side.

In 2007 Marc Rees, directed by Christopher Morris, danced an impression of Henry Paget.
  • Magnus Hirschfeld translated from the German by Michael A. Lombardi-Nash. Transvestites: The Erotic Drive to Cross-Dress Prometheus Books. 1991: 345-6.
  • Anthony Slide. Great pretenders: a history of female and male impersonation in the performing arts. Lombard, Ill.: Wallace-Homestead Book Co., 160 pp. 1986: 38.
  • Viv Gardner. “Would you trust this man with your fortune?” The Guardian. 10 October 2007.
  • “Henry Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.,_5th_Marquess_of_Anglesey.

Here is Loie Fuller doing her Danse Serpentine in 1896:

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