Stealing the Limelight by Nigel Roth

Mis à jour : mars 3

1875 was a very odd year.

For example, the Midland Railway decided to abolish Second Class carriages on its trains, so you only had First or Third to choose from, removing the ‘middle class’. A group of second-year university students from Rutgers University stole a cannon from New Jersey College, now Princeton, just down the road, and started the peculiar Rutgers-Princeton Cannon War. To get his country out of debt, Isma’il Pasha, known as Ismail the Magnificent, sold Egypt’s share of the Suez Canal, to Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who forgot to mention it to the British Parliament.

And, Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey, was born, and so began one of the strangest stories the British Aristocracy has to offer.

And they have many.

Let’s begin with a bit of historic context.

Paget, who titled himself both Lord Paget, and later the Earl of Uxbridge, was the eldest son of the 4th Marquess, also called Henry, by the Marquess’ second wife, Blanche Mary Boyd. His first wife was Elizabeth Norman, and his third an American heiress, Mary ‘Minna’ Livingston King, who was the widow of John Wodehouse, 2nd Baron Wodehouse, who titled himself as The Honourable John Wodehouse.

Kind of.

Because it seems that Henry Cyril Paget may actually have been the illegitimate son of the French actor, Benoît-Constant Coquelin, whose sister-in-law, it is alleged, raised Paget when his mother died, and who styled himself as Coquelin aîné, or Coquelin the Elder. Coquelin, born in Boulogne-sur-Mer, which is a sub-prefecture of the department of Pas-de-Calais, was supposed to be a baker like his father but failed to rise to the occasion. He chose acting instead, attending classes led by Henri-François-Joseph de Régnier, the poet and novelist, and ‘symbolist’, that artistic discipline that seeks to ‘represent absolute truths symbolically through metaphorical images and language’.

Coquelin’s acting career was astonishingly successful, and he was considered one of the original greats of the Comédie-Française, the premier French touring company of the nineteenth century.

He was a consummate performer as Figaro in The Barber of Seville, as well as taking leading roles in Theodore de Banville’s Gringoire, Paul Ferrier’s Tabarin. Emile Augier’s Paul Forestier, Charles London’s Jean Dacier, and many more.

And, he famously played Labussière, in a production of Victorien Sardou’s Thermidor, which was duly banned by the government, probably because of its link to the Revolution, the violent demise of Maximilien Robespierre’s Committee of Public Safety, and the end of the Reign of Terror, or because it was Republican a calendar month, with thirty days divided into three ten-day weeks called décades, with every day being named for a plant, except the fifth and tenth, which were named for an animal and a tool, and who wants that in their head before bedtime.

Glad that’s all clear, But, back to Henry Cyril.

Paget went to Eton College, studied in a rather mediocre aristocratic fashion, and joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, who were formed in 1689, just after the Glorious Revolution, which deposed King James and replaced him with his loving and attentive daughter Mary, and her Dutch husband William of Orange, so named because of his love of citrus fruit.

At the age of twenty-three, and now peculiarly nicknamed ‘Toppy’, Paget, in true blueblood style, married his cousin, Lilian Florence Maud Chetwynd, and promptly inherited his title and estates when his father died later that year. The inheritance included one-hundred-and-twenty square kilometers of land, and an annual income of about sixteen-and-half million dollars, in 2020 equivalent.

I'll say that again, just in case you missed it. An annual income of about sixteen-and-half million dollars.