Magazine article History Today

Plas Newydd, Anglesey

Magazine article History Today

Plas Newydd, Anglesey

Article excerpt

On the battlefield of Waterloo

on June 18th, 1815, as that

interminable, desperately hard-fought

and anxious day drew

on towards dusk and British

victory, the Duke of Wellington

and his cavalry commander,

Henry Paget, Earl of Uxbridge,

the most brilliant cavalryman of

his generation, were side by

side on horseback surveying

the scene. Suddenly one of

the last cannon shots of the

engagement flew over the neck

of Wellington's horse and hit

Uxbridge's right knee smashing

the joint to bits. `By God,

sir,' said Uxbridge, `I've lost my

leg!' The Iron Duke eyed the

mangled mess for a moment

before saying, `By God, sir, so

you have!' and turned his

Spy-glass back to the retreating

French. Or so the popular story

had it, though in reality

Wellington supported

Uxbridge in the saddle

until help arrived.

Uxbridge, who was

forty-seven years old and had

already had several horses

killed under him, was taken to

headquarters, where the

surgeons decided the leg must

come off. He bore the

appalling operation with the

utmost coolness, saying he had

enjoyed a long run as a beau

and it was only fair to the

young men not to cut them out

any longer. According to one of

his aides, he never moved or

complained, though he did say

calmly at one point that he

thought the instrument was

not very sharp, and when the

horror was over, his pulse rate

was unaltered. The severed

limb was reverently interred in

a nearby garden. A weeping

willow was planted there and

subsequent generations of

Pagets made pilgrimages to the

spot.

Returning to England and his

broad estates in umpteen

counties, Uxbridge found himself

a hero. His carriage was

drawn in triumph through the

London streets, the enraptured

George IV made him Marquess

of Anglesey and his tenants in

North Wales erected a stone

column over 100ft high in his

honour, which was later to be

topped by a bronze statue of

him twelve feet tall in his

uniform as Colonel of the 7th

Hussars. It towers up there still

today, close to his home at Plas

Newydd, the Anglesey estate

which has been the `new place'

in Welsh since at least the

fifteenth century.

Commanding one of the

half-dozen most breathtaking

views in Britain, across the

waters of the Menai Strait to

the cloud-capped peaks of

Snowdonia, the house came to

the new marquess from his

Bayly ancestors. He had started

life as little Master Bayly, in

fact, and his father was Henry

Bayly before changing his name

to Paget, the family's surname

ever since. The Paget line went

back to a Tudor self-made man,

William Paget (1505-63), whose

shrewdness, adroitness and

address carried him to dizzy

heights from humble origins.

Picked out as a comer early on

by Stephen Gardiner, Cardinal

Wolsey's secretary, Paget was

employed on royal missions

abroad with conspicuous success

-- the Emperor Charles V

remarked that he deserved as

well to be a monarch as to

serve one -- and in Henry VIII's

last years he was one of the

king's closest advisers.

Surviving the next reign with

some difficulty, he went on to

be a trusted servant of `Bloody'

Mary. He also took his

opportunities to make a substantial

fortune, acquiring much of the

land of the wealthy abbey of

Burton-upon-Trent when it was

closed down and a barony as

Lord Paget of Beaudesert,

which he farsightedly arranged

to descend through the female

line if necessary. …

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