Henry Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey: Meet the flamboyant ‘Dancing Marquess’ who served 19th Century realness

The National Trust has unearthed previously-unseen photos of one of the 19th Century’s most flamboyant figures.

Henry Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey, was a British peer who lived between 1875 to 1905 – and earned a public reputation for his extremely flamboyant lifestyle.

The peer was known as ‘The Dancing Marquess’ because of his love of theatrics and performing, and frequently donned feminine clothing for “sinuous, sexy, snake-like dances”.

The Marquess died penniless aged just 29 after squandering his fortune on a lavish lifestyle – from buying jewellery and furs to throwing extravagant parties.

The 5th Marquess enjoying Sports day in the grounds

Previously unseen photographs of the Marquess were unveiled this month as part of a new exhibition celebrating his life at Plas Newydd, a National Trust property and the ancestral home to the Marquess, located near Llanfairpwllgwyngyll in Wales.

The photographs, thought to be the only known images of the Marquess and his theatrical troupe in the gardens at Plas Newydd, are displayed for the first time in a new exhibition room at the historic property.

The exhibition will also will include theatre programmes, a reproduction of one of the Marquess’ costumes, and a mock-up of the Gaiety Theatre – a 150-seat converted chapel that was built for the Marquess at the house to perform his elaborate plays.

A reproduction of one of the 5th Marquess’ costumes takes pride of place in the new room

Karen Allen, Conservation Assistant at Plas Newydd, said: “We couldn’t believe it when we found these images. None of the team had ever seen them before so it caused quite a stir.

“This new discovery is significant, as it has always been understood that all other photographs, collection pieces and references to the Marquess were either sold in the infamous ‘Great Anglesey Sale’ in 1905 or subsequently lost or destroyed.”

“To see these more candid images of the Marquess and his acting company enjoying the Plas Newydd gardens really give his history a sense of place.

Cyril Henry Paget – The 5th Marquess outside the Gothick Hall main doors at Plas Newydd

“The only images we had of them previously were of them on stage in full costume and look more like a photoshoot, so these images give a real insight into his life behind the glamour.”

In recent years the peer has gone from a ‘black sheep’ of history to a celebrated figure, posthumously fronting the National Trust’s magazine front cover in 2017 during a campaign celebrating LGBT history.

The Marquess also inspired writer Seiriol Davies to pen musical ‘How to Win Against History’ about his life, which will form part of the exhibition.

Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquis of Anglesey in one of his theatrical costumes. Photograph by John Wickens (1864-1936).

Seiriol said: “This is such a fun discovery, and amazing to see Marquis V in a bit more of a relaxed state than we’re used to.

“It’s a heck of a lot more tangible than the spectral staged shots that form the bulk of what is at Plas Newydd of him, and it’s perfect timing to find them as he’s is welcomed back into the bosom of the house. Can a house have a bosom?

“I’m also thrilled to bits that our show, ‘How to Win Against History’, forms a small part of that return. It’s a treat and an honour.”

Programmes on display

The new exhibition at Plas Newydd is open daily between 11 AM and 5 PM.