THE SEARCH FOR PAGET'S LEG

This post was originally published here on June 19, 2011

Wellington comforts Paget after his surgery at Waterloo

I am so glad, for so many reasons, that my very good friends are Jo Manning and Victoria Hinshaw, not least because we share the same historic interests and the same mania for researching, and visiting, little remembered facts and places in British history. Recently, Victoria kept Jo and I in thrall with the minutae of her research itinerary whilst in England via a series of rapid fire emails – where she was going, what she was researching, the research matrix she’d prepared, who her contacts were at various archives, what the train timetable was and where she’d be eating lunch. And Jo and I swooned at the prospects. In addition to shared interests, all three of us have our own, unique historic quests and we support each other fully in these, no matter how crazy they seem. Last year, my particular quest was something the three of us termed “The Search for Paget’s Leg.” 
Being an avowed Wellington afficianado, you wouldn’t think that I’d spare much energy worrying about either Henry Paget, Lord Uxbridge (created Marquis of Anglesey by Geo. IV five days after the Battle of Waterloo) or his leg, as Paget had earlier run off with Wellington’s sister-in-law, his brother Henry’s wife, Lady Charlotte. At the time, Paget was also married – to Lady Jersey’s daughter, Lady Caroline Elizabeth Villiers, by whom he’d sired eight children. (Yes, eight – the bounder! He went on to have TEN more with Charlotte). Wellington felt the impact of this desertion as well, as it threw Henry into a decline from which he was slow to recover and, in the meantime, Wellington and his wife, Kitty, had to take care of Henry’s two young children, as Henry was incapable of doing so himself.
You’ll recall that last year Victoria and I embarked on a whirlwind London/Waterloo tour, during which I was most looking forward to seeing the spot in Waterloo where Paget’s leg was buried. Yeah, yeah – totally nuts. But you have to bear in mind that Victoria, Jo and I are the Lucy Ricardos of historical research.
I realize that I’m writing this blog as if you already know the story behind Paget’s leg. If for some odd reason you’re not familiar with it, click here for the condensed version of the story. So . . . all along the route of our tour, from London to Waterloo, I’d sigh at intervals and tell Victoria, “I can’t wait to see Paget’s leg.” After the re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo itself, Paget’s leg was to be the highlight of the tour for me. I’ve already admitted that this notion of mine was strange, but it becomes stranger still when you realize that Paget’s leg isn’t even at Wellington’s headquarters in Waterloo any longer. It was disinterred and shipped back to England when Paget (Anglesey) died in 1854 and was  buried along with the rest of him in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Yes, Paget and Wellington are buried in the same place. Poor Artie couldn’t shake this guy loose, even in death.
So . . . . the very last stop on the Waterloo portion of our tour was the Wellington Museum (formerly Wellington’s headquarters), where, out in the back garden, stands the spot where Paget’s leg (once) was. Even though the Heavens didn’t direct rays of sunight onto the grave whilst I was there, nor did a choir of angels sing whilst I gazed upon it, I was in alt.

The (rather smallish) back garden

The (once) final resting place of Paget’s leg


The sign by the (former) grave
Of course, the grave itself was not the Holy Grail, rather it had become to me the symbol of all that was the Battle of Waterloo – the tragedy, the drama, the irony, the heartbreak and the heroics. I could have as easily fixated upon the site of the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, which would have been just as fitting, as that no longer exists, either.
So . . . what’s next on my 19th century bucket list? The decoupage screen Beau Brummell was toiling away on and which was meant to be a present to his great good friend Frederica, Duchess of York.  Brummell stopped working on it when news of her death reached him in France. Trouble is, I have no idea where to begin looking for it. If you’re an aged aristocrat living in the back of beyond who happens to have the screen in your attic, email me. Heck, email me even if the screen only used to be in your attic.  Victoria, Jo and I will then embark on what we shall no doubt call “The Quest for Brummell’s Screen.”

Byron's Birthday, January 22, 1788

Byron by Richard Westall

To celebrate the birthday of George Gordon, Lord Byron, the renowned poet, we present an account of him by Captain Gronow, from his Reminiscences, published in 1862, written long after the events he describes.  Rees Howell Gronow (1794-1865) was  a captain in the Welsh Grenadier Guards.

From Gronow’s Reminiscences:
I knew very little of Lord Byron personally, but lived much with two of his intimate friends, Scrope Davis and Wedderburn Webster; from whom I frequently heard many anecdotes of him.  I regret that I remember so few; and wish that I had written down those told me by poor Scrope Davis, one of the most agreeable men I ever met.
When Byron was at Cambridge, he was introduced to Scrope Davis by their mutual friend, Matthews, who was afterwards drowned in the river Cam. After Matthews’s death, Davis became Byron’s particular friend, and was admitted to his rooms at all hours.  Upon one occasion he found the poet in bed with his hair en papillote, upon which Scrope cried, “Ha, ha!  Byron, I have at last caught you acting the part of the Sleeping Beauty.”
Byron  by Thomas Philipps (1770-1845)
Byron, in a rage, exclaimed, “No, Scrope; the part of a d—-d fool, you should have said.”

“Well, then, anything you please; but you have succeeded admirably in deceiving your friends, for it was my conviction that your hair curled naturally.”

“Yes, naturally, every night,” returned the poet; “but do not, my dear Scrope, let the cat out of the bag, for I am as vain of my curls as a girl of sixteen.”
When in London, Byron used to go to Manton’s shooting-gallery, in Davis street, to try his hand, as he said, at a wafer.  Wedderburn Webster was present when the poet, intensely delighted with his own skill, boasted to Joe Manton that he considered himself the best shot in London. “No, my lord,” replied Manton, “not the best; but your shooting, to-day, was respectable;” upon which Byron waxed wroth, and left the shop in a violent passion.
Newstead Abbey, Byron’s estate, 12 miles north of Nottingham
Lords Byron, Yarmouth, Pollington, Mountjoy, Walliscourt, Blandford, Captain Burges, Jack Bouverie, and myself, were in 1814, and for several years afterwards, amongst the chief and most constant frequenters of this well-known shooting-gallery, and frequently shot at the wafer for considerable sums of money.  Manton was allowed to enter the betting list, and he generally backed me.  On one occasion, I hit the wafer nineteen times out of twenty.
Byron lived a great deal at Brighton, his house being opposite the Pavilion. He was fond of boating, and was generally accompanied by a lad, who was said to be a girl in boy’s clothes. This report was confirmed to me by Webster, who was then living at Brighton.  The vivid description of the page in Lara, no doubt, gave some plausibility to this often-told tale.  I myself witnessed the dexterous manner in  which Byron used to get into his boat; for, while standing on the beach, I once saw him vault into it with the agility of a harlequin, in spite of his lame foot.
On one occasion, whilst his lordship was dining with a few of his friends in Charles Street, Pall Mall, a letter was delivered to Scrope Davis, which required an immediate answer.  Scrope, after reading its contents, handed it to Lord Byron.  It was thus worded:–
“MY DEAR SCROPE,–Lend me 500L. for a few days; the funds are shut for the dividends, or I would not have made this request.  “G. BRUMMELL.”
The reply was:–
“My DEAR BRUMMELL,–All my money is locked up in the funds. “SCROPE DAVIS.”
This was just before Brummell’s escape to the Continent.
Dining Room Fireplace, Newstead Abbey
I have frequently asked Scrope Davis his private opinion of Lord Byron, and invariably received the same answer–that he considered Lord Byron very agreeable and clever, but vain, overbearing, conceited, suspicious, and jealous.  Byron hated Palmerston, but liked Peel, and thought that the whole world ought to be constantly employed in admiring his poetry and himself: he never could write a poem or a drama without making himself its hero, and he was always the subject of his own conversation.
Bust of Byron, Newstead Abbey
During one of Henry Hobhouse’s visits to Byron, at his villa near Genoa, and whilst they were walking in the garden, his lordship suddenly turned upon his guest, and, apropos of nothing, exclaimed, “Now, I know, Hobhouse, you are looking at my foot.”  Upon which Hobhouse kindly replied, “My dear Byron, nobody thinks of or looks at anything but your head.”
Abbey Ruins, Newstead Abbey

For a two-part filmed tour of Newstead Abbey, click here. Look for the Guided Tour on the right.

Happy Birthday, Lord Byron…

Bowood and the Lansdowne Family

By Vicky Hinshaw

Bowood House, c. 1890

In May of 2009, my husband and I spent two weeks in England, another trip to feed my near-fanatical interest in all things historical and British. Our first stop after arriving was in Wiltshire, where we stayed at the lovely Stanton Manor Country Hotel.

As always, I had a long agenda for the trip, centering on visits to stately homes and the opportunity to learn about the families who lived in them. Number one on the list was Bowood, the country estate of the Petty-Fitzmaurice family, perhaps better known by the title of the head of the family, the Marquess of Lansdowne.

The area of the Bowood estate was part of the forest of Chippenham and belonged to the crown until the early 18th century when a house was begun on the ancient site of a hunting lodge. The first Earl of Shelburne purchased the unfinished property in 1754 and enlarged the house. His son, the 2nd earl and first Marquess of Lansdowne, hired famed Scottish architect Robert Adam (who had designed Lansdowne House in London) to further enhance the house and build an adjacent orangery and a menagerie (housing a leopard and an orangutan); Adam also built a mausoleum for the 1st earl in the extensive parklands surrounding the house.

After WWII, when Bowood was used by the Royal Air Force, the main house was left empty and decaying. In 1955, the 8th Marquess had it pulled down. The orangery and adjacent buildings were remodeled to house the family and its collections.

Bowood Today

The Adam Dining Room from the demolished big house is now the board room of Lloyd’s of London in their City headquarters.

Beginning in the 1760’s, Lancelot “Capability” Brown (who else?) designed the gardens, which include a lake, a classical temple and rolling fields. Two decades later, picturesque elements were added: a grotto, waterfalls, and a wilderness. In the 2,000 acre parklands, magnificent Rhododendrons bloom every spring. This impressive display, begun in the 19th century, includes many rare species. Wandering through the colorful scene, over the carpet of bright bluebells and beside blossoms of every shade was a most delightful way to spend a May afternoon in 2009 for my husband and I. As we strolled, we came to the sober Adam-designed mausoleum which now houses the remains of generations of family members.

Today Bowood has built a popular children’s adventure playground, full of birthday parties and eager celebrants on the day we passed. The rooms on exhibition at house (formerly the Orangery and associated buildings) include a magnificent library with fireplace and furniture from the old house and the laboratory where Joseph Priestly studied gasses and discovered oxygen in 1774.
The Library
The Sculpture Gallery

The art collection has many paintings associated with family members such as Admiral Lord Keith, great-grandfather of the 5th Marquess. Keith officially accepted the surrender of Napoleon Bonaparte on behalf of the British crown in 1815.

Admiral Lord Keith

Admiral Lord Keith’s daughter was Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, close confidant and correspondent of Princess Charlotte of Wales (daughter of the Prince Regent, later George IV). After the Princess died in 1817, Meg married the Comte de Flahault, who served as an Aide-de-camp to Napoleon. Though her distinguished father disapproved, the Comte was well liked and friendly with many Whigs such as Lord Holland and the Duke of Bedford, and the Admiral grew fond of him.

 General Comte de Flahalt

Margaret Mercer Elphinstone,
Baroness Keith, Comtesse de Flahault

Meg, an heiress both from her father and her late mother, was well known in regency-era society. She was a good friend of the poet Lord Byron and received from him the Albanian costume in which he was painted about 1813. Meg also was portrayed in the outfit which is on display at Bowood. Meg succeeded her father as Baroness Keith. She was known in England by the latter title and as Comtesse de Flahault in France. She and her husband divided their time among homes in Scotland, London and Paris. Emily de Flahault, daughter of the Comte and Meg, married the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne and is the mother of the fifth Marquess.

Byron in Albanian Dress, Artist: Thomas Phillips, c. 1813
Meg in Byron’s Albanian costume

Bowood is not only a fascinating piece of history; it is part of the evolving fate of the English Country House. In today’s difficult economy, such a property must pay its own way. Supporting a family and employees, upkeep and renovations, cascading expenses and taxes – are almost crippling in their combined effects. While many institutions provide assistance (usually in exchange for public access), adequate funding usually means all sorts of services and events that bring in paying customers. The house and garden are just what I love, but the vast majority of the customers when we were there were at the children’s Adventure Playground. Bowood has also opened a golf resort and fine restaurant nearby. A quick perusal of the website will tell the story clearly.