"Toppy", The Dancing Marquess
May 31, 2020 4:48 AM   Subscribe

Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey (1875 – 1905), styled Lord Paget until 1880 and Earl of Uxbridge between 1880 and 1898, and nicknamed "Toppy", was a British peer who was notable during his short life for squandering his inheritance on a lavish social life and accumulating massive debts. Regarded as the "black sheep" of the family, he was dubbed "the dancing marquess" and for his Butterfly Dancing, taken from Loie Fuller, where a voluminous robe of transparent white silk would be waved like wings.
He inherited some £73m. But in the space of just over five years, he had blown the lot, been declared bankrupt, and died from complications of tuberculosis in Monte Carlo. Newspapers in March 1905 declared his death a "wasted life".
Paget's style has often been compared to that of Freddie Mercury.
Previously on M-F
posted by growabrain (14 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
"He made a ping-pong jacket and wanted it to be green - so he made it out of real emeralds"

The man certainly had style. I also like the observation that he had no concept of costume jewelry.

I love gems, I think they're lovely. I used to work with them a lot making jewelry so I have an appreciation for them. But damn! A jacket made of emeralds? Like, those are not even durable gemstones.

Freddie Mercury, perhaps. But also some pretty strong 70s Elton John going on there.
posted by hippybear at 6:25 AM on May 31 [9 favorites]

Seiriol Davies's How to Win Against History, which is obliquely mentioned in the BBC article, is a fantastic show about Henry Cyril Paget. (The songs are on Spotify.) Having seen it in Edinburgh and loved it, I also bought the book of the show and learned some fascinating facts! Here's one:
The Gaeity's opening show - the aforementioned 1902 Aladdin of tea towel [there is a picture of the tea towel in the book] fame - had, to put it mildly, an ample costume budget. Being as Henry didn't really seem to get the concept of 'costume jewellery', and (obvs) everything had to be covered in sparkle, the jewels on one custom alone were worth £3.4M in 2017 (pre Brexit) pounds, and those used in the whole production were worth just shy of £43M.
posted by smcg at 6:41 AM on May 31 [1 favorite]

While there is no concrete evidence to pinpoint he ever had same-sex relationships, Davies said the hints of a queer identity were there.

None of the links talk about his nickname, but I am wondering, would "Toppy" have had any top/bottom connotations back then?
posted by Dip Flash at 6:45 AM on May 31 [1 favorite]

Any life where £73m is redistributed from entrenched wealth back into the economy is not a wasted one.
posted by maxwelton at 8:07 AM on May 31 [24 favorites]

I am wondering, would "Toppy" have had any top/bottom connotations back then?

I am no authority on UK slang and nicknames from over 100 years ago, but I'd be truly surprised if a public nickname would contain information like that about an individual in that era.
posted by hippybear at 8:23 AM on May 31 [4 favorites]

There's an interesting Guardian article about him by Viv Gardner (who created a performance piece about him): Would you trust this man with your fortune?. Gardner says
Even the most perceptive and sympathetic of the obituaries, from the Daily Dispatch, points to "the appalling fact that from his earliest recollection he had been one of those extraordinarily isolated creatures who have never known affection. From boyhood to death no one had ever loved him ... [from which he developed] a strange and repellent spirit opaquely incomprehensible and pathetically alone ... Over all was the self-conscious, half-haughty timidity of the man who knows he is not as other men."
Also, I hope his adopted daughter ("a dark-skinned baby who was later returned to her birth parents") had an ok life.

He's always reminded me a bit of Stephen Tennant, who was the generation after Paget.
posted by paduasoy at 11:54 AM on May 31 [2 favorites]

Eric Partridge's A Dictionary of Historical Slang says:
toppy. 1. Tipsy: ca 1880–1915. cf. TOP-HEAVY. 2. Stylish; (too) showy: from ca 1890. Perhaps suggesting by TOPPING.
posted by cyanistes at 2:25 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

posted by sexyrobot at 2:28 PM on May 31

And that's when £73m was £73m.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:56 PM on May 31

How many poodles does it take to make up a fleet?

That is really one killer tiara.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:20 PM on May 31

The photo of this Marquess vs. the one of his father highlights for me how societal definitions of “correct” dress shifts over time. Perhaps one day, when the past century is no longer within living memory, an observation that Henry compares to Mercury will be followed without irony by an observation that the 4th Marquess would have been at home in Sgt. Pepper’s.

Less serious side note: I enjoyed the suggestion that an aptitude for the unexpected may have been a familial trait. The note on the Wikipedia article:

“The BBC source states that the tiara was worn in 1952 by Marjorie Paget, Marchioness of Anglesey at the Coronation of Elizabeth II. This is unlikely, given that Marjorie died in 1946.”
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 2:50 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]

Dammit, *I* want to be known for swinging into a huge gala wearing the best tiara in the room six years after I die.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:32 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]

*Marge Simpson voice*
Well, you'd better start saving up. Tiaras are very expensive.

posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:34 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]

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