The Llanfair PG column

Wednesday 23 November 2011, 13:05

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice

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People in Wales might be excused for failing to see the significance of the date 24 November 1816. On the face of it, little happened in the world at large on that day.

Yet in the tiny Welsh village of Llanfair PG on Ynys Mon - or Anglesey as it was then known - a great celebration was taking place. On that day 27 metre column was unveiled, commemorating the courage and heroism of the Marquess of Anglesey who lived just a few miles away at Plas Newydd on the Menai Straits.

The Marquess, Henry William Paget to give him his full name, was one of the most remarkable men ever to hold a commission in the British army and his courage at the Battle of Waterloo has gone down in folklore.

Born in May 1768, he was the eldest son of the Earl of Uxbridge, and succeeded to the title in 1812. Before that date he was known simply as Lord Paget.

Henry Paget was educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford, and, as was the custom of the times, duly became a member of parliament - first at Caernarfon, then for Milborne Port, before being appointed Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds in 1804.

When was broke out with revolutionary France Lord Paget (as he then was) immediately raised a regiment of volunteers and began a military career that saw him rise quickly through the ranks, helped undoubtedly by a seemingly bottomless purse. He was, however, also pretty good at the job.

By 1802 Paget was a major general and in 1809 commanded the cavalry during Sir John Moore's unfortunate campaign in the Iberian Peninsula.

His control and handling of the cavalry to support and hold the rearguard defence - thus allowing Moore's army to be evacuated - was nothing short of exemplary. It could not help General Sir John Moore as he died from wounds sustained at the Battle of Corunna during the retreat to the sea. Thanks in no small part to Lord Paget, however, most of the army got away.

A long term relationship with the wife of Henry Wellesley, brother of the Duke of Wellington, severely limited Paget's employment during the Peninsula War and for a long time there were bad feelings between Wellington and the handsome - and rakish - Lord Paget.

In 1810 both Paget and Lady Charlotte Wellesley were divorced from their respective partners and were then married in a hasty ceremony. It made things a little easier between Wellington and Paget but there was still a degree of frostiness and distance in their relationship. This did not make matters easy when Lord Uxbridge, as he had now become, was appointed to lead the British cavalry in Belgium during Napoleon's last great gamble, the Hundred Days as it is known.

This distance or coldness may, to some extent, be the reason for one of the great remarks in British military history. During the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815, Lord Uxbridge led the spectacular charge of the heavy cavalry, checking and ultimately destroying d'Erlon's Corps in the centre of the French line.

Then, in the final stage of the battle, Uxbridge and Wellington were sitting side by side on horseback when a cannon ball passed between them. It was one of the last cannon shots of the battle and it struck Uxbridge on his leg.

"By God, sir, I have lost my leg," Uxbridge said. The duke glanced down and replied "By God, sir, so you have." The remarks have always been taken as an example of British upper class reserve and breeding - the bad feeling between the two men might also have had a part to play.

Lord Uxbridge was taken to the rear where a surgeon removed the shattered limb. According to legend Uxbridge continued to write and read despatches as his leg was removed, remarking to his aide de camp: "I have had a pretty long run, time to let other young men become beaus now."

Two weeks after Waterloo, in gratitude for his part in the campaign and at the Battle of Waterloo, the Prince Regent made Uxbridge the Marquess of Anglesey. He also had an artificial leg fitted - the leg and the saw with which the stump was removed later found their way into the museum at Plas Newydd, once the Marquess's home on Ynys Mon.

The Marquess went on to lead a distinguished public life, twice becoming Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and, in 1827, Master General of the Ordnance. He finally retired from public life as a field marshal in March 1852. He died on 29 April 1854, outliving his beloved wife Charlotte by barely a year.

The column at Llanfair PG was a suitable tribute to a remarkable man, albeit one rooted in the class conscious world of 19th century Britain. A separate monument, this time to his lost leg, was also erected on the field at Waterloo but some years later the bones were dug up and put on display. The Marquess of Anglesey would surely have disapproved.

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