Welcome to “U” in the A to Z Challenge 2017. The 1st Duke of Wellington is my theme for this year’s Challenge.
Henry William Paget, better known as Lord Uxbridge, was made a general in the British army after the Battle of Waterloo.
Following is the text from a recent article in The Telegraph that explains who Lord Uxbridge was and how he relates to the Duke of Wellington:
It’s sometimes difficult to believe in this era of selfies, social media and reality TV, but we Brits used to be famous for our emotional reserve. No matter how challenging the circumstances, we would never allow our upper lip to be anything other than stiff. We would rather die than betray our true feelings in public.
And nobody exemplifies that great British sang-froid (to use a French phrase) better than the Earl of Uxbridge, the cavalry commander at the Battle of Waterloo.
One of the stand-out heroes of the bloody clash that took place 200 years ago today, Uxbridge fought with supreme bravery, launching repeated charges against the French. Eight horses were shot from under him.
But it was in the dying moments of the battle that the commander sealed his reputation as one of Britain’s most self-contained and unflappable soldiers. Riding next to Wellington as cannon shot hurtled across the battlefield, he turned to the Iron Duke and uttered the brilliant conversation-starter: “By God, Sir, I’ve lost my leg.”
To which Wellington replied, with equal restraint: “By God, Sir, so you have.”
The exchange has gone down in history as the example ne plus ultra of British reserve. And Uxbridge maintained the same extraordinary composure when doctors performed an amputation.
“His lordship was perfectly cool, his pulse was calm and regular, as if he had just risen from his bed in the morning, and he displayed no expression of uneasiness though his suffering must have been extreme,” wrote John Robert Hume, the Deputy Inspector of Medical Staff.
When Hume told the patient that the operation needed to start as soon as possible (to prevent the spread of gangrene), Uxbridge replied: “Very well, I am ready.”
Hume then took the knife in his hand.
“Tell me when you are going to begin,” said Uxbridge.
“Now, my Lord,” replied Hume.
Uxbridge laid his head on his pillow, put his hand up to his eyes, and said to the doctor: “Whenever you please.”
Despite the amputation going ahead without anaesthetic, Hume wrote in his report that the earl, “neither uttered groan or complaint nor gave any sign of impatience or uneasiness” (although he is reported to have remarked at one stage that the knife appeared a little blunt).
Afterwards, the doctor noted that Uxbridge’s skin was still “perfectly cool” and his pulse “gave only 66 beats to the minute.”
“So far was he from exhibiting any symptoms of what he had undergone in his countenance,” continued the doctor, “that I am quite certain, had anyone entered the room, they would have inquired [sic] of him where the wounded man was.”
In recognition of his bravery and the crucial part he played in the victory at Waterloo, Uxbridge was made 1st Marquis of Anglesey by the Prince Regent. He later went on to serve two terms as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, gaining praise for his even-handed treatment of Catholics and Protestants and for his establishment of a comprehensive education system.
He wasn’t without his flaws. In fact, the earl, real name Henry Paget, had a sex life that had more in common with, dare we say, a typical French man, than an inhibited Brit.
Before Waterloo, in 1809, the married father-of-eight scandalised society by eloping with Lady Charlotte Wellesley, the wife of Wellington’s brother, Henry (which might explain Wellington’s rather unemotional reaction to Uxbridge having his leg blown off). The affair led to a pistol duel on Wimbledon Common with Lady Charlotte’s brother, Col Henry Cadogan. (Cadogan missed and Uxbridge refused to return fire.)
When Wellington was ordered to accept Uxbridge as his second-in-command at Waterloo by the Prince Regent and the Duke of York, both of whom were fans of the earl, Wellington remarked drily to an acquaintance: “Lord Uxbridge has the reputation of running away with everybody he can. I’ll take good care he don’t run away with me.”
After the battle, Wellington admitted Uxbridge had fought courageously. And it was not just the newly-appointed Marquis of Anglesey who was honoured; the earl’s amputated leg became something of a celebrity itself. M. Hyacinthe Joseph-Marie Paris, who owned the house where the operation took place, asked if he could bury the leg in his garden and later erected a tombstone. It read:
“Here lies the Leg of the illustrious and valiant Earl Uxbridge, Lieutenant-General of His Britannic Majesty, Commander in Chief of the English, Belgian and Dutch cavalry, wounded on the 18 June 1815 at the memorable battle of Waterloo, who, by his heroism, assisted in the triumph of the cause of mankind, gloriously decided by the resounding victory of the said day.”
The tomb went on to become a shrine and a tourist attraction, visited by such illustrious figures as the King of Prussia and the Prince of Orange.
It is also thought to be the original inspiration for the phrase “One foot in the grave”, which is how Uxbridge used to like to describe his health after the injury.
Uxbridge was also the recipient of the first ever articulated wooden leg, made from wood, leather and springs, with a hinged knee and ankle. The prosthetic can still be seen at the Paget’s National Trust-owned family home, Plas Newydd, in Wales.
The earl himself went on to live to the age of 85.
He is buried at Lichfield Cathedral where a monument stands in his honour
Previous A to Z Challenge 2017 posts:
Douro, Marquess of
Maréchal Michel Ney
Netherlands (Flanders Campaign)
Older Duke and Death
Pakenham, Edward Michael “Ned”
Quotes of the Duke
Reasons Why I Study the Duke
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Toulouse, Battle of