Plas Newydd, Anglesey

Richard Cavendish visits Plas Newydd, the seat of the Marquess of Anglesey.

On the battlefield of Waterloo on June 18th, 1815, as that interminable, desperately hard-fought and anxious day drew on towards dusk and British victory, the Duke of Wellington and his cavalry commander, Henry Paget, Earl of Uxbridge, the most brilliant cavalryman of his generation, were side by side on horseback surveying the scene. Suddenly one of the last cannon shots of the engagement flew over the neck of Wellington’s horse and hit Uxbridge’s right knee, smashing the joint to bits. ‘By God, sir,’ said Uxbridge, ‘I’ve lost my leg!’ The Iron Duke eyed the mangled mess for a moment before saying, ‘By God, sir, so you have!’ and turned his spyglass back to the retreating French. Or so the popular story had it, though in reality Wellington supported Uxbridge in the saddle until help arrived.

Uxbridge, who was forty-seven years old and had already had several horses killed under him, was taken to headquarters, where the surgeons decided the leg must come off. He bore the appalling operation with the utmost coolness, saying he had enjoyed a long run as a beau and it was only fair to the young men not to cut them out any longer. According to one of his aides, he never moved or complained, though he did say calmly at one point that he thought the instrument was not very sharp, and when the horror was over, his pulse rate was unaltered. The severed limb was reverently interred in a nearby garden. A weeping willow was planted there and subsequent generations of Pagets made pilgrimages to the spot.

To read this article in full you need to be either a print + archive subscriber, or else have purchased access to the online archive.

If you are already a subscriber, please ensure you are logged in. 

Buy Subscription | Buy Online Access | Log In

Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week