Last week was discussed here the loss of Lord Fitzroy Somerset’s arm at the Battle of Waterloo. This week will be discussed the loss of Lord Uxbridge’s leg. Unlike Somerset’s amputated arm, which was given a decent, and permanent, burial soon after its removal from his person, Lord Uxbridge’s leg went on to lead a series of macabre adventures for over a century. As had been the case with Somerset, Uxbridge would be instrumental in the development of a new option for amputees which would improve their lives for decades.
This week, the adventures of Uxbridge’s leg . . .
Henry William Paget was the eldest son of the Earl of Uxbridge, and as such, had every expectation of inheriting his father’s title. Unlike Lord Fitzroy Somerset, who was a younger son, the young Lord Paget had no need of any career, military or otherwise. However, at the outbreak of the French Revolution, when many in England expected an invasion by the French, Lord Paget raised a regiment of volunteers from Staffordshire in 1793. Under Paget’s command, the regiment took part in the Flanders campaign in 1794 and the following year he obtained an official commission with the rank of Lieutenant in the British Army. He remained in military service into the early nineteenth century and by 1808 had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General. He served with Sir John Moore’s forces in Spain, commanding the cavalry regiments and proved himself to be a successful cavalry officer. In fact, he was considered the most brilliant cavalry officer in the British Army.
Despite General Paget’s proven abilities on the Peninsula, the death of Sir John Moore at Corunna would put paid to any further service for him there. Lord Paget had married Lady Caroline Elizabeth Villiers in July of 1795. However, he had a wandering eye and conducted a string of dalliances with a number of different women. On his return to England, after the British evacuation from Portugal, he took up with Lady Charlotte Wellesley, the wife of Henry Wellesley. On 6 March 1809, Lady Charlotte, the mother of four young children, climbed into a hackney carriage and eloped with the also married Henry, Lord Paget. There was acrimony on both sides, the Paget family denouncing Lady Charlotte as a "nefarious damned Hell-hound" and a "maudite sorcière" (cursed witch), while the Wellesley family considered Lord Paget a scoundrel, a rake and a libertine. Lord Paget was not the only member of his family to be involved in such a scandalous event. His younger brother, Arthur, who had served for a time in Turkey with Lord Fitzroy Somerset, had eloped the previous year with the wife of Lord Boringdon, Lady Augusta Fane. In the face of this new scandal, though Lady Charlotte sometimes referred to herself as a "wretch," nothing would induce her to return to her husband, who was ill with a liver ailment he had contracted in India and sick with grief over the loss of his wife.
Henry Wellesley was the youngest, and favorite, brother of General Sir Arthur Wellesley. So it was no surprise to anyone that when General Wellesley was given command of the second expeditionary force to Portugal, General Lord Paget was not included among his senior officers when he sailed for the Peninsula in 1809, despite the fact that General Wellesley had great need of skilled cavalry officers. Though Lord Paget retained his commission and his rank, his reputation was badly damaged by the scandal. He was part of the ill-fated Walcheren expedition in 1809, but saw no further military service for the duration of the Peninsular War.
In 1810, Paget was able to obtain a divorce from his wife, while Henry Wellesley had also divorced his wife at about the same time. Lord Paget married Lady Charlotte that same year. In March of 1812, Lord Paget’s father died and he became the new Earl of Uxbridge. Despite the scandal, the new Earl of Uxbridge had many friends among the aristocracy and high-ranking military men. He quickly became a good friend of the Duke of York, who held the position of Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, as well as with his elder brother, the Prince Regent. In January of 1815, the Prince Regent appointed Uxbridge a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. An honor which was conferred on the Duke of Wellington in that same year. Then in March of 1815, the news arrived in England that Napoleon had escaped Elba and was on his way to Paris. King Louis XVIII had fled the city and Napoleon was once again in control in France.
Within the month, the Allies had appointed the Duke of Wellington the Commander-in-Chief of the forces which would face Bonaparte. But which forces? A large portion of Wellington’s best and most seasoned troops had been shipped off to fight the war in America and there was no time to bring them back across the Atlantic. Travelling to Brussels in April of 1815, Wellington began gathering the troops which would have to stand against the French army. Since he would be fighting Napoleon Bonaparte, a commander whom he had never before faced on the field of battle, Wellington wanted as many of his senior staff from the Peninsula as were available. In particular, as senior cavalry commander, he wanted Sir Stapleton Cotton, who had recently been raised to the peerage as Lord Combermere. In fact, Combermere wrote to Wellington, offering his services. But Lord Uxbridge had had years to cultivate his relationship with both the Duke of York and the Prince Regent. The Duke of York, in particular, did not like the Duke of Wellington, and he was happy to use his authority force a cavalry commander on Wellington whom he felt certain would irritate him. Lord Uxbridge was appointed to the plum position of cavalry commander, instead of Lord Combermere.
However, the Duke of York did not have Wellington’s full measure. When a friend remarked to Wellington that the appointment of Uxbridge to his senior staff would cause another scandal, the Duke asked what he meant.
"Your Grace cannot have forgotten the affair with Lady Charlotte [Wellesley]?"
"Oh, no! I have not forgotten that."
"That is not the only case, I am afraid. At any rate Lord Uxbridge has a reputation of running away with everybody he can."
"I’ll take good care he don’t run away with me; I don’t care about anybody else."
It was not Uxbridge’s scandalous life-style to which Wellington objected. He was about to face Napoleon Bonaparte and the French army on the field of battle, and he was well aware that Napoleon was considered to be a very formidable commander. Wellington wanted men he knew and trusted around him when the fight came. He had worked with Lord Combermere in India and throughout the Peninsular campaign, but he had never worked with Uxbridge. He was not pleased to have an unknown senior officer on his staff in such a situation, particularly the cavalry commander, a pivotal position, and the next in rank after Wellington himself. But he had no choice and had to make do with the officers he was given.
Fortunately for Wellington and the Allies, Uxbridge’s skill as a cavalry officer had not deserted him, though his judgement as a commander was somewhat questionable. At Waterloo, Uxbridge led the charge of the Household Cavalry himself, when he should have remained behind to direct the action. But this massive and terrible charge also included the Scots Greys and other cavalry units which all threw themselves hard into the fray and successfully countered D’Erlon’s first great infantry attack. But at a fearful cost, for nearly a quarter of the Allied cavalry forces were killed or wounded in that one charge. Uxbridge was not wounded and did his best to shepherd as many men as he could back behind the safety of the Allied lines. But he never forgave himself for his loss of control in allowing himself to be swept up in the charge or to have allowed so many troops to be committed at one time.
Wellington was not best pleased by this chaotic cavalry charge, but he had become somewhat inured to such events where cavalry was concerned, as it had happened often enough during the Peninsular Wars. He also saw how courageously Uxbridge had behaved in saving as many of his men as possible, and Wellington had always admired true personal courage in any soldier. As Wellington was well aware, even if most of his men were not, the Allies were holding on by a thread as the French troops continued to attack through the afternoon. Then, finally, about half-past seven, Blücher and his Prussians were sighted approaching from the east. All eyes turned to Wellington, astride Copenhagen, under the elm at Mont St. Jean. Some of his senior officers, including Uxbridge, urged a limited action. But this time, Wellington saw things differently. "Oh, damn it!" he is said to have exclaimed. "In for a penny, in for a pound." Rising in his stirrups, he took off his hat and waved it three times at the enemy. The entire Allied corps understood the signal, giving out three huge cheers and every man who was able surged forward to attack the French.
Wellington rode forward to better observe the battle, with his second-in-command, Uxbridge, close behind. The Duke paused for a few minutes to give orders to Sir Harry Smith, then the two moved further forward. The French cannon had grown nearly quiet, as firing had become only intermittent. Wellington took out his field telescope and was surveying the battlefield when one of the last of the French grapeshot flew over Copenhagen’s neck and smashed into Lord Uxbridge’s right knee. "By God, I’ve lost my leg!" Uxbridge exclaimed. "Have you, by God?" Wellington asked, as he lowered his telescope and turned toward his cavalry commander. Seeing the truth of it, Wellington moved closer to support Uxbridge in his saddle while signaling for men to carry the wounded man to a field hospital. Once he had seen Uxbridge safely away, Wellington rode over to Frederick Adam and ordered him and his unit to take out the group of French artillery which had fired the cannonball which struck Uxbridge. Adam’s men followed their orders, and soon the French artillery was silent.
Lord Uxbridge requested he be taken back to the cottage in Waterloo which served as his headquarters. There, two military surgeons, James Powell and James Callander, examined his leg and agreed that it must come off above the knee. They both knew that if Uxbridge was to have any chance of survival, the amputation must be done quickly and efficiently, rapidly removing the limb, suturing the arteries and applying clean bandages. Uxbridge was seated in wooden chair for the operation, and though he was provided no anaesthetics, he endured the amputation with barely a sound, except at one point to remark that the instrument did not seem to be very sharp. Uxbridge was also recorded as having said, "I have had a pretty long run. I have been a beau these forty-seven years, and it would not be fair to cut the young men out any longer."
Later that evening, one of Uxbridge’s most trusted senior cavalry officers, Sir Hussey Vivian, having learned of his commanders injury, came to the cottage to see how he was doing. Uxbridge asked him to take a look at the lost leg, saying that some of his friends were of the opinion that it need not have been removed. So that he might be sure his leg had not been taken unnecessarily, he asked Vivian to tell him honestly whether or not he thought it might have been saved. According to Sir Hussey, "I went, accordingly, and, taking up the lacerated limb, carefully examined it, and so far as I could tell, it was completely spoiled for work. A rusty grape-shot had gone through and shattered the bones all to pieces. I therefore … told him he could set his mind quite at rest, as his leg, in my opinion, was better off than on."
The owner of the cottage in which Uxbridge was staying at Waterloo, M. Hyacinthe Joseph-Marie Paris, requested permission to inter the lost leg in the garden there. Permission was given, the leg was placed in a small wooden coffin, duly buried and a small tombstone was erected over it. The inscription on that stone read [here translated from the French]:
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.
Paris also retained the blood-stained chair in which Uxbridge sat during the amputation, the bloody boot in which the leg had been encased and for years operated his home as a rather macbre tourist attraction. For a fee, visitors were first allowed to view the blood-stained chair in which Uxbridge had been seated during the operation and the cast-off boot, after which they were escorted into the garden to view the tombstone that marked the burial site of the General’s lost leg. Many high-ranking dignitaries were to pass through the Paris cottage in the village of Waterloo for the same tour. When the Prince Regent went to Belgium to tour the Waterloo battlefield, he made a detour to the Paris cottage in order to see for himself where the leg was buried. It is said that he wept almost uncontrollably when he read the inscription on the small tombstone.
However, the Regent did more than weep for Uxbridge’s lost leg. As soon as he learned of the injury, he put his royal yacht at the disposal of Lady Charlotte, Uxbridge’s wife, which carried her and her son across the Channel to Belgium. She was united with her husband on 25 June 1815, in Brussels, where he had been transported two days before. In early July of 1815, the Prince Regent created Lord Uxbridge Marquess of Anglesey. The name was chosen because Anglesey Island, part of Wales, was the location of Plas Newydd, Uxbridge’s country home. At some point after the new title was bestowed, it is recorded that some unknown person wrote the following couplet in English on the small tombstone in Paris’ Waterloo cottage garden:
Here lies the Marquis of Anglesey’s limb;
The Devil will have the remainder of him.
Several long poems were also composed on the lost leg, a number of which were published in London. The one written by the Tory politician, George Canning, was perhaps the most well-known.
There are two different versions as to what became of the Marquess of Anglesey’s leg as the nineteenth century progressed. One is that upon his death in 1854, the family requested the return of his leg and that it was interred with him in the family crypt. However, the other more lurid tale is that the Paris family refused to return it, unwilling to forego the profits which came to them each year from the many visitors who came to view the blood-stained chair and the small tombstone which marked the leg’s last resting place. In another version of the tale, in 1878, Anglesey’s son visited the Paris cottage garden to find that the bones were no longer buried, but were on open display. The Belgian ambassador to Britain investigated and reported that the leg had been exposed when the willow tree planted beside the small tomb was uprooted in a violent storm. In this version of the story, out of respect for Anglesey and his family, the ambassador demanded that the leg be returned to the family. Again unwilling to loose this reliable source of revenue, the Paris family refused. Rather, they offered to sell the leg back to the Uxbridge family, who, quite naturally, were outraged at the proposal. It was then that the Belgian Minister of Justice stepped in and ordered the Paris family to rebury the bones. Instead of re-interring the leg as they had been ordered to do, the bones were kept hidden by the members of the Paris family. If this version of the tale is to be believed, when the last Monsieur Paris passed away, in Brussels, in 1934, his widow found the leg and documentation which detailed its history. Wanting no further scandal, the Widow Paris burned the bones in the furnace of her central heating system. So, depending upon which version you believe, Lord Uxbridge’s lost leg now lies with him in the family crypt, or it was burned to ashes in a Brussels furnace in 1934, more than a century after it was amputated in Waterloo village.
It seems that the Marquess of Anglesey gave little thought to his leg after it was amputated. However, the stump left behind caused him severe pain for many months after the operation and it took nearly a year before the wound fully healed. He was also very unhappy with his first artificial limb, known as a "clapper" due to the sound it made when he walked. He soon sought out James Potts of Chelsea, perhaps London’s premier limb-maker. His shop was in close proximity to the Royal Chelsea Hospital, which was home to many retired soldiers in need of replacement limbs, so he had had a great deal of experience in the making of artificial limbs. Anglesey had the money to pay for the best that could be had. In 1816, Potts crafted an artificial limb for the Marquess which was not only comfortable to wear, it was very life-like in appearance. Though it was made of wood, Potts had hollowed it as much as possible, so it was much lighter than any previous prosthesis. It also had articulated knee, ankle and toe joints which enabled the wearer to walk much more naturally than he would have been able to do with most other artificial legs available at the time. The use of catgut tendons ensured smoother and nearly soundless flexion of the joints. Anglesey was so pleased with this new leg that he allowed Potts to name it the "Anglesey leg when he applied for a patent on the design." Within a few years, this new artificial leg was considered the best available and the Anglesey leg was advertized until at least 1914, in both Britain and America.
Though Wellington and Anglesey were barely acquainted when the Waterloo campaign began, by the time it was over, both had come to respect the talents and abilities of the other. Later in life, they actually became quite good friends. The Marquess, and Lord Fitzroy Somerset, were both regular guests at the Waterloo dinner which Wellington hosted at his London home, Apsley House, every year on the 18th of June, to commemorate the victory.