from the Newsletter of the Welsh Philatelic Society, no.108 - May 2008


THE MAD MARQUESS


The postcard illustrated below was one of six Cynicus undivided back cards addressed to the Marquess of Anglesey, each written in the same hand (probably by one of his effeminate friends) and posted at Llanfairpllwllgwyngyll on the same day - 26 December 1902

marquess1


The addressee was Henry Cyril, the 5th Marquess, whose coming of age in June 1896 brought extravagant merrymaking. An estimated 40,000 people visited his country house at Plas Newydd during the four days of celebration, with large marquees erected in the park for their reception.

Known locally as the 'Mad Marquess', and throughout Europe as the 'Dancing Marquess', he was an eccentric whose flamboyance and extravagance made him the most colourful figure of his age. When his father died in 1898, the young Henry, then aged 23, inherited an estate of 30,000 acres, much of it in Staffordshire, which brought an annual income of 110,600, a sum equivalent to some 40 million today.

This vast fortune was squandered each year on his self-indulgent lifestyles and in little more than six years he had blown the equivalent of almost 300 million. He was a well-known effeminate who wore outlandish clothes. rings on every finger. perfumes and a powdered face - in complete contrast to his great grandfather, the 1st Marquess, who gained lasting notoriety by losing his right leg whilst riding alongside the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo.

Surprisingly, given his effeminate nature, the young Marquess married his cousin Lily in what was probably a marriage of convenience, but it was soon annulled on the grounds of non-consummation.

He then developed a love for the theatre, and at enormous expense he converted the chapel at Plas Newydd into his very own theatre, modelled on the Opera House at Dresden. with seating for 150. Admission was free, and the Marquess himself often took the leading role, assisted by professional actors and actresses from London who were paid grossly inflated fees. The theatre was condemned by many a local chapel as a place of dubious morals. and those attending the theatre were publicly named from the pulpit by at least one Methodist minister. His theatrical company was also taken on lengthy tours of Europe, complete with scenery and an orchestra.

Photography was another obsession, and at the conclusion of a performance he would hand out postcards of himself in theatrical costume. one of which is illustrated below.

marquess2

A postcard of 1902 showing the Marquess in one of his theatrical costumes,
sparkling with jewels and diamonds from head to toe,
and a head-dress of ostrich feathers.

The Marquess's spending continued unabated, accumulating huge debts, until he was finally forced into bankruptcy on his personal estate. Jewellers headed the long list of creditors, and all his remaining possessions went on sale in what became the auction of the century, lasting 40 days, with 17,000 lots going under the hammer. Included among them were chests of pearls and diamonds, gold cigarette cases studded with rubies, the world's largest collection of walking sticks thickly encrusted with emeralds, cars converted to give off perfumed exhaust gases, carriages and yachts, wardrobes of exotic clothes of every colour, and even his beloved dogs with the family crest embroidered in silver on their coats.

Shortly after the sale the Marquess abandoned his family seat at Plas Newydd and moved to France to live, but his stay there was a short one. In 1905, at the age of thirty, he died of pneumonia at the Hotel Royale in Monte Carlo, alone and unloved. Obituaries were savage, and one recorded that "the Marquess's example will remain one of the strongest arguments against our hereditary system that the most ardent revolutionary would wish for''.

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