A stunning diamond tiara, owned by one of the most flamboyant and notorious characters of the British aristocracy, is offered for sale by Hancocks London. Known as the black sheep of his family, Henry Cyril Paget, the 5th Marquis of Anglesey, died at the age of 29 in March 1905, having a debt equal to £60 million.
The flamboyant aristocrat spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on lavish clothing, jewels and his own travelling theatre productions, including the exquisite Victorian tiara with a detachable necklace.
The headdress, which has stayed in the family for generations, is being offered for sale by Hancocks London, the award-winning jewellers who have recently been recognised as the best independent jewellers in Mayfair.
Created in about 1890, the tiara is made up of a graduated row of over 100 carats of old European and old mine-cut diamonds that can be detached to form a beautiful rivière necklace. It is surrounded by scroll and cluster motifs, and a velvet-covered band is interspersed with curved tines topped with graduated pear-shaped diamond-set motifs.
It was owned by Paget in the late 19th century, who had a passion for fine jewellery and who wore a great deal of it himself, bankrupting himself in the process. A lover of the arts, he converted the chapel into the 150-Gaiety Theatre at the family’s seat in Anglesey and was known as the ‘Dancing Marquess’ because of his habit of starring in the lavish shows he created for friends and family.
“The composer, novelist and painter Lord Berners wrote after witnessing one such spectacle: “There was a roll on the drums, and the curtain went up on Lord Anglesey, dressed in a white silk tunic, a giant diamond tiara on his head, gleaming with necklaces, brooches, bracelets, and rings.
Guy Burton of Hancocks London said: “This is a unique piece in every way. The 5th Marquess was a fabulously extravagant character even by the standards of his day. He really was the black sheep of his very distinguished family.
“If jewels could talk, this tiara would have a fascinating story to tell. It was undoubtedly worn by the Marquess in his productions and, later, the 6th Marchioness of Anglesey, Lady Marjorie, was photographed wearing it by Cecil Beaton at King George VI’s coronation in 1937.
“It’s a truly magnificent piece and, needless to say, jewellery of this provenance and story rarely appears on the open market so we are particularly excited to unveil it at one of the world’s most prestigious art fairs next year.”
Popular for his extravagant spending and colourful social life, he had largely spent the vast amounts he inherited along with his title in 1898 within six years.
The money went on clothing, jewels and his theatre productions, especially his pantomime costumes in which he often played the lead.
His Henry V jewel-bedecked outfit was estimated to have cost £ 40,000 (today’s equivalent of £ 4.8 million) and his Aladdin suit may have cost as much as £ 100,000 (today’s cash equivalent of £ 12 million).
By 1904, huge debts had accrued and he was forced to declare himself bankrupt. In order to pay off creditors, much of his expensive wardrobe and jewellery were sold. The family kept the tiara.
After a long illness of only 29 years in Monte Carlo, Henry Cyril Paget died the following year. His remains were returned to the parish church of St Edwen in Llanedwen, near the seat of the family on Anglesey, for burial. The Times recorded that he was much liked by locals, despite his colourful notoriety. His nephew, Charles Henry Alexander Paget, who became the 6th Marquess of Anglesey, handed over the title and family properties.
Charles left the wearing of jewellery to his wife Marjorie, who now took possession of the jewels that had not been sold off to repay Paget’s creditors, being of a more cautious bent than his cousin. He destroyed the paper of his cousin and turned the Theater of Gaiety back into the chapel of the family. Charles served as Lord Chamberlain to Queen Mary after a distinguished military service, and over the coming decades, the Pagets retained strong links to the Royal family.
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