Not everyone is capable of handling near boundless wealth and power. Throughout history, there have been many very eccentric British aristocrats that have used their status and fortune in irresponsible and ridiculous ways. These strange aristocrats, nobles, and heirs to fortunes squandered their money on everything from $10,000 shoes they couldn't walk in, to a giant personal theater that existed just for their own kooky dance recitals. Some of these crazy aristocrats made well-meaning, if offbeat, attempts to help others, be kind to animals, and protect the environment. Others abused their privilege to bully commoners, terrorize their servants, and just generally cause trouble.
From the lord who wore a beard that reached down to his knees, to the aristocratic who tried (and failed) to ride a bear, the sanity of some of these rich eccentrics is highly questionable.
Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey, was born into a family with a long and respected history of military service. His relative Field Marshall Henry William Paget was named the 1st Marquess of Anglesey after he was injured by a cannonball at the battle of Waterloo.
Paget loved to put on a show - from the way he dressed to the way he behaved in public. His father died when he was in his early twenties and bestowed upon him was an annual allowance of over 50 million pounds in today’s currency. He wore many rings and used makeup. He carried a poodle wearing pink ribbons around with him during his shopping adventures in London. His cars would emanate patchouli from the exhaust pipes. He spent around half a billion pounds on gold accessories such as scarf pins, extravagant jeweled gowns, kidskin gloves, and other costumes.
Always theatrical, Paget was known as the “Dancing Marquess” because he would perform sultry dances for European audiences. He converted a chapel at his family home into a 150-seat theater. He would hire theater companies to come perform and always make sure to write in a role for himself. He went on tour with his theater company and would often include his “Butterfly Dance” in the performances.
Though he was widely considered homosexual, Paget married his beautiful cousin, likely as a way to unlock access to family money, and it's thought he never consummated the marriage, which was later annulled. He did buy her expensive jewelry, however, and enjoyed viewing it on her naked body, even asking her to wear the jewelry in her sleep.
Not surprisingly, Paget spent his way into bankruptcy, owing millions of pounds to creditors and shopkeepers, especially jewelers. In order to repay his debts, he had a massive auction, which liquidated everything from his silk coats to his dogs.
Lord Rokeby was born Matthew Robinson in England in 1712 to a wealthy, landowning father. He was highly educated, studying at Westminster and then studying law at Trinity College, Cambridge. While some of his endeavors were certainly innovative, he also had his fair share of quirks.
Beards were not popular in his time, but he didn’t let the contemporary fashions dictate the manner in which he wore his facial hair. He let his beard grow all the way down to his knees and didn’t do much in the way of trimming it.
He swore by the benefits of cold water and would go every day to swim in the sea. He built a glass bathhouse, which was filled with water contributed from a spring close at hand. He also thought people should drink more water, so he installed public water fountains and even paid people that he saw drinking from them. He refused to drink coffee, tea, or alcohol, so he would supplement his water drinking only by drinking beef broth. When he wasn’t compensating people for staying hydrated, he would often be in his bath eating lamb legs.
Despite his eccentricities, Rokeby was reportedly a relatively pleasant man; however, "though he rarely had visitors, Rokeby seemingly would regale them with long and boring poems." Many of his passions, including humane treatment of animals and eating only locally grown food, are widespread today.
He didn’t allow his tenants to grow barley because that would go to the brewers, who would pay tax, which would support the war in France, which he did not support. He also emphatically denounced doctors and even threatened members of his family that attempted to call on doctors to care for him in his old age.
John "Mad Jack" Mytton was the kind of kid that your parents warned you about. He was expelled from Westminster for trading blows with a teacher, then went on to get booted from another school. But pulling him out of school didn’t stop him from torturing educators. He once surprised one of his tutors by stabling a horse in their bedroom. Despite his distaste for academia, he eventually went on to study at Cambridge, where he was the life of the party. With him, he brought 2,000 bottles of port. Not surprisingly, he did not receive a degree.
He was receiving an absurd annual income, equaling ¾ of a million pounds in today’s currency. He used this money to bribe voters and spent nearly one million pounds getting into Parliament… then quit shortly after.
Aside from politics, Mytton loved to gamble. He once rode a horse into a hotel and spa, then galloped up the staircase to the balcony where he jumped over patrons and out the window. In another stunt, he tried to jump over a tollgate in a horse-drawn carriage, which was a failure.
He liked to encourage the children in town to engage in reckless behavior, too. He would give the children money to roll down a local hill. All of this, of course, was just to pass time while he wasn’t fox hunting in the nude.
While he enjoyed the sport of hunting, he was undoubtedly an animal lover. He would feed steak and champagne to his kennel of nearly 2,000 pet dogs. He even let his favorite horse wander the halls of his home.
Much of his behavior can be attributed to his excessive alcohol consumption. He would drink about 8 bottles of port each day and wash it down with some brandy.
Oh… and he rode a bear one time. It bit a chunk out of his leg before attacking one of his servants.
William Cavendish was the fifth Duke of Portland, and he was not a fan of socializing or the public. When he was traveling, he would not leave his carriage, but instead have it unhooked from the horses and lifted into the train car. He would wear a two-foot-tall hat and walk around with an umbrella so people couldn’t make eye contact with him. He had roughly 500 workers, and if any of them even tipped a cap to him, they would be immediately fired.
Initially, Cavendish tried to close public roads that ran across his property in order to keep people away. When the government intervened, he simply built a vast network of underground passages instead, including one almost 1.5 miles long.
His anteroom contained mailboxes for incoming and outgoing letters to his workers so he didn’t have to talk to anyone. "The special apartment used by him in the daytime was fitted with a trap-door in the floor, by which he could descend to the regions below, and thus roam about his underground tunnels without the servants knowing whether he was in the house or had left it." This allowed him to sneak around his property unobserved, and he often used it to surprise his servants with inspections.