The story of "Lord Uxbridge's Leg" is one of the Idle Historian's favourite anecdotes, and is a footnote to one of the most famous battles in British history. The following alleged exchange occurred with the Duke of Wellington towards the end of the Battle of Waterloo, when Uxbridge (who was commanding a contingent of cavalry and artillery) was hit by cannon fire:
Lord Uxbridge: "By God, sir, I've lost my leg!"
The Duke of Wellington: "By God, sir, so you have!"
Lord Uxbridge, as the original caption has it, "with both legs"
The unfortunate Henry Paget, Earl of Uxbridge (within days of the battle to be bestowed with a new title, the Marquess of Anglesey, along with the honour of being made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath) was then rushed to British headquarters for the brutal amputation of his leg, long before the days of surgical anesthetic (or hygienic surgery for that matter).
His stoicism and composure, evident from the tenor of the exchange with the Duke of Wellington, were in full evidence - one of the factors that, no doubt, contributed to his legend. The story is one of the British "stiff upper lip" personified. One story has him commenting wryly: "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." Yet another account has him commenting that the knives used for the procedure appeared to be somewhat on the dull side. (Although, as was done, a saw was used, and the item is in the possession of the National Army Museum in Chelsea).
As a rather curious, and perhaps also macabre note, the amputated leg was buried in Waterloo, and its "tomb" became a rather offbeat tourist attraction for the many who learned of Uxbridge's military exploits and brave fatalism. The inscription on the "tombstone" was as follows:
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.
The story appeals to the Idle Historian for the same reasons as it did to those who have visited the "tomb" and recounted the battlefield anecdote in the almost 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo. We admire those who take it all in stride even when things go badly, who can laugh off their misfortune and continue quite merrily along as did the indefatigable Uxbridge. The loss of his leg did nothing to harm his ambition or his fortunes. He later became both a Field Marshal and Knight of the Garter and held many important positions before his death in 1854, almost 40 years after the battle that made him legendary.
Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils