The Duke of Wellington trumped Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, but he and his friends didn't escape unscathed. One of the British commanders, cavalry champ Henry Paget, Lord Uxbridge, lost a leg, but gained international fame in the process.
Wellington wasn't a big fan of having Uxbridge as his second. Perhaps the animosity came from the fact that Uxbridge stole the wife of Wellington's little brother. A friend of the duke told him, "Lord Uxbridge has the reputation of running away with everybody he can," to which Wellington responded that he'd make sure Uxbridge didn't run away with him.
During the battle, Wellington ordered the cavalry to charge, and Uxbridge decided to lead his forces himself. But just as he was about to gallop into the melee, a cannonball splintered his right knee. According to legend, Uxbridge cried out, "By God! I've lost my leg," and sassy Wellington quipped in reply, "Have you, by God?" Contemporary traditions also have a stoic Uxbridge calmly ride his horse to the rear of the cavalry, where he was taken into Waterloo itself and into surgery.
The chaotic Battle of Waterloo.
Unfortunately for Uxbridge, the surgeons couldn't save his limb, which was amputated. The morning after the operation, Uxbridge still had his British stiff upper lip and sense of humor in place. When he was brought to the house of a Belgian noblewoman, the Marquise d'Assche, he told his hostess, "Well, Marquise, you see I shan't be able to dance with you any more except with a wooden leg."
According to Uxbridge's aide-de-camp, the "owner of the house where the operation was performed," Monsieur Paris, decided to keep the lost leg. He "placed the leg in a wooden coffin" and kept it as a relic for visitors. Paris planted a weeping willow over the leg grave and put up a plaque memorializing the limb's former master, which read: "Here is interred the leg of the illustrious, brave, and valiant Lord Uxbridge... who, by his heroism, contributed to the triumph of the cause of mankind, so gloriously decided by the victory of that day."
On the first anniversary of Waterloo, the wife of a British bishop visited Paris's leg memorial to see the chair where Uxbridge sat in surgery and the relic, reverenced in a nearly religious way. Years later, legend has it that Uxbridge and his sons came to Paris's house, saw the leg, and ate dinner on the table "on which he had lain for the amputation of the limb."
When he got home to Britain, the Prince Regent (later King George IV) honored his one-legged wonder of a soldier, making him the Marquess of Anglesey. He remained a royal favorite; when George IV mandated that his friend, astride a steed, dismount, Uxbridge was distressed since he'd left his walking leg at home. He admitted he was "unable to walk with his riding leg on," which made everyone around him laugh cruelly.
Rumor has it that the lord wore a so-called "clapper leg," a prosthetic limb that made a clapping sound when he walked; it was called the "Anglesey leg" after its famous wearer. The false leg and a stump sock were memorialized in a Welsh museum.
Feature image of Uxbridge's false leg via Household Cavalry Museum/Waterloo200.org.