Paget, Sir Arthur Henry Fitzroy (1851–1928), soldier, commander in Ireland at the time of the 1914 Curragh crisis, was born 1 March 1851 in Berkeley Square, London, eldest son among six sons and eight daughters of Gen. Lord Alfred Henry Paget (1816–88), CB, equerry and clerk marshal of the royal household, and Cecilia Paget (née Wyndham), a wealthy Norfolk heiress. The family had long associations with the army and court: Paget's grandfather Henry William Paget (qv), 2nd earl of Uxbridge and 1st marquis of Anglesey, was commander of the allied cavalry at Waterloo (where he lost a leg) and lord lieutenant of Ireland (1828–9, 1830–33). As a boy Paget was a page of honour to Queen Victoria. Educated at Wellington college, he entered the Scots Guards (1869), serving in the Ashanti war on the Gold Coast of west Africa (1873–4), in the Suakin campaign in the Sudan (1885), in Burma (1887–8), and again in Sudan (1888–9). Brevet-colonel in command of the 1st Battalion, Scots Guards (1895–1900), in the South African war he saw action in the advances along the Cape Colony frontier and to Bloemfontein. Promoted to major-general (April 1900), he commanded 20th Infantry Brigade on the march to Pretoria, and played a principal role in the last orthodox pitched battle of the war, the assault on Rhenoster Kop (29 November). After quarrelling with his superior, he resigned his command and returned in a huff to Britain (June 1901), where he received command of the 1st Division, Aldershot (1902–6). Promoted to lieutenant-general and knighted (1906), he served as general officer commanding-in-chief of the Eastern Command (1908–11) and the Irish Command (1911–14). Possessed of considerable wealth, Paget won renown less as a soldier than as a bon vivant; his close friendship from boyhood with the prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) – the two were regular social companions – was an incalculable asset throughout his career. Pompous and verbose in speech, headstrong when aroused, though gallant in the field, Paget was neither cool nor clear-headed; intellectually shallow, he boasted to have ‘lived history rather than read it’ (Times obit.).
In March 1914 Paget – fresh from meetings in London with the army council and a special cabinet committee on Ulster – precipitated the so-called Curragh ‘mutiny’ by grossly and melodramatically misrepresenting orders regarding precautionary troop movements intended to safeguard against possible seizures of arms depots by the Ulster Volunteers. At a conference with seven of his senior officers (20 March), he tactlessly concentrated not on the immediate modest deployments, but on the possible implications of the contingency plans discussed in London for larger operations in the event of conflict with the Ulster Volunteers. In a temper, he announced that active and extensive operations in Ulster were about to commence, predicting that within a day the country ‘would be in a blaze’. Instructed when in London that the few officers of his command domiciled in Ulster might be exempted from participation in the operation, but that other officers declining to participate were to be dismissed from the army, he directed that each officer must decide whether to serve in the operation or to tender his resignation forthwith and face dismissal. Paget would later assert that his intention had been to ascertain the officers upon whom he could rely, and later again (and contradictorily) that he never had intended that the decision be put to junior officers; but the majority of his senior officers understood the directive as an ultimatum to be placed before all officers in their commands. By the evening, Brig.-gen. Hubert Gough (qv) and sixty other officers of 3rd Cavalry Brigade, stationed at the Curragh and Marlborough barracks, Dublin, had determined to resign their commissions. Requested by the Curragh officers for clarification of the orders, Paget, determined to ‘put some heart in them’, further exacerbated the situation with another long-winded, rambling, contradictory discourse (21 March). When Gough and other key dissident officers, summoned to London, testified their willingness to have obeyed any direct order to move to Ulster, the onus of blame for the crisis centred on Paget's having placed before them an alternative. Advised by several high-ranking military supporters in concert with leading unionist politicians, Gough then secured an extraordinary written guarantee that his command would receive no orders to enforce the home rule bill on Ulster (23 March). When it transpired that the full terms of the guarantee exceeded those agreed by the cabinet, the prime minister, Herbert Asquith, repudiated the additional terms, resulting in the resignations of those responsible for issuing them, including the war minister, J. E. B. Seely, and the military chief of staff, Sir John French (qv). Paget also offered his resignation (which was not accepted), largely for having incorrectly assured his men that the orders had been sanctioned by the king – which assurance had proved critical in persuading the majority of infantry and artillery officers to remain in their posts.
Paget's inept handling of the Curragh affair precluded his obtaining a field command during the first world war. Relieved of the Irish command and recalled to Britain, he commanded the 1st Army of the Central Force constituted out of the mobilised Territorial Army for home defence. In 1915 he was appointed commander in the Salisbury training centre, preparing troops for deployment overseas. After retiring in 1918, he spent most of his time in Cannes, prominent in yachting circles on the Riviera. His other recreations included racing, hunting, fishing, and golf; an avid gardener, he had a wide amateur knowledge of botany. He had residences at 35 Belgrave Sq., London, and Warren House, Coombe, Kingston Hall, Surrey. He was created a CVO (1901), CB (1904), KCVO (1906), KCB (1907), PC (Ireland) (1912), GCB (1913), and King at Arms, OBE (1918); an ADC General to King George V (1910–14), he was a grand officer of the Légion d'honneur, and held several other foreign orders. He married (1878) Mary Stevens (d. 1919) of New York, USA; strong-minded and vivacious, she became a prominent London hostess. They had three sons (the eldest of whom, a colonel of hussars, died in France in 1917 from the effects of gas poisoning) and one daughter. Paget died in Cannes on 9 December 1928, leaving an unsettled estate of £22,708.