James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan bigraphy, stories - Officer commanding Charge of the Light Brigade, Battle of Balaclava

James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan : biography

16 October 1797 - 28 March 1868

Lieutenant General James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, KCB (16 October 1797 – 28 March 1868), was an officer in the British Army who commanded the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. He led the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava.

Throughout his life in politics and his long military career he characterised the arrogant and extravagant aristocrat of the period. His progression through the Army was marked by many episodes of extraordinary incompetence, but this can be measured against his generosity to the men under his command and genuine bravery. As a member of the landed aristocracy he had actively and steadfastly opposed any political reform in Britain, but in the last year of his life he relented and came to acknowledge that such reform would bring benefit to all classes of society.


After his retirement in 1866 he lived happily at Deene, passing his time with horse-racing, hunting and shooting. His passion for expensive steam yachts was undiminished and, in one of the few social gatherings where he and Adeline found some acceptance, he attended Cowes Week every year, as Commodore of the Royal Southern Yacht Club.

His parliamentary life continued, with the occasional foray to London to speak in the House of Lords on military matters and to continue to press for further official recognition of his glorious career. He surprised some commentators when, in 1867, he spoke in favour of the second Reform Bill. In acknowledging his change of heart he said that the time for trying to stem the tide of reform, an endeavour in which he had long strived, had passed and given "good luck" the extension of the vote would "confer... a great benefit upon every class of the community". In 1868 he presented to the House a petition calling for additional recognition of the late General Henry Shrapnel, inventor of the explosive artillery shell, in recognition of its effectiveness at Waterloo.

He died from injuries caused by a fall from his horse on 28 March 1868, possibly following a stroke.Woodham-Smith (1953: 271–272)

Cultural Depictions

The Charge of the Light Brigade, a 1968 film based on Woodham-Smith's research, made Cardigan (played by Trevor Howard) its primary antagonist. The movie depicts Cardigan as a harsh disciplinarian, womanizer and military incompetent. It shows the "black bottle" affair, though it incorrectly makes Louis Nolan Cardigan's antagonist, and heavily features his rivalry with Lord Lucan. It also fictitiously shows Cardigan pursuing an affair with Fanny Duberly.

George Macdonald Fraser's Flashman novels feature Cardigan as a recurring villain. In the first installment, he commands Flashman in the 11th Hussars and transfers him to India after a duel. Cardigan reappears in Flashman at the Charge, where Flashman catches Cardigan trying to seduce his wife Elspeth. Flashman later reluctantly joins Cardigan for the Charge of the Light Brigade. He appears briefly in Flashman in the Great Game, where Cardigan demands Flashman defend Cardigan's reputation against hostile journalists. Flashman not only refuses but pointedly insults Cardigan. His last mention comes in Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, where Flashman observes Cardigan's liaison with Fanny Paget.


Beyond all other interests, which included politics and the preservation of the ancient privileges of the aristocracy against the reformist climate of the period, Brudenell committed himself to a career in the army.David (1997: 27) At the age of 22 he formed his own troop of horse, armed from official stocks, to guard against possible reformist demonstrations in Northamptonshire. On 6 May 1824, at the age of 27, he joined the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars. Making extensive use of the purchase of commissions system then in use he became a Lieutenant in January 1825, a Captain in June 1826, a Major in August 1830 and a Lieutenant-Colonel, albeit on half-pay, only three months later, on 3 December 1830. He obtained command of the 15th The King's Hussars—at a reported premium of £35,000—on 16 March 1832.

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