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Brudenell, James Thomas, seventh earl of Cardiganfree

  • John Sweetman

James Thomas Brudenell, seventh earl of Cardigan (1797–1868)

by George Zobel, pubd 1856 (after Henry Wyndham Phillips)

Brudenell, James Thomas, seventh earl of Cardigan (1797–1868), army officer, only surviving son of Robert, sixth earl of Cardigan (d. 1837), and his wife, Penelope Ann Cooke (d. 1826), was born at the Manor House, Hambleden, Buckinghamshire, on 16 October 1797; he had seven sisters. He grew tall and slender, with long golden hair and whiskers, pale blue eyes, and an aristocratic nose. From 1811 until 1813 he attended Harrow School, and then lived at the family home of Deene Park, Northamptonshire, before studying at Christ Church, Oxford (1815–17). Subsequently, he undertook the grand tour, and became an accomplished shot, swordsman, and horseman. In 1823 Captain Frederick Johnstone obtained £1000 damages from Brudenell for holding 'criminal conversation' with his wife, but declined further satisfaction with duelling pistols. A life of adultery and bravado had truly begun. Following her divorce, Brudenell married Elizabeth Johnstone (née Tollemache) (1797–1858) on 26 June 1826 in the chapel at Ham House, Richmond, Surrey.

Brudenell sat in parliament for the corporation borough of Marlborough, controlled by his cousin Charles, second earl of Ailesbury, from 1818 until 1829, when his tenure was terminated for opposing the Catholic Relief Bill. He represented another rotten borough, Fowey in Cornwall (1830–32), until its abolition by the Reform Act. He was then elected MP for the northern division of Northamptonshire in December 1832 and re-elected three years later, but left the Commons in 1837 after succeeding to a peerage.

Never devoted to politics, Brudenell instead yearned to join the army. In November 1819 he raised a troop of yeomanry from the tenants at Deene Park, and on 6 May 1824 purchased a regular commission as cornet in the 8th hussars. Gazetted lieutenant on 13 January 1825, after three months on half pay he secured a vacancy in the 8th hussars, advancing (again by purchase) to captain on 9 June 1826 and major on 3 August 1830. Four months later, on 3 December 1830, Brudenell went on half pay as a lieutenant-colonel until 16 March 1832, when he reputedly paid over £35,000 for command of the 15th hussars. His overbearing manner and violent temper brought frequent clashes with regimental officers. He twice put Captain Augustus Wathen under arrest and, when a court-martial vindicated Wathen, he was removed from command, returning to the half-pay list on 21 March 1834. Thoroughly incensed, Brudenell lobbied furiously for another regiment. Through his sister Harriet, married to Queen Adelaide's chamberlain, Lord Howe, he sought royal support; and he subjected senior politicians and influential officers to personal pressure. The military secretary at the Horse Guards, Lord Fitzroy Somerset (later Lord Raglan), after one of many confrontations, remarked: 'Lord Brudenell favoured me with another of his disagreeable visits yesterday' (Sweetman, 94). Brudenell's offensive paid off: on 30 March 1836 he obtained command of the 11th hussars for some £40,000, joining his new regiment in India shortly before it returned to England.

Brudenell's father died on 14 August 1837 (his mother had died in 1826), and he succeeded as seventh earl of Cardigan. He inherited an estimated annual income of £40,000 with Deene Park and other properties in Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Yorkshire, and London, where one house (17 Carlton House Terrace) was later leased to the French exile Louis Napoleon (afterwards Emperor Napoleon III). Cardigan rode with the Quorn, Pytchley, and Cottesmore hunts, frequented London clubs (the Travellers', White's, Boodle's, and the short-lived Military and Country Service Club), gambled excessively, bought the steam yacht Dryad for £10,000, and entertained lavishly at Deene Park. His marriage, however, had by then failed, though the Cardigans would never divorce. The seventh earl found solace elsewhere, reputedly siring several illegitimate offspring, and being publicly accused by Lord William Paget of conducting an affair with his wife.

Cardigan petitioned in vain to become lord lieutenant of Northamptonshire and to be awarded the Garter. Professionally, his eccentric and authoritarian behaviour brought no better relations with officers of the 11th hussars than with those of the 15th, though a letter in the United Service Gazette (12 October 1850) would praise his concern for the welfare of his soldiers. He had Captain John Reynolds arrested for supposedly drinking porter at a mess dinner in the notorious ‘Black Bottle’ incident, court-martialled Captain Richard Reynolds, placed Lieutenant William Forrest under arrest for a minor offence, causing that officer to complain to the commander-in-chief, and verbally harassed and bullied others. On 12 September 1840, Cardigan fought a duel with a former officer, Harvey Tuckett, and was arrested; but in April 1841 the House of Lords, before whom he had opted to be tried, acquitted him on a legal technicality. Attacked in the press, hissed and booed at in theatres, Cardigan was further reviled for the 'atrocity' of ordering a flogging after divine service on Easter Sunday 1841. In exasperation the commander-in-chief, Lord Hill, exclaimed: 'I am thoroughly sick of the 11th! And all that belongs to it!' (Sweetman, 96). The United Service Club repeatedly blackballed him.

Promoted colonel on 9 November 1846, Cardigan still eschewed popularity, concentrating on rigorous discipline and creating a sartorially elegant regiment, towards which he contributed a considerable amount of his own money. When the Crimean War broke out he was appointed brigadier-general in command of the light brigade of the cavalry division. With no experience of active service and aged fifty-six, Cardigan suffered from piles, constipation, chronic bronchitis, and urinary discomfort. Nevertheless, he set out enthusiastically from London on 8 May 1854, reaching Scutari sixteen days later. On 20 June 1854 he became a major-general, which did not prevent confrontation with his brother-in-law and tetchy superior officer, the earl of Lucan. When the light brigade moved to Bulgaria, Lucan remained at Scutari; Cardigan therefore believed himself to be independent of the divisional commander, which Lucan hotly disputed. Raglan's appeal to them as 'both gentlemen of high honour, and of elevated position in the country, independently of their military rank' (Sweetman, 235) failed to quell the acrimony. Raglan unwittingly exacerbated the situation by praising Cardigan for his conduct during a lengthy reconnaissance with his brigade along the Danube in June and July, and at the first skirmish in the Crimea on the Bulganek River on 19 September, where 'it was impossible for any troops to exhibit more steadiness' (Sweetman, 220).

When the allied invaders laid siege to Sevastopol from uplands to the south, the cavalry division camped on the plain below ready to protect the British supply port of Balaklava. Owing to his medical condition, Cardigan dined and slept on the Dryad in Balaklava harbour. Thus he was not with the brigade shortly after dawn on 25 October, as Russian troops overran a line of redoubts along a ridge north of Balaklava and an enemy cavalry squadron was turned back near the village of Kadikoi by the ‘thin red line’. He had assumed command when another, stronger cavalry force swept over the captured ridge, to be checked by the heavy brigade as the light brigade remained immobile on its left flank. Criticized for lethargy, Cardigan replied that Lucan had ordered him to move only if attacked by the Russians. Lucan maintained that he had required Cardigan 'to attack anything and everything that shall come within reach of you' (Sweetman, 247).

The main action (the 'charge of the light brigade') took place shortly after 11 a.m. Seeing the Russians about to withdraw captured British guns from the redoubts, Raglan sent Captain L. E. Nolan with a written order to Lucan for 'the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, and try to prevent the enemy taking away the guns' (Sweetman, 249). Instead of advancing towards the ridge, Cardigan led his brigade down the valley against enemy cannon drawn up ahead: they advanced 'to the front', certainly, but the guns were not being taken away. Of the 673 men and horses that started out, 113 men and 475 horses were killed, 247 men and 42 horses badly injured. Rebuked by Raglan, Cardigan pointed to a direct order from Lucan. Lucan in turn blamed Nolan, who had died in the action, for imprecise clarification of the order; but Raglan officially censured Lucan. Whoever was at fault, Cardigan's personal bravery was acknowledged by a survivor, Captain William Morris: 'He led like a gentleman' (Thomas, 253).

Before the close of the year Cardigan had been invalided home. In England he was lauded in the press, dined with the queen, attended banquets in his honour, and was greeted in Northampton by the strains of 'See the conquering hero comes'. The United Service Club even made him an honorary member. He was also created KCB (7 July 1855), commander of the Légion d'honneur, and knight second class of the Mejidiye. Cardigan's querulous nature, though, had not been calmed. Learning that A. W. Kinglake was writing an account of the charge, Cardigan subjected him to lengthy and tedious correspondence. He reacted vigorously to the assertion by one of Raglan's aides-de-camp, the Hon. S. J. G. Calthorpe, in his book Letters from Headquarters, that he had returned down the valley at Balaklava without waiting to rally survivors: he started legal proceedings and challenged Lucan to a duel for supporting Calthorpe. Farce then ensued when Lucan arrived in Paris after his would-be opponent had recrossed the channel. Cardigan's legal action also failed, having been initiated five years after the alleged libel.

In 1859 Cardigan became colonel of the 5th dragoon guards, relinquishing that post the following year for a similar one with the 11th hussars, at whose annual dinner in 1865 he and ‘Black Bottle’ Reynolds, now both white-haired but erect, made their peace. In May 1866 Cardigan reviewed his old regiment on its departure for India. Appointed inspector-general of cavalry in 1855, after the normal period in post he retired in 1860, and he was promoted lieutenant-general on 9 March 1861.

At the age of sixty-five Cardigan fell badly while hunting and thereafter suffered occasional seizures. His taste for flirtation hardly diminished, however: he seduced Sir William Leeson's young wife, and in 1857 took as his mistress Adeline De Horsey [see Lancastre Saldanha, Adeline Louisa Maria de (1824-1915)]. Elizabeth, Cardigan's estranged wife, died on 12 July 1858, and on 28 September Cardigan married Adeline in the garrison chapel, Gibraltar, though his new bride was never fully accepted by his social circle. Cardigan still frequented race meetings, owned an expensive yacht, and remained a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and commodore of the Royal Southern Yacht Club. His extravagance, however, led to his mortgaging part of the estate in 1864, and when he died on 28 March 1868, two days after again falling from his horse, Adeline faced estimated debts of £365,000 with assets of £60,000. After lying in state at Deene Park, Cardigan's body was entombed in the Brudenell chapel of St Peter's Church. The earldom devolved on Cardigan's second cousin, the marquess of Ailesbury.

Undoubtedly bad tempered, intolerant, and ultra-conservative, Cardigan was nevertheless motivated by a perverse sense of duty, which caused him bravely to advance at the head of the light brigade, be solicitous towards old soldiers, and encourage others formally to adhere to the Anglican faith, as he did himself. Belying the mischievous contention that a childhood riding accident had left him empty-headed, Cardigan published two books, Eight Months on Active Service (1855), and Cavalry Brigade Movements (1861); and three pamphlets, Trial of James Thomas, earl of Cardigan, before the Right Honourable House of Peers, for felony (1841), The Earl of Cardigan v Lieutenant-Colonel Calthorpe, Proceedings in the Queen's Bench (1863), and Statement and Remarks upon the Affidavits Filed by Lieutenant-Colonel Calthorpe (1863).


  • Army List
  • D. Thomas, Charge! hurrah! hurrah! A life of Cardigan of Balaclava (1974)
  • J. Sweetman, Raglan: from the Peninsula to the Crimea (1993)
  • C. Woodham-Smith, The reason why (1958)
  • C. Hibbert, The destruction of Lord Raglan [1961]
  • A. W. Kinglake, The invasion of the Crimea, 4 (1868)
  • P. Compton, Cardigan of Balaclava (1972)
  • J. Wake, The Brudenells of Deene [1953]
  • S. David, The homicidal earl: the life of Lord Cardigan (1997)


  • Northants. RO, corresp., military notebook, and papers
  • BL, corresp. with Sir Robert Peel, Add. MSS 40419–40560, passim
  • BL, letters to marquess of Tweeddale
  • CUL, letters to A. W. Kinglake regarding the battle of Balaklava
  • Lpool RO, letters to fourteenth earl of Derby
  • NAM, corresp.with Lord Raglan
  • NL Scot., corresp. with Sir George Brown
  • Northants. RO, letters to the rector of Deene


  • J. E. Ferneley, group portrait, oils, 1850, Deene Park, Northamptonshire
  • J. Sant, oils, 1855, Deene Park, Northamptonshire
  • attrib. H. W. Phillips, oils, 1856, Deene Park, Northamptonshire
  • G. Zobel, mezzotint, pubd 1856 (after H. W. Phillips), NPG [see illus.]
  • G. H. Laporte, oils, 1868, Deene Park, Northamptonshire
  • A. F. de Prades, oils, 1868, Deene Park, Northamptonshire
  • J. E. Boehm, figure on monument, St Peter's Church, Deene, Northamptonshire
  • R. Buckner, oils, Deene Park, Northamptonshire
  • G. Hayter, group portrait, oils (The House of Commons, 1833), NPG
  • L. MacDonald, marble bust, Grawsworth Hall, Cheshire
  • A. F. de Prades, oils, NAM
  • bust; formerly, United Service Club, London
  • pencil and watercolour drawing, NPG
  • portraits, repro. in Wake, Brudenells of Deene

Wealth at Death

under £60,000: probate, 23 June 1868, CGPLA Eng. & Wales