December 9, 2009


As you may be aware, I like to dabble in the study of history. Every now and then I pick up my well-worn copy of the Wordsworth Dictionary of Military Biography. My paperback version was published in 1997. I have used this reference numerous times and I have gotten far more value from this book than the measly $2.99 I paid.

I opened the book at random last night and read the entry on Lord Cardigan. Here is what I read:
Cardigan, James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of (1797-1868)

Lord Cardigan, one of the most unattractive personalities ever to hold a senior command in the British Army, has gone down in history as the leader of the 'Charge of the Light Brigade'. A man of undoubted physical courage but very few other admirable qualities... (page 44)

Time usually gives us a clear picture of an individual. Admirable and irascible qualities are usually leveled out to give a fairly neutral portrait of a person.

Lord Cardigan must have been an unmitigated asshole. It appears his only redeeming quality was the design of the woolen sweater that still bears his name.

More research into Lord Cardigan shows some similar flaws. According to Wikipedia (always a suspect source), Cardigan was a jerk in his love life:
In 1823, Brudenell fell in love with Mrs. Elizabeth Tollemache Johnstone (8 December 1797 - 15 July 1858). Her husband, Lt.-Col. Christian Johnstone, started divorce proceedings in June 1824 and the divorce was finalised in June 1826. Johnstone was apparently happy to be rid of her, calling her “the most damned bad-tempered and extravagant bitch in the kingdom”. She and Brudenell married on 19 June 1826. It was not a happy marriage; they separated in 1846, and had no children.

After scandalising society by leaving Elizabeth, on 20 September 1858 he married Adeline de Horsey, achieving still greater notoriety as he had been conducting an affair with her as his wife was dying. This, however, was a happy union, notwithstanding the disparity in their ages. Adeline, harshly excluded from fashionable society for the rest of her days, accustomed herself to life in the country while James spent large sums of money making their home together comfortable. Adeline even remained on good terms with James's principal mistress, Maria Marchioness of Ailesbury, and tolerated his other affairs.[3]

In 1841 Cardigan was prosecuted for "cheating" in a duel with one of his former officers. He was accused of using a rifled pistol with a hair trigger. He escaped through a legal technicality.

As a military commander Cardigan routinely court marshalled and reprimanded his officers for petty discrepancies. He once forbade a certain kind of wine in the mess because he thought the bottle was too common.

His blame for the disastrous charge of his Brigade at Balaclava remains controversial. The officer who gave the order to charge died in the attempt, so what Cardigan was told remains a mystery. Eyewitness reports claimed Cardigan fled the field before reaching the Russian guns, an accusation he denied to his death.

A contemporary of Lord Cardigan, Cecil Woodham Smith, described him as follows:
He had in addition to courage another characteristic which impressed itself on all who met him. He was, alas, unusually stupid; in fact [he was] an ass. The melancholy truth was that his glorious golden head had nothing in it.

That, my friends, is quite a legacy.

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