British General, Crimean War. James Thomas Brudenell was the commander who led the disastrous cavalry charge at Balaclava in 1854 during the Crimean War and then immortalized by Lord Tennyson in the poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade." Three hundred men were killed or injured in the disastrous, ill fated charge, but Cardigan at the head of the pack, returned, astride his war horse Ronald, both unscathed. The blunder was the result of miscommunication from Lord Raglan, commander of the British troops as his orders passed down the chain of command. Beside the ill fated charge, the only thing of remembrance from this unpopular war, was the presence of Florence Nightingale and her reform minded nurses who revolutionized the treatment of battle casualties using clean sanitary methods. He was the only son of Robert, sixth Earl of Cardigan and his wife Penelope Anne Cooke and was born at Hambleden, Buckinghamshire. An elder sister preceded him in birth and seven more girls followed. He was brought up at home among the girls. His parents doted upon him and he grew up a spoiled child, domineering and headstrong. It seemed young James would never grow up. His father was impatient and expectant while waiting for him to delve into a meaningful career. He spent two years at Oxford but left without a degree. Brudenell became a largely appointed member of Parliament representing Marlborough. A hasty unhappy marriage to an already married woman, Elizabeth Johnstone, occurred in Paris but lasted until the death of James. Finally at age 28, to the chagrin of his father, he decided on a military career. He made full use of the sale commissions system then in use and his wealth came in handy as he quickly purchased his way up the chain of command becoming a Lieutenant Colonel leading to command of the 15th Hussars. However, he was forced to resign because of his inability to command due to frequent conflicts with his fellow officers. Undaunted, he reemerged as the commander of 11th Hussars. The unit was dispatched for duty in India. On his arrival back in Britain, Brudenell found that his father had died and he now was the wealthy seventh Earl of Cardigan. He spent his money lavishly on outfitting the 11th Hussars and it immerged as the smartest cavalry regiment in the army. Petty, childlike, meaningless conflicts with his officers continued, culminating in duels and trials. He made his ultimate rank purchase and became a Major General as the specter of war loomed against Russia. At 57, General Cardigan was assigned to command a cavalry brigade under Major General Lucan, an old enemy and a brother-in-law during the Crimean War. The brigade initially saw little action but hostility manifested itself between the two antagonists. The stage was set for immortality. Cardigans cavalry was camped outside Balaclava while it's eccentric commander slept aboard his luxurious yacht in the harbor. He came ashore only to lead his cavalry into the "Valley of Death" in the charge of the Light Brigade. He was first in and the first out after the attack on the Russian guns. The gleeful and amazed, hiding Russians, lining each side of the valley called the maneuver a suicide charge as they gunned down the men of Cardigan's brigade. He returned to England a hero, not for being victorious but because of his bravery. The General was showered with honors. He was made Inspector General of Cavalry, Commander Legion of Honor and Knight, second class, Order of Medjidie. For good measure, he was made Colonel of the 5th Dragoon Guards with a promotion to Lieutenant General. He rested on his laurels for the rest of his life insisting on being regarded as a hero. His retirement years were spent at Deene Park, his Northamptonshire seat. Oddly, he died from injuries caused by a fall from his horse while on a morning ride. He was interred at Deene St. Peter, the nearby church of the Brudenells in the south chapel which has been the burial place of the family since 1514. His vault also contains the remains of his wife. The church has a memorial window installed in 1869 honoring the famed leader who let the Charge of the Light Brigade. Legacy... Cardigan was always impeccably dressed and the knitted vest he wore to protect himself from the severe Russian winter was named after him in honor of his courageous though ill advised act. The collarless, three-button V-neck that we know as the cardigan today bears little resemblance to the original. A derogative British book written by Cecil Woodham Smith, "The Reason Why: The Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade" was written in 1953 followed by a 1968 film "The Homicidal Earl" based on the book which was another critical assessment of Lord Cardigan. Deene Park surrounds the historic 16th century manor that has been home to the Brudenell family since 1514. Both the house and grounds are available for hosting parties. Open to the public, each room exhibits, family portraits, army uniforms and many artifacts from the life of Lord Cardigan including the head of his horse "Ronald" which is mounted and kept in a glass case. (bio by: Donald Greyfield)
Burial: Deene Saint Peter Churchyard Deene East Northamptonshire Borough Northamptonshire, England Plot: Brudenell family burials, South Chapel
Maintained by: Find A Grave Record added: Sep 11, 1999
Find A Grave Memorial# 6302
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One very brave man,led the charge and lived. Poor communication may have been responsible for the charge but make no mistake this man was as brave as they came and did his duty. -
Neil Bancroft Added: Aug. 29, 2015