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Database: Lord Cardigan

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ACS DB Lord Cardigan

Date of Birth: 16 October 1797.

Lieutenant General James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan stands as a shining example of British aristocracy circa the first half of the nineteenth century; which is to say he was a pompous, blustery git who never met a failure he couldn't buy his way out of and liked to play at soldiers with very large guns and actual human lives (or, as he might have called them, "peasants").

He grew up in Buckinghamshire in the lap of luxury, as his father inherited the Earldom of Cardigan when young James was only 17. Despite being educated at some of the finest schools in England, he never earned a degree, I can't find any record of when he joined the Templars, presumably because when you're born this rich and connected the doctor removed the silver spoon from your gob, slaps you on the arse, hands you a cross pattée ring, and sends you on your way.

In 1818 he became Member of Parliament for Marlborough (a small region of Wiltshire regrettably lacking in grizzled, smoking cowboys - though if you're ever there, try a pint of Henry's at the Lamb. Ask for Jackie). This was convenient as his cousin owned the borough. Not that that stopped him from buggering off on a grand tour of Europe before taking his seat, mind; after all, one can hardly let little things like "governance" or "responsibility" get in the way of "gadding about with Russian noblewomen." When he finally did take his seat, he was an unremarkable parliamentarian and apparently an unpopular one: during a campaign in 1832, despite having spent some £20,000 (£1,660,000 in today's money), he was assaulted and badly beaten in a rally. I suppose that's what happens when you loudly and frequently use phrases like "reformist nonsense" and "preserving the ancient rights of the nobility! when winning the hearts and minds of the common folk.

Having failed rather remarkably in politics, he turned his attention to the military. Spurred on by his youthful admiration of Wellington's cavalry at Waterloo (and, I suspect, a love of all the pretty horsies), he - and I swear I am not making this up - formed his own troop of horse to "guard against reformist uprisings in Northamptonshire." When the Northants menace failed to emerge, he joined the Hussars, where over the course of a few years he bought his way up from a lieutenant's rank to lieutenant general and command of the 11th Hussars. Along the way he accumulated a court martial for "reprehensible conduct," a dismissal from the army by King William himself, and a prosecution for illegal duelling, all of which he managed to have reversed or dismissed thanks to his family connections. When he was finally sent off to India to take command of his forces, he spent a year and a half meandering his way to the colony, only to arrive just in time for a bit of tiger shooting before the 11th Hussars (who had been stationed there for several years) to be recalled to England. Lord Cardigan (he inherited the Earldom in 1837) travelled separately aboard a private yacht, because of course he did.

If I didn't think he was such a tit, I'd love him.

Despite a long and illustrious career of absolute faffery, Cardigan is most famous for leading the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava. Although initial rumours suggested that he absented himself from the battle altogether, it seems he did in fact lead the charge and from the front, no less - whatever his faults, he certainly possessed that breed of personal courage that comes from the certainty that the world would never dare lay a hand on you. Mind you, he also apparently never bothered to look back to see that his men were being slaughtered and, upon realising that the battle was lost, he retired to his private yacht for a champagne dinner, so it's not as though he was seized by the spirit of gallantry.

After the war, Cardigan returned to England, where he spent his retirement vigorously campaigning against reform and for his own recognition as a hero of the Crimea. In his (very slight) defence, he did contribute a great deal of money to many veterans' charities, and toward the end of his life he campaigned in favour of the Reform Act of 1867, but since that law served chiefly to bring the House of Commons under the dominance of the upper classes, that strikes me more as Templar machinations than any sort of change of heart.

But at least from him we get the cardigan sweater, beloved of hipsters and children's TV presenters the world over.

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