- "Tiresome man. Always blathering on about his military adventures."
- ―Mary Anne Disraeli describing Cardigan, 1868.[src]
James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan (1797 – 1868) was a general in the British Army noted for leading the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava. He was also a member of the British Rite of the Templar Order, serving as a Tory member of the House of Commons and amassing vast fortunes at the expense of the working class.
Brudenell grew up in Buckinghamshire in luxury as a member of a wealthy family, his father having inherited the Earldom of Cardigan when the former was only 17. Although he was educated at some of England's most prestigious schools, Brudenell never earned a degree. The circumstances of his joining the Templar Order are unknown, although it is likely that his position in high society brought him into the Order at a young age.
In 1818, Brudenell became a member of the House of Commons for Marlborough, Wiltshire, a pocket borough owned by his cousin, the Earl of Ailesbury. Before taking his seat in Parliament, Brudenell took the traditional Grand Tour of Europe, including Sweden and Russia. After taking his seat on his return, he became an insignificant Tory politician and worked to preserve the ancient rights of the nobility while preventing reform; this did not make him popular with the majority of his constituents, who were working or middle class.
His questionable entry into the House of Commons meant that he was eventually thrown out. During a campaign for re-election in 1832, he was assaulted and badly beaten at a rally, but was able to regain his seat in Parliament after distributing £20,000, equivalent to £1,660,000 by modern standards, among the electorate.
Early military career
Due to his lack of success in politics, Brudenell turned to the army and formed his own horse troop guard against potential reformist uprisings in Northamptonshire, inspired by his youthful admiration of the Duke of Wellington's cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo. He then joined the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars and through the purchase of commissions, he rose from lieutenant to lieutenant general over the years. During this period, he was court-martialed for "reprehensible conduct", dismissed from the army by King William IV himself and prosecuted for illegal dueling, all of which Cardigan managed to have reversed or dismissed thanks to his family connections.
In 1836, Brudenell was given command of the 11th Hussars and was sent to India to command his forces, although he spent a year and a half traveling there. When he arrived, the Hussars had already been stationed there for several years. After he had spent some time hunting tigers, his regiment was recalled to England. Rather than sailing aboard a warship, Brudenell traveled home separately aboard a private yacht. In the meantime, he had inherited the Earldom of Cardigan.
Battle of Balaclava
After the Crimean War broke out in 1853, Cardigan was sent to Crimea as a cavalry officer alongside his brother-in-law Lord Lucan, whom he hated. During the campaign, he spent much of his time dining aboard his yacht. After British forces under Lord Raglan had taken Balaclava, their Russian opponents captured several of their redoubts and artillery in late October 1854. In response, Raglan ordered Lucan to send the Light Brigade to harass the Russians at the captured redoubts. Due to misinformation from the officer carrying the order, Lucan ordered Cardigan to lead a direct charge against a fortified Russian artillery position at the end of the valley between the Fedyukhin Heights and the Causeway Heights.
Despite initial rumors suggesting that he had left the battle entirely, it seems most likely that Cardigan did indeed follow the order and gallop ahead, leading the cavalry directly at the Russian artillery in a surprising display of bravery. However, the charge proved a disaster, and upon reaching the Russian position, Cardigan had not realized that the Light Brigade had suffered massive casualties. After a brief fight at the artillery position, he rode back through the valley. By the end of the battle, the Light Brigade had 40% casualties.
Return to politics and serving Starrick
- "The asylum is shut up, medical care throughout the city is in disarray. He does not, cannot, understand the consequences of his actions. The man is clearly an anarchist!"
- ―Cardigan on Jacob Frye and the consequences of John Elliotson's death, 1868.[src]
In 1868, the twin Assassins Jacob and Evie Frye traveled to London to break the Templars' control over the city and eliminate Grand Master Crawford Starrick. After Jacob had assassinated the Templar John Elliotson, medicine shortages spread across Lambeth and the production of the mind-numbing drug Starrick's Soothing Syrup had ceased. Cardigan and his fellow Templar Philip Twopenny met with Starrick at the latter's office, telling the Grand Master about the consequences of Elliotson's death and warning him about Jacob. Starrick dismissed their concerns, mentioning the meticulous process through which he received his tea as an example of how firm and unshakable his control over London was.
Corrupt Practices Bill
- "I would supply all of London if I could. Meanwhile, you sit in your club and wax poetic with promises your honor cannot pay. Your family's fortune, however... I wonder what they would offer to keep your record out of the newspapers. About the same as Disraeli would offer for your balls, I'd wager. But let's be generous. Why limit ourselves to one or the other, when we can have it all? What say you, sir, shall I come collect? No more dallying. The halls of Parliament must be free to govern, again!"
- ―Starrick during a meeting with Cardigan, 1868.[src]
While meeting with Starrick, Cardigan expressed frustration at Parliament's lack of action and pledged to have Disraeli eliminated in order to end the Bill and maintain the Templars' influence on politics. However, Starrick scolded Cardigan for idling in the Sinopean Club rather than taking a more active role in defending Templar interests in Parliament. The Grand Master threatened him by putting a knife to his crotch and ordered him to keep the Bill from passing.
Cardigan thus hired a group of thugs to kill Disraeli and also hired a man named Herbert to tail the Prime Minister. In a letter to Starrick, he expressed his belief that Disraeli's death would halt the Corrupt Practices Bill indefinitely and Disraeli's rival and a chief opponent of the Bill, William Gladstone, would be more easy to manipulate by the Templars.
However, Jacob intercepted the letter and rescued Disraeli and his wife, Mary Anne. Mary Anne identified the man Jacob sought as Cardigan and informed the Assassin that he could be found protesting the Bill at the Palace of Westminster.
- "Take your bow, knave, for you have managed what no Russian battery, what no Indian tiger could achieve! Claim your trophy, and may you choke on it! [...] God save the Queen and the 11th Hussars!"
- ―Cardigan's final words, 1868.[src]
As Jacob entered the room, he killed the guard posted there, while Cardigan himself had his back turned and was preoccupied with paperwork. After turning around, Cardigan realized that it was not the minister that had entered and began blustering in shock, but Jacob slashed his throat with his Hidden Blades before the Templar could speak any further. As Cardigan lay dying, he lamented that he had fallen to an Assassin, rather than on the Crimean battlefield to artillery or in India to a tiger, a self-aggrandizing reference that annoyed Jacob greatly. The Earl then bid Britain farewell and gave his blessings to the Queen and the 11th Hussars before passing away.
The Earl of Cardigan came to be remembered as a prime example of the often arrogant and pompous British aristocracy during the first half of the 19th century, using his wealth and privilege to maintain a prominent position in politics and the military. His career in the army likewise exemplified the aristocratic officers who frequently showed little to no regard for the lives of their subordinates. The cardigan sweater takes its name from the waistcoat worn by the Earl and his fellow officers during the Crimean War.
- Historically, Cardigan died in Deene Park, Northamptonshire.