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Crimean texts

A correspondence so ample

The Cardigan-Kinglake letters

by David Kelsey

Kinglake’s history contains some curious descriptions of Lord Cardigan’s character. We read that he had the valuable quality of persistency 1 and was of the species which repeats a hundred times over in the same words the same version of the same facts. 2 Later in the work, there is a hint that Kinglake was speaking from personal experience. He included, as appendices to his book, statements from some of the principals of the Crimean campaign. Lord Cardigan’s statement opens: Having been kindly promised by Mr Kinglake that he will make me acquainted with the nature of the observations he intends to make in . . . his history of the Crimean war . . . 3 Kinglake did not allow this assertion to pass without comment. In a footnote he observed:

The promise above mentioned by Lord Cardigan was made under these circumstances: Several years ago . . . I sought to allay in some measure Lord Cardigan’s extreme anxiety by saying that, with respect to those points on which my opinion might be unfavourable to him I would call his attention to them before the publication should take place, so that he might have an opportunity of submitting to me any considerations tending to change my view . . . During the years which followed, Lord Cardigan (in his anxiety to do himself justice) honoured me with visits so frequent and with a correspondence so ample (on his part) that I considered the subject as exhausted. Accordingly, when he adverted to my promise, I submitted to him that considering the great extent to which I had given up my time to him since the period when the promise was made, it would be well for him to release me from it. He showed an indisposition to do this; and the slight feeling of anger which his persistency gave me tended much to counteract the pain that I felt in fulfilling the promise. 4

A recent discovery puts us in a better position to understand the author’s vexation. Nearly fifty letters from Lord Cardigan to Kinglake were among the remnants of the Kinglake archive found in the museum of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers at Bury, Lancashire, in 1998. They show that for five years, between the publication of his first two volumes in 1863 and the next two volumes in 1868, Kinglake was plagued by a host of missives from Lord Cardigan, winging their way to him from all directions. The noble Earl, whether in residence at his town house in Portman Square or at his Northamptonshire country seat of Deene Park, whether taking the sea air at Brighton or the waters at Ems-Nassau, whether at Cowes for the Regatta or in London for the Prince of Wales’ Levee, unfailingly found time from the social round to pen yet another submission in a determined effort to ensure that Kinglake would cast no slur upon him: even allusion to such a subject as the slanders against me will inflict more or less of injury on my professional character and military fame. 5

The burden of the letters varied little. Apart from some brief mentions of cavalry patrols after the landing, the affair at the Bulganak, and what he told Lord Raglan after the cavalry got lost on the flank march, Cardigan’s constant subject, not surprisingly, was his own conduct during the charge of the Light Brigade. His concern was not without cause. He had already taken proceedings for libel against Colonel Calthorpe6, and, as he complained in one letter, that libel and Kinglake’s Historical Work were being mixed up together by some of the Press. The allegation that he had retired before reaching the Russian guns had been thoroughly scotched, but Cardigan feared that Kinglake would still attribute to him a hasty or irregular retreat, and he sought to persuade him not to do so.

His answer to the suggestion that he was at fault in not rallying his men behind the Russian guns was twofold:- there were no men, and there was no time.

Deene Wansford, Octr. 30th. 1865

. . . In about a week or 10 days from this time I will send you a statement with regard to all which took place on the day of the battle of Balaklava - It will not be necessary for me to prove to you that I led the first line of the Brigade into the Russian battery a head of every body as was my proper place - that as I led on, my line did not follow me - but the Survivors bore off to the left & most of them retired - I have told you that after returning from the Cossacks who wounded me and nearly took me Prisoner that on retiring thro’ the battery from whence I came, none of our Troops were to be seen; and that I consequently returned at the slowest possible pace . . . from the moment I retreated thro’ the guns after being engaged with the Cossacks, and finding no Brigade there and no Troops to be seen either to the right or left, I moved my horse till I got to Genl. Scarlett at the slowest possible pace - and that afterwards then I galloped to the point of rendezvous

Private - Portman Sq. - Feb 15th 66

. . . My retreat after repassing the Guns and the retreat of the 8th Hussars after their affair with the Russians must have been simultaneous within a few minutes of each other; so that had I turned back after escaping from the Cossacks I should have found nothing but retreat on either side. I will send you a slight sketch of the battery & my position, and the supposed distance of the 4th Lt. Dragoons & 11th Hussars - and I think you will then see that had I attempted to return thro’ the battery and seek for any supports as suggested by you that had I succeeded in escaping being taken Prisoner or shot by numerous bodies of Russians, then I should have found those supports either in full retreat or just moving off to retreat. You will recollect too it was impossible for me to know where the supports were; they having in the advance diverged to the right & left. . . It must always be borne in mind that the whole affair at Balaklava only lasted 20 minutes passing over upwards of a mile & ¼ of ground so that there were only a minute or two to spare for anything to be done. It should be recollected that when I came out on my return thro’ the battery that 9 tenths of the remnants of the first line were retreating up the hill . . .

The correspondence became almost an extension of the libel action, and Kinglake yet another judge to be persuaded by the production of documentary evidence, as letter after letter attests:

I beg to send you a copy of my Diary . . / / . . I have directed my Solicitor to send you correct copies of all the affidavits delivered into the Court of Queen’s Bench on Thursday last . . / / . . I now beg to enclose to you 6 letters for that purpose, which I trust you will think conclusive in refutation of the slanders which have been published against me . . / / . . I have directed Mr Mitchell to send you a copy of the printed trial in the Court of Queen’s Bench . . / / . . I will call upon you about 2 o’clock tomorrow with a document . . / / . . I will write tonight to report to you Col Douglas’ statement . . / / . . A servant from Portman Sq will on Saturday next leave at your house a parcel, containing more information . . / / . . the contents of the Pamphlet another copy of which I beg to enclose to you . . / / . . the enclosed copy of a letter of 1863 which I consider a very important document for your information . . / / . . I beg to transmit to you a letter which I have received from Captain Chadwick for the purpose of forwarding it to you . . .

The documents which Cardigan was supplying to Kinglake were for the most part originals, and he wanted them back:

I will thank you to return me Capn. Chadwick’s letter at your leisure. . . / / . . May I ask you to return the letters which I now enclose to you. . . / / . . Would you kindly return to me the Private document which I left with you. . / / . . I hope you will excuse my asking you whether in the course of the last few months I either gave you or sent to you for perusal a letter . . . and also whether by chance the letter was left by me in your hands.

For a particularly treasured letter, more direct action was taken:

. . . you have accidentally kept one of the letters which I sent to you; it is one of Sir James Scarlett’s to me, & a letter I value very much.

Having written to you by the Post I write again by a servant who is going to London to say how anxious I am that Sir J Scarlett’s letter should not be lost - and to request you will deliver it to my Porter who is the bearer of this letter -


You will take the letter to Mr Kinglake, 20 Hyde Park Place & ask for a letter for me and send it by the Post - Ask whether a lost letter of mine has been found & telegraph to me to say if it has

- Cardigan, Deene, December 6th 67

Deene Wansford, Decr. 9th. 67

My Dear Sir, I beg to thank you for the letter returned

It is interesting to note that Kinglake took and kept the porter’s own note of instructions. One can but hope that the poor fellow had memorised it, and did not forget to telegraph.

The frequency and speed of the Victorian postal service served Cardigan well. It could cope easily with appointments at short notice:

At what hour today could I have the pleasure of seeing you if I call? . . / / . . I beg to propose that you would receive me . . . today . . / / . . I shall be happy to call upon you at 3½ today . . / / . . will you do me the favor to let me call upon you today? and let me know the hour convenient to you . . / / . . If I do not hear from you to the contrary I will call upon you about 2 o’clock tomorrow . . .

He was not sure that the Continentals were up to British standards. Writing from Germany he suggested: As the Foreign Posts are not quite so much to be relied upon as those at home I should feel very much obliged by your letting me know that you have received my letters. The aspersion was unjustified; his letters from abroad show that he received Kinglake’s replies, despite having supplied no more than Ems-Nassau as his address!

Kinglake tried a number of tactics to stem the deluge of letters. He asked Cardigan to provide details of his military career, a career, as he well knew, liberally endowed with scandal and removal from command. He underestimated the thickness of the Brudenell skin:

I herewith send to you a short narrative of my career in the Army . . / / . . I will in a few days send to you in compliance with your request a Biography of my career in the Service . . / / . . The letter of ... my acting Aide de Camp at the Prussian Review in 1861 will show you the estimation in which my services were held in Foreign countries and you are aware of what the Russian views of those services were thro’ Todleben. I have had many messages from other Russian Generals, and also French Generals to the same effect. My services have been acknowledged by the Military Authorities here at home, and I can with confidence state by the Army at large in the country. . .

Why, asked Kinglake, had Cardigan not prosecuted Calthorpe’s witnesses for perjury? In less than ten days, the Earl had obtained and forwarded counsel’s opinion on the matter:

the accompanying is Mr Bovill’s professional opinion on the subject and the two other letters show the view which my Solicitor takes upon the same point - I will only add that I never heard one word said by any living person in favor of the expediency of the course which you suggested.

I thought much on the possibility or otherwise of doing something, but from my knowledge of the uncertainty of the decision of Juries and from the advice I received from others I never entertained any serious intentions of embarking on what I am now professionally told would have been neither quite expedient or proper.

Disciples of Woodham-Smith7 will find no support in these letters. Kinglake asked Cardigan whether he thought the affair of the Light Cavalry charge at Balaklava was in any way influenced by temper on Lord Lucan’s part or hostility towards him. This offered a perfect opportunity for Cardigan to claim that he could have averted the disaster if only Lucan had treated him properly. He forbore to do so, saying, I do not think however in reply again to your question of the other day that any differences between Lord Lucan & myself in any way influenced the conduct or the result of battle of Balaklava.

Moreover, while criticising Paget for losing control of the second line, he did not accuse Lucan, as he might justifiably have done, of contributing to its disorder by his hasty realignment of the 11th Hussars. In another letter, he made the somewhat double-edged remark that Scarlett’s evidence was valuable because his attention to what was going on was uninterrupted by any active duty of his own, but he expressed no blame of Lucan for the Heavy Brigade’s inactivity. Other than the simple statement that Lucan lost his head, and an allegation that he made an uncharitable comment on Nolan’s death, Cardigan’s letters contain not a hint of criticism of Lucan as cavalry commander at the battle of Balaklava, only of Lucan as perjuring witness in Cardigan v Calthorpe.

Occasionally the letters reveal a less confident Cardigan:

Altho’ I do all this I confess I almost despair of satisfying you

Excuse my saying that it gives me great pain to find that you so reluctantly give credit to what I endeavour truthfully to report, with regard to the details of the battle of Balaklava.

His fears proved to be justified. When Kinglake came to describe the result of the libel action, he was unfair. The judge had said, I rejoice that this opportunity has been afforded of setting the noble Earl right in the estimation not only of his own profession, but of his countrymen in general. 8 Kinglake’s version of the result was that the charge of having prematurely retreated remained still upheld against him. 9

Of Cardigan’s behaviour in the charge, Kinglake wrote that after removing himself from the Cossacks

Lord Cardigan’s course of action became such as to leave room for question and controversy . . . he left a main part of his brigade in the fangs of the Russian army . . . he much remembered himself, and all but forgot his brigade. . . Lord Cardigan was not amongst the last of the horsemen who came out of the fight; and his movement in retreat was so ordered as to prevent him from sharing with his people in the combats which will next be recorded . . . 10

The combats next recorded, which Cardigan’s retreat is alleged to have prevented him from sharing, start with the entry of the 17th Lancers and 13th Light Dragoons into the Russian battery. To imply that this did not take place until after Cardigan had withdrawn is a distortion so perverse as to suggest that Kinglake was abusing his function as historian to exact a bitter revenge on his importunate correspondent. By the time that this was published, however, Cardigan was past caring; he had died a few months earlier, on 28th March 1868.

[1] A.W.Kinglake, The Invasion of the Crimea, vol. IV (3rd edn.), p.12

[2] A.W.Kinglake, op. cit, p.15

[3] A.W.Kinglake, op. cit, Appendix IV

[4] idem

[5] Unless attributed otherwise, all quotations are from the letters of Lord Cardigan to A.W.Kinglake.

[6] Described by Tony Lucking in Cardigan v Calthorpe, The War Correspondent, XIV.iii.24, XIV.iv.22

[7] Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Reason Why, Penguin Books, 1958

[8] Cockburn C.J, Reg. v. Calthorpe, reported in The Justice of the Peace (12th. September 1863), p.583

[9] A.W.Kinglake, op. cit, Appendix IX. 386

[10] A.W.Kinglake, op. cit, 252-258

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