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Cardigan v Calthorpe

by Tony Lucking


In the Spring of 1863, a large number of affidavits were sworn in preparation for the libel action by Lord Cardigan against the then Lt Col the Hon. Somerset Calthorpe, the author of the 1857 book Letters from Headquarters on the realities of the war in the Crimea, by an Officer of the Staff. Cardigan had five particular complaints about the author’s accounts concerning:

The relevant passage in the book is:

This was the moment when a General was most required but unfortunately Lord Cardigan was not then present — on coming up to the Battery (as he afterwards himself described it) a gun was fired close to him and for a moment he thought his leg was gone. Such was not the case as he remained unhurt, however his horse took fright swerved round and galloped off with him to the rear, passing on the way by the 4th Light Dragoons and 8th Hussars before these Regiments got up to the Battery.

Cardigan’s case

Cardigan’s affidavit runs to 41 pages, including copies of correspondence with Calthorpe, and a diagramatic map, which shows

Inter alia, he deposed as follows:

11. After the Heavy Brigade had repulsed the Russians, the Light Brigade of Cavalry, of which I was in command, were by orders of the Earl of Lucan advanced across the plain near to the spot where the attack had been made by the Russians on the Turks — Both Brigades were dismounted. After a time, the Light Cavalry Brigade was suddenly ordered to mount; and Lord Lucan then came to our front and ordered me to attack the Russians in the valley — I replied “Certainly Sir but allow me to point out to you that the Russians have a Battery in the Valley in our front and Batteries and Riflemen on each flank” — Lord Lucan said “I cannot help that, it is Lord Raglan’s positive order that the Light Brigade attacks immediately” — I instantly moved off to the Brigade, the formation of which Lord Lucan had previously altered. I had placed the 13th Light Dragoons, 17th Lancers and 11th Hussars in the front line — Lord Lucan ordered the 11th Hussars back to support the left rear flank of the 17th Lancers. The 4th Light Dragoons and 8th Hussars formed the original second line under the Senior Officer Lord George Paget — The Brigade therefore attacked in three lines — I was in immediate command of and led the first line consisting of the 13th Light Dragoons and the 17th Lancers; the 11th Hussars under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Douglas (and supporting the left rear flank of the 17th Lancers) formed the second line; and the third line consisting of 4th Light Dragoons and 8th Hussars was led by Lord George Paget — The distances from the point from which we moved off to the battery in the lower part of the valley in front of us, was quite, if not more than, a mile and a quarter. We advanced directly upon and in face of the Battery which directed a murderous fire on the whole Brigade advancing. On coming at a steady pace about 80 yards of the Battery which consisted of about twelve or fourteen pieces of heavy ordnance, a fire was opened upon us along the whole line — This was a very exciting moment; but we reached the Battery in very good order, and at a regulated charging pace; and here many Officers and Men were killed — I continued at the head of the first line of the Brigade, and led them up to and into the Battery — as I was leading them into it, one of the guns was fired close to my horse’s head, but I rode straight forward through the Battery at the head of the Brigade, and through and past the guns, till I came nearly up to a strong force of Russian Cavalry stationed behind the Battery and some distance in rear of the guns. I was then attacked by some Cossacks, slightly wounded, and nearly dismounted: I had difficulty in recovering my seat, and in defending myself against several Cossacks who attacked me — I was at this time nearly alone, for the first line of Cavalry, which had followed me into the Battery, had been entirely broken up — some of them had borne away to the left by an open space (thereby avoiding the impediments of Russian Limber Carriages Ammunition waggons etc) and afterwards retreated — Upon disengaging myself from the Cossacks, and returning past the Guns, I saw the broken remnants of the first line in small detached parties retreating up the hill towards our original position. As I was returning, I saw General Scarlett who commanded the Heavy Cavalry Brigade, and who was then about half way between the Russian Battery (on the right flank) and the place from which we commenced the charge — I went up and said a few words to him, Lord Lucan being near him, and then as rapidly as I could joined the remains of my Brigade and reformed them.

12. The whole affair from the moment we moved off until we reformed on the ground from which we stated, did not occupy more than twenty minutes — On my coming upon the Regiments which were reforming after their return, two or three of them gave me three cheers.

13. On the troops forming up on their original ground, I had them counted by my Brigade Major, and found that there were one hundred and ninety five mounted men out of about six hundred and seventy, who had gone with me into action; and on the following day it was found that three hundred of the men who had gone into action were killed wounded or missing; that three hundred and ninety six horses were put hors de combat and thirty were obliged to be shot, and that twenty four Officers were killed and wounded. It is my firm belief, that all Officers and men both of the leading and supporting Regiments did their duty well; and they were all exposed not only to the front fire of the Battery in the Valley, but also to the fire of the Batteries on each flank and of the Russian Riflemen.

14. After counting the remains of the Brigade I rode off to Lord Raglan who disapproved entirely of the attack; stating to me that to attack a Battery in front, was contrary to all the usages of warfare — During this affair, I was not accompanied by any Aide de Camp. Lieutenant Maxse was wound (sic) short of the Battery, and retreated — my excellent Aide de Camp Captain Lockwood I never saw at all from the moment of advancing; he was killed, and we never could discover where. My extra Aide de Camp Sir George Wombwell of the 17th Lancers had his horse killed on entering the Batteries, and was taken Prisoner, but escaped afterwards by his Agility in jumping on a stray horse and galloping away with the 4th Light Dragoons and the 11th Hussars on their return.

15. I say that the sketch now produced and shown to me marked D gives a fair general representation of the position of the troops and of the Battery and of the Light Cavalry Charge.

There follows:

Thomas George Johnson, Lieutenant 13th Hussars, corroborated Cardigan’s account in his affidavit:

3. I passed however with some of the second line a second time through the Guns and on approaching the Enemy’s Cavalry which I believe was drawn up some little distance in rear of the battery I and a man named John Heeley found ourselves within a few yards of Lord Cardigan who was also in the rear of the Battery and surrounded by and engaged in defending himself against four or five Cossack Lancers. Both Heeley and myself rushed to his Lordship’s assistance but my horse on the moment received a severe wound which completely disabled him (and from which and other injuries he afterwards died) and I believe the man Heeley had his horse shot under him.

4. I then saw Lord Cardigan disengage himself from the Cossacks and ride away apparently unhurt but one of the Cossacks then made a right rear point at him with his Lance which I then believed and feared had passed through his Lordship’s body.

5. I then retreated towards the Hill as rapidly as I could and after a few moments I came up with some of Lord Lucan’s staff who were saying that Lord Cardigan was killed. Some one present contradicted it which contradiction I then confirmed by telling them that I had just seen his Lordship’s narrow escape and safety.

Two of Johnson’s letters are appended to the 15 April 1863 affidavit. The first to his brother dated 7th November 1854 “Near Sebastopol” does not mention the incident mentioned in 4 above. The second to a Captain Lowe dated 17 Dec 1859 does.

General Scarlett also supported Cardigan. His affidavit reads:

1. I was in command of the Heavy Brigade of Cavalry at the Battle of Balaclava and at the time when the Light Brigade was charging the Russian Battery the Heavy Brigade was drawn up about halfway between the Russian Battery charged by the Light Brigade and the place from which the Light Brigade commenced the charge and was advanced to support the Light Brigade. The Heavy Brigade did not charge the Russian Battery having been ordered by Lord Lucan to retire after they had made an advance in support of the Light Brigade.

2. At the instant when the first line of the Light Brigade charged into the Battery it was almost impossible from the dense smoke and confusion to discern what took place. But a few moments afterwards, I observed the remnant of the Light Brigade as well as the remains of the second line, retreating towards the ground which they had occupied immediately before the Charge, while dismounted Men and horses without riders were scattered over the space which the Brigade had just traversed.

3. A few moments after this, Lord Cardigan coming up as far as I could see from the direction of the Battery, and with the retreating troops, rode up to Lord Lucan and myself, and commenced exclamations against the sad mistake which had arisen in consequence of Captain Nolan having given the order to advance, until I informed his Lordship that in advancing to support the Light Brigade I had nearly ridden over Captain Nolan’s dead body — at this time the Heavy Brigade had been halted after retiring a short distance and I was somewhat in advance of them — I remember on this occasion pointing out to Lord Cardigan the broken remnants of his line as they were retreating up the hill: and I consider that the whole affair from the time when the Light Brigade moved off to charge until Lord Cardigan came up and spoke to myself and Lord Lucan, did not last above twenty minutes

4. I firmly believe from the information I received both at the time of the Engagement and afterwards, that Lord Cardigan was the first to charge into and through the Russian Battery, and that he was amongst the last, if not the last, to return from behind the Guns.

Ten other Officers and men swore affidavits supporting Cardigan’s version, for example:

James Wightman, formerly a Private in the 17th Lancers:
....after passing the guns, I distinctly heard his Lordship give the order to rally inside the Guns in the space between those Guns and the Russian Cavalry in the rear...
Percy Smith, formerly Captain, 13th Light Dragoons:
....I saw one of the Cossacks who were drawn up in the rear of the Guns cut at his Lordship with his sword and I recollect the circumstances particularly as I observed that Lord Cardigan kept his sword at the slope and did not seem to take any trouble to defend himself...
Soame Jenyns CB then Captain 13th Light Dragoons:
....we retired in broken detachments through the guns .. . .My horse was so badly wounded that I had to dismount and lead him. I then observed Lord Cardigan walking his horse between me and some broken detachments of the Brigade...
Hon. Godfrey Morgan formerly Captain 17th Lancers:
....Cardigan was 3 or 4 horses length in front of the centre of the line and on my right front. The Earl entered the battery a few yards distance from me. I then became engaged with a Russian Artilleryman and had no opportunity of noticing anything for some minutes...

All these affidavits are in file KB1 265, where there is also the text of a speech by Cardigan for the Times at the Mansion House on 7 Feb 1855. This covers the campaign as far as Cardigan saw it, but is a fairly anodyne bit of ‘War Office PR’!

Calthorpe’s case

Calthorpe’s own affidavit is concerned with the details of publication of his book, and correspondence with Cardigan, etc. He mustered 15 witnesses in his defence, of whom the most prominent were Col. Mayow, and Lucan.

Mayow’s affidavit reads:

1. I was Brigade Major to the Light Cavalry forming part of Her Majesty’s Army in the Crimea.

2. I remember the charge made during the Battle of Balaklava by the Light Cavalry Brigade under the command of Lieutenant General (then Major General) the Earl of Cardigan on the twenty fifth October One Thousand eight hundred and fifty four.

3. The front line of the Light Cavalry Brigade consisted of the 13th Dragoons and the 17th Lancers. I was Brigade Major and accompanied it in its advance and it so happened that with the first line I was the next Senior Officer to Lord Cardigan. As the line approached the Russian Artillery the smoke became so dense that we could see but little except the flashes of the guns and I then lost sight of Lord Cardigan. At the part of the Russian line that I came in contact with they were trying to limber up and carry off these guns, but as I at the moment perceived a line of Russian Cavalry in rear of the Guns, I directed these men who belonged to the 17th Lancers to leave the Guns to be dealt with by the second line and to charge the Russian Cavalry — this they did and drove them in on their second reserve — we were then within sight of the bridge over the aqueduct and I should think five hundred yards or more in rear of the Russian Guns. Finding the Enemy then too strong to be dealt with by the men that remained I called out to the men to halt, and perceiving the 8th Hussars advancing I further directed and led the men back to the Corps which on the moment was wheeled about by Colonel Shewell.

4. I was induced to give these orders in consequence of not being able to see anything of Lord Cardigan on emerging from the smoke that hung over the Russian Guns and being the Senior Officer in his absence until I joined Colonel Shewell, we were then completely cut off by the Enemy and after a momentary consultation amongst the Senior Officers, Colonel Shewell, who assumed the command, led us to the charge. We broke through and after we had broken through we repassed the Russian Guns (which were then all unhorsed) and galloping up the valley reformed in rear of the Heavy Brigade. Whilst going up the valley I looked in every direction for Lord Cardigan (who would have been conspicuous from wearing the Hussar dress of the 11th) and not being able to see him anywhere I said to myself “Lord Cardigan must be either killed or taken prisoner” — However when I got in rear of the Heavy Brigade I found his Lordship there and he spoke to me.

There is a further affidavit on the same date verifying the accuracy of the map marked ‘A’. It mentions also that Mayow served with the QMG’s Dept. in the Crimea 20 Dec 54 to the month of December 1855 and was consequently “very familiar” with the surrounding country and official plans.

Lucan’s affidavit reads:

1. I was in command of the Cavalry Division at the Battle of Balaclava.

2. I have read an office copy of an Affidavit purporting to be made by Sir James Scarlett and sworn the fifteenth day of April One thousand eight hundred and sixty three and filed in this Court on the twenty third day of April one thousand eight hundred and sixty three as I have been informed and verily believe and I am unable to concur in the statement of facts therein given.

3. So soon as the Light Brigade had moved off I followed with my staff giving instructions that the Heavy Brigade should follow me. When we had advanced very far up the Valley I observed that the Greys now at some distance in our rear were suffering so severely that I found it necessary to halt them and save them from destruction.

4. Remaining in advance to watch the movements of the Enemy and to be prepared to support the Light Brigade should they be pursued on their retreat I saw Lord Cardigan gallop up from the direction of the Enemy — when within a short distance of my front he brought his horse to a walk and passed me — going up the valley towards Sebastopol — He was at a distance of about two hundred yards from me — When I first saw him I called Lord William Scarlett’s attention to him — At this time, no part of the Light Brigade was within my sight.

5. Subsequently to this Captain Lockwood an Aid de Camp to Lord Cardigan rode up to me and said “My Lord, can you tell me where is Lord Cardigan?” I replied that Lord Cardigan had passed me sometime — Captain Lockwood then rode on away and was I believe killed.

6. Lord Cardigan did not ride up to or approach me when he was retiring but only subsequently when all was over and the whole of the troops Heavy and Light had fallen back — He then coming from the direction of Sebastopol met me. He at once in a very vehement manner said that he must report the insubordination of Captain Nolan in placing himself in front of one of his squadrons and his gross misconduct in shrieking and turning away — I had some difficulty in making him understand that Captain Nolan had been killed and that his shrieks had been occasioned by his being shot through the heart. Whatever conversation may have taken place between General Scarlett and Lord Cardigan I am altogether ignorant of but the above was the most conversation which took place between Lord Cardigan and myself.

Edward Phillips, late a Major in Her Majesty’s army deposed that he was a Lieutenant in the 8th Hussars at Balaklava and went on:

2. The 8th Hussars and the 4th Light Dragoons formed the second line, the eighth on the right. While the Regiment was still advancing down the valley I saw the Earl of Cardigan coming back. He passed the left flank of the Regiment.

Mathew Keating, formerly a Private in the 8th Hussars, said:

2. I distinctly remember seeing a General Officer with scarlet trousers on a chestnut horse with white heels retiring to the rear by the left of the 4th Light Dragoons as we were advancing to the charge — I knew the horse before we went into action as Lord Cardigan’s horse and I knew Lord Cardigan’s appearance also and I am perfectly certain it was Lord Cardigan I saw retiring. At that time the 8th Hussars were slightly to the right rear of the 4th Light Dragoons and they (the 4th) were about two hundred or three hundred yards off the battery....

Daniel Deeran, Private B Troop, 4th Hussars, said:

While we were charging up to the Battery and within three hundred yards of it we met Lord Cardigan alone retiring to the rear on a chestnut horse. He was cantering back and was on the left of the Fourth Light Dragoons. I know Lord Cardigan well and am quite certain that it was him I saw retiring.

David Thomas, Private E troop, 4th Hussars: John Edden, Private A Troop 4th Hussars: John Ford, Private G Troop, 4th Hussars: and James Donoghue, formerly Band Sergeant, 8th Hussars gave similar evidence.

Samuel Parkes VC, formerly 4th Light Dragoons said:

Lord George Paget. . called out to some officers near him “Where is Lord Cardigan?” and I then heard some one (who I always believed and now believe was Captain Low) say “Lord Cardigan has gone back some time...”

Thomas Lucas, formerly Private 4th Light Dragoons, said:

.... was taken prisoner. On that evening General Liprandi sent for some of the prisoners including myself and asked several questions about our position and amongst other questions he asked “Who was the General that went back on the Chestnut Horse with white heels?” and he was told it was Lord Cardigan. He then remarked he was lucky to get back as the Russians had chased him as closely as they could...

Thomas King, Private D Troop, 4th Hussars, and James Bagshaw, Private in the same Troop, confirmed this evidence.

The Hon. Godfrey Charles Morgan, formerly a Captain in the 17th Lancers, said that:

2. I perfectly remember Captain (afterwards Colonel) Morris in a moment of excitement suggesting to the Earl of Cardigan that he should attack the retreating enemy...


These affidavits were sworn some eight and a half years after the charge, but though time tends to put a gloss on memory, the basic evidence is fairly simple. So the complete contradiction between the two groups of witnesses is remarkable. Did Calthorpe’s witnesses actually see Lieutenant Houghton, who was also wearing 11th Hussar uniform, and was retiring fatally wounded? Several of them knew Cardigan and his horse well.

If the third line was about 400 yards behind the first line when it entered the Russian battery, as indicated by Col Mayow’s map, it would have been 200 yards from it about 25 seconds later. Scarcely time for Cardigan to have disengaged himself from the Cossacks, and returned through the Battery.

Unfortunately the matter never came to trial where witnesses might have been cross examined and a verdict delivered by a Jury who had seen them give their evidence. Cardigan had applied to the court of Queen’s Bench for a ‘rule’ for a criminal information to be filed against Calthorpe. An interim rule was granted, but the rule had to be made absolute to send the case to trial.

Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, sitting in banco with Mr Justice Wightman, Mr Justice Compton, and Mr Justice Blackburn, spent the 9th and 10th of June 1863 reviewing whether to make absolute the ‘rule’ obtained by Lord Cardigan on the affidavits of General Scarlett, Colonel Jenyns and other officers.* Upon these materials, the rule for a criminal information had now come on to be argued. At an early stage, when Mr Serjeant Shee was putting Calthorpe’s case, he pointed out that some witnesses were dead, some were in India, and of those who were alive, many would naturally be reluctant to swear positively after such a lapse of time. At this point, the Lord Chief Justice intervened, saying This is only an application to have the case tried before a Jury, when any witness can be compelled to come forward... , thus clarifying the purpose of the proceeding.

The Lord Chief Justice started delivering his judgement by saying I can entertain no doubt that the passage in Colonel Calthorpe’s work upon which this application has been made, contains a most serious libel upon the Earl of Cardigan. He goes on to say finally that Having however said so much in expression of my own feelings, I have only to declare that consistent with the rules of this court, we cannot make this rule absolute, and therefore it must be discharged, but, under all the circumstances, without costs. The other Judges concurred.

In his judgement, he examined three reasons why the Rule should not be made absolute. Firstly, he decided that the main allegation (that Cardigan did not pass through the Russian battery) was not true, and that the contention that he was absent when his presence was desirable, was a secondary matter. Secondly, it had been said that the statements were written with regard to matters of public importance. This point, he said, was a matter for a Jury. The third aspect was the time which had elapsed, and the conduct of the parties in the meanwhile. Apart from Cardigan’s initial attempts to secure a Court martial of Calthorpe, rather than coming directly to the Court to secure redress in the ordinary way, it had emerged that he had been unaware, until this proceeding, that 1000 copies of the work had been destroyed, as a result of an arrangement made by a friend (Hubert de Burgh). The third point was why the application failed. We could only overlook the delay which had taken place upon the ground that the work was still in course of publication, but it turns out that it had in effect been destroyed.

The penultimate sentence of the Lord Chief Justice’s judgement was ...... 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. Having myself been sued for libel by a Peer of the Realm — albeit over something another contributor had written — I am relieved that I was not the target of such a devastating verdict! (We apologised to his Lordship, and escaped with relatively minor costs!) But libel laws and procedures were not the same then as they are today. And one is left wondering why Hubert de Burgh did not tell the Noble Yachtsman what he had achieved....

* The Times Law reports for the 10th and 11th of June 1863, and The Justice of the Peace for Sept 12th, 1863. Interestingly, the Lord Chancellor’s Librarian had quite a job to trace the report, which was not in the standard works of record, but was located eventually in the Lord Chief Justice’s library.

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