BRUDENELL, James Thomas, Lord Brudenell (1797-1868), of Brooksby Hall, Leics.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1818 - 14 Mar. 1829
20 Feb. 1830 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 16 Oct. 1797, o. surv. s. of Robert Brudenell†, 6th earl of Cardigan, and Penelope Anne, da. of George John Cooke of Harefield Park, Mdx. educ. Harrow 1811; Christ Church, Oxf. 1815; European tour 1818-19. m. (1) 19 June 1826, Elizabeth Jane Henrietta (d. 15 July 1858), da. of Adm. John Richard Delap Tollemache, div. w. of Lt.-Col. Christian Frederick Charles Alexander James Johnstone of Hilton, s.p.; (2) 28 Sept. 1858, Adeline Louisa Maria, da. of Spencer Horsey de Horsey*, s.p. suc. fa. as 7th earl of Cardigan 14 Aug. 1837; KCB 5 July 1855. d. 27 Mar. 1868.

Offices Held

Capt. Northants. yeoman cav. 1819; cornet 8 Drag. 1824, lt. 1825, capt. 1826, maj. 1830; lt.-col. (half-pay) 1830; lt.-col. 15 Drag. 1832; half-pay 1834; lt.-col. 11 Drag. 1836, brevet col. 1846; maj.-gen. 1854; inspector-gen. of cav. 1855-60; col. 5 Drag. Gds. 1859-60; col. 11 Drag. 1860-d.; lt.-gen. 1861.


Brudenell’s father, a ministerialist and anti-Catholic, who was Member for Marlborough, 1797-1802, succeeded his uncle as 6th earl of Cardigan in 1811, when he took up residence at the family home, Deene Park, Northamptonshire. It was there, particularly in his hunting and militia pursuits, that Brudenell first displayed the twin traits of his character: the handsome countenance, courageous horsemanship and dashing heroics of a soldier, and the quarrelsome temperament of a petty martinet.1 A case in king’s bench in 1821, concerning the warranty of a horse, was an early example of the sort of legal wrangling and public notoriety in which he was to become embroiled throughout his life.2 At the behest of his father, who wished him to make a career in politics, he had been returned (slightly under age) for Marlborough in 1818, by Cardigan’s first cousin, the 2nd earl (later 1st marquess) of Ailesbury.3 He was again returned unopposed at the general election of 1820. He made little impression in the House, which he rarely attended, but, ‘regularly educated and trained as a Tory’, he supported the Liverpool government.4 He voted against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820, and the censure motion on ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He divided against Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821, and the Catholic peers bill, 30 Apr. 1822. He voted against abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., and inquiry into the conduct of the lord advocate towards the Scottish press, 25 June 1822. Commenting on a list of Members who might be persuaded to move or second the address at the start of the next session, the patronage secretary Arbuthnot noted that ‘of Lord Brudenell I have not much hope’.5 He divided against inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and condemning chancery administration, 5 June 1823.

No evidence of parliamentary activity has been traced for the 1824 session. Early that year, having begun an affair with Mrs. Elizabeth Johnstone, he challenged her cousin Gilbert John Heathcote* to a duel in defence of his sister’s honour. Heathcote did not fire and Lady Derby observed that ‘after Gill had received Lord Brudenell’s shot for maltreating his sister, he ought to have said, "Now, my lord, I must beg you to receive my shot for your conduct to my cousin".’ Johnstone brought a case of crim. con. against Brudenell, who was ordered to pay £1,000 in compensation, but married her two years later, after she had obtained a divorce.6 Without his father’s approval, he accepted his first commission in the army, 6 May, and was therefore obliged to vacate his seat. He was re-elected, 18 June 1824, but later wrote that ‘[I] neglected much of my parliamentary duties for the purpose of doing orderly duty as a subaltern officer in the 8th Hussars’.7 He was absent from the call of the House, 28 Feb., but was present to make his excuses, 1 Mar. 1825. He was not listed in the division on the Catholic question that day, but voted against relief, 21 Apr., 10 May, and the related Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. He divided for the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 8, 10 June. Gaining rapid promotion in the army, probably through his connection with the duke of York, the commander-in-chief, and certainly by purchase, he served in Ireland from 1825 to 1827.8 He apparently attended to present a Marlborough anti-slavery petition, 23 Feb. 1826, and he visited his constituency during the general election that summer, when he was again returned, despite a contest and a petition, this time with his second cousin, Lord Bruce.9

Brudenell voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and the second reading of the corn bill, 2 Apr. 1827. He divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and, having brought up a hostile petition from the archdeacon and clergy of Chichester, again against relief, 12 May 1828. He was in minorities against finding William Leadbeater guilty of lying to the committee on the East Retford disfranchisement bill, 7 Mar., and making provision for Canning’s family, 13 May, but was in the majority against reducing the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828. Brudenell, who returned to Ireland in the autumn, was again considered as a possible mover or seconder of the address in January 1829.10 He was listed by Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, as ‘opposed to the principle’ of the emancipation bill, but he evidently intended to support the measure because a few weeks later he was turned out by the staunchly anti-Catholic Ailesbury in favour of William John Bankes.11 Soon to be settled at Brooksby, he returned to the House in February 1830, having purchased a seat for Fowey.12 He voted against the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. Again returned at that year’s general election, he was listed by ministers among their ‘friends’ and duly voted with them on the civil list, 15 Nov. In December 1830 he was promoted to a lieutenant-colonelcy on half-pay, and by 21 Mar. 1831 he was apparently offering large bets that the king had notified his refusal to dissolve Parliament over the reform issue.13 He divided against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.

Brudenell was again returned for Fowey at the ensuing general election, although there was some dispute over the payment of his expenses.14 He signed the Northamptonshire anti-reform declaration and, according to Lord Milton’s* memorandum, there was some rumour that he might have contested that county. Nothing came of this, but he made several speeches in favour of the Tory candidates and condemning the Whigs’ record in office. On one occasion he was met with cries of ‘down with him, pull him down, what does he know except fox hunting?’15 He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and was one of the ‘principal actors’ in the opposition’s attempt to prevent the House going into committee on it, 12 July 1831.16 He divided at least five times that night for adjourning the proceedings, including on his own motion, which, in possibly his first speech in the House, he proposed in order to show ministers that the anti-reformers would not be browbeaten; it was defeated by 214-44. Later in the sitting he declared that he would persist in dividing the House while he had the support of a single Member, though he admitted that it was ‘simply a dispute upon a trifle’. While complaining that ministers seemed ‘determined not to attend to anything said on this side of the House’, he argued that Fowey should be allowed to retain one seat, 21 July, and he voted for postponing consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July. He criticized government policy on Holland and Portugal, 12 Aug., and divided for inquiry into how far the Sugar Refining Act could be renewed with regard to the West India interest, 12 Sept. He voted against the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. He opined that government should prohibit the large gatherings that were endangering the peace of the country, 13 Oct. He divided against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, going into committee on it, 20 Jan., the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He voted with opposition against the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. 1832.

Fowey having been abolished, he was narrowly elected as a ‘strict Conservative’ for Northamptonshire North at the general election of 1832, despite being an unpopular candidate and ‘much cut in the head by a stone’ during rioting.17 He left the Commons at the dissolution in 1837, inheriting his father’s title a few days later. After a turbulent spell in the 15th Hussars, he embarked on a controversial command of the 11th, during which he was tried by his peers for attempted murder. He achieved his apotheosis in October 1854 at the battle of Balaclava, where he led the magnificent but futile charge of the light brigade. He died, after a fall from his horse, in March 1868, and was succeeded as 8th earl of Cardigan by his former colleague, now marquess of Ailesbury, one of whose descendants eventually inherited Deene.18

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


Based on J. Wake, Brudenells of Deene (1954), 349-445. P. Compton, Cardigan of Balaclava (1972) and D. Thomas, Charge! Hurrah! Hurrah! (1974), which was reissued as Cardigan (2002), concentrate on his military career. The most recent biography is S. David, The Homicidal Earl: The Life of Lord Cardigan (1997).

  • 1. DNB; Wake, 345, 350-1; Compton, 19-29; Thomas, Charge! Hurrah! Hurrah! 6-17.
  • 2. The Times, 15, 22 May 1821.
  • 3. Wake, 353; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii.290.
  • 4. Session of Parl. 1825, p.453; The Times, 2 Aug. 1831; David, 26-27, 30.
  • 5. Add. 38744, f. 49.
  • 6. Creevey Pprs. ii.75; Devizes Gazette, 24 June 1824.
  • 7. Wake, 350-2.
  • 8. Ibid. 357.
  • 9. The Times, 24 Feb.; Devizes Gazette, 15 June 1826; Wilts. RO, Marlborough borough recs. G22/1/47.
  • 10. Blakiston, Lord William Russell, 168; Add. 40398, f. 87.
  • 11. Wilts. RO, Marlborough (Burke) mss 124/1/57; Devizes Gazette, 19, 26 Mar. 1829; David, 44-45.
  • 12. Wake, 352-3; Thomas, Charge! Hurrah! Hurrah! 31; David, 49.
  • 13. M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 175.
  • 14. Cornw. RO, Treffry mss, Austen to Lucy, 19 Apr. 1832.
  • 15. Fitzwilliam mss; Northampton Mercury, 23 Apr., 14 May 1831; Northants. Election (1831), 6, 7, 10, 23-25, 31; E.G. Forrester, Northants. Co. Elections and Electioneering, 133-5.
  • 16. Hatherton diary; Greville Mems. ii.165.
  • 17. Add.57370, ff.94-96; Wellington mss WP1/1239/35; Northampton Mercury, 22 Dec. 1832; Wake, 353-5.
  • 18. The Times, 30 Mar., 3 Apr. 1868; Wake, 444-5, 471-2; Oxford DNB.