Ronald Leads the Light Brigade

In the process of painting some more Crimean War personalities, I’ve been particularly concentrating on a specific character who, though unnamed on the box artwork, bears an unmistakable resemblance to the 7th Earl of Cardigan.

Oil on millboard by Alfred Frank de Prades, 1854. (c) NAM. 1967-02-19-1.

Strelets’ “Into the Valley of Death” set dedicated to the Charge of the Light Brigade was purchased about 5 years ago and the figure in question is wearing the uniform of a hussar. Given the set’s topic, this means that it must belong either to the 8th (King’s Royal Irish) Hussars or 11th (Prince Albert’s Own) Hussars.

Plastic Soldier Review feel they can identify him – “The [figure] could well pass for Lord Cardigan, the man who actually led the charge.” There’s certainly a strong resemblance. The Light Cavalry Brigade’s commander was Major General James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan of the 11th Hussars.

Arriving some months after the Battle of Balaclava, photographer Roger Fenton took some images of officers of the 11th Hussars, survivors of the charge, but not of the Earl of Cardigan himself. Below are his images of Cornet Wilkin and Lt. Yates of the 11th. Also below is Fenton’s famous image he titled “The valley of the Shadow of Death” itself, a gulley strewn with spent cannonballs.

So anyway, who’s Ronald?

Detail of a painting by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr. Public Domain.

That’s Ronald above, Cardigan’s charger shown as a small detail in Caton Woodville’s painting of The Charge. He was a thoroughbred chestnut gelding coincidentally sharing the same russet-colour as his owner’s ginger whiskers. Ronald was the horse that led the Charge of the Light Brigade, over 670 men (and their horses), into – and out of – the ‘valley of death’.

As with his aristocratic rider, Ronald was indeed incredibly fortunate to survive having ridden at the very head of the brigade right into the teeth of the Russian artillery position, escaped from being surrounded by Cossacks, and then returned all the way back again unscathed. Of the famous charge, a shocking 475 other horses failed to do the same. Furthermore, he should be considered very robust for even surviving the trip over to Crimea by troop ship (many horses did not), and then making the same arduous journey back home again.

Ronald continued to prove particularly durable, managing to enjoy life until 28th June 1872, nearly 18 years after Balaclava and a full four years after the passing of his master. There are, it seems, a number of tributes to Ronald on the web. Including:

Of his many depictions, I’ve based my painting of Ronald on the Alfred Frank de Prades portrait. This shows Ronald to have markings consisting of two white ‘stockings’ and one white ‘sock’, although other portraits I’ve seen occasionally differ. I do know (thanks to the perfect preservation of his head!) that he had a star on his forehead and a snip near his right nostril, all of which I’ve been careful to try and reproduce on my own little tribute in 20mm figure form. Strelets horses certainly aren’t their strongest feature (the leg positioning on this figure isn’t quite right, I feel), but otherwise it’s not too bad a sculpt.

The Earl of Cardigan himself is a pleasing figure, I think, and Strelets have captured something of his features and ornate uniform. I’ve used a darker red than I commonly use to achieve the cherry colour of his busby bag and overalls, a feature unique to the 11th Hussars which gave rise to their nicknames “The Cherry Pickers” and “The Cherry Bums” or, for when ladies were present, “The Cherubims”!

The doughty Ronald was the subject of a surprising number of paintings and prints, it seems, including many images of him and his master during The Charge while some prints of the period depict Ronald alone, suggesting something of his popularity.

On Cardigan and Ronald’s return to the Brudenell home in Deene Park, it became apparent that their adventures had found them considerable fame and both were greeted as heroes by the thronging crowds. Such was the fervour that many tried to pull out poor Ronald’s hair for a keepsake as he passed! A well-deserved long retirement for Ronald ensued until the Earl of Cardigan passed away in 1868, at which point his famous steed was required to follow as part of the cortege. However, it seems that the old war horse very nearly didn’t make the funeral procession thanks to a very comical series of mishaps:-

“However, the old horse, having endured ghastly sea journeys, life on the foreign front, the atrocity of battle, near starvation and probably deep terror, found the whole prospect of a funeral procession far too exhilarating and became boisterous. To avoid the solemn pageantry of the day being ruined by the over-excited horse, they administered laudanum. But, in the heat of the moment the dose must have been inadvertently overdone, for then no one could move the dozing charger. Eventually an inspired individual called for the sounding of the cavalry charge. Stirred to duty, Ronald jumped into wakefulness and set off as required.”

From an article by Cheryl R Lutring.

Such was the affection felt for Ronald by the Brudenell family and the British public that, when he did eventually die, the Brudenells preserved his head and tail which continues to be displayed at his home in Deene Park, Northamptonshire. His hoof was turned into an inkwell (a popular tribute for beloved horses of the time) with a sculpture of him and his master atop.

To me, it has sometimes seemed that some of Tennyson’s famous lines on the men of the Light Brigade could have equally applied to the brave horses like Ronald who suffered so much in the charge, dutifully carrying their riders through hell:

Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to do and die.

I’ve handful more ‘personalities’ I’m working on, which I’ll doubtless share in due course.


Update: 3rd London Rifle Volunteer Corps…

We are not armed to carry war
To near or distant land
To steep the smiling globe with gore
Or prowl with hostile band.
But we are trained with trust above
To guard our native coast,
Our Queen, our fame – our home we love,
And those we love the most. 

Alfred Richards, “Our Volunteers”, 1860.

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In progress but getting there – man of the 3rd London RVC

As I indicated in recent post, my third subject for my Victorian Rifle Volunteer project is the 3rd City of London RVC, a small group of whom featured on the cover of a book on the topic of the Rifle Volunteers that I’d been reading; Ian Beckett’s “Riflemen, Form!” My figures are nearing completion, yet there’s still plenty to do including much of their equipment, and of course their base (being another rifle range on a wooden plinth).

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This figure is supposed to be looking down the rifle range after taking a shot?

One of the key instigators of the early Victorian rifle volunteer movement was a journalist, playwright and poet called Alfred Bate Richards who personally enlisted 1000 men to form the ‘Workmen’s Volunteer Brigade’.

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A sergeant.

This brigade later became formally known as the 3rd City of London Rifle Volunteer Corps, the same depicted by my figures. Its uniform was scarlet with buff yellow facings and brass buttons. In January 1862, Richards came in for some ridicule when he proposed changing his men’s original kepis and shakos headdress to a bearskin and a red plume, despite the financial difficulties experienced by his corps. Eventually, they adopted the Home Service pattern spiked helmet seen worn by these figures.

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Richards was also active in raising money to send a force of volunteers, the ‘British Legion’, to assist the Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi in his campaign of liberation. Many of the ‘Garibaldi Excursionists’, as the Legion was known, were members of the new Rifle Volunteer Corps, perhaps some even from his own 3rd London RVC. This attracted controversy, particularly when the politically neutral government sought to discourage moves for the 3rd London RVC to personally entertain Garibaldi on a visit.

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Giuseppe Garibaldi, 1861.

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The men were generally less well-off than some other London RVCs recruited from the professions and middle classes, although some financial support was received from the City of London and the Livery Companies.

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Without its own drill hall, its parades were held variously at central London locations such as Regent’s Park, the Ditch of the Tower of London and at Gray’s Inn Square. Formal inspections and award ceremonies were held in London’s Guildhall, whilst their annual inspection was carried out at Horse Guards Parade (very prestigious!). Church parades were held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street and the corps headquarters were at various locations within the square mile of the City of London.

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Alfred Richards recruited his friend, Major General Beatson of the Bengal Army, to be the 3rd London RVC’s honorary colonel for a period. Being a corps made up of generally less wealthy men than many other London corps, it was in need of a patron with money and Richards eventually persuaded a baronet to become its corps commandant and replacement Honorary Colonel, with Richards acting in the capacity as major and second in command.

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Officer with field glasses. He wears leather gaiters instead of puttees.

 

3rd City of London rifles helme
1878 Officer’s Home Service Pattern helmet of the 3rd London RVC.

Having a poet as their founder it was appropriate that their motto was a quote from the Roman poet Virgil; “Labor Omnia Vincit” (Work conquers everything). Another poet who was a vocal supporter of the Rifle Volunteer movement was the poet laureate, Lord Tennyson. He wrote to Richards congratulating him on having been a key instigator of the movement and added, “I hope you will not rest from your labours until it is the law of the land that every man-child born in it shall be trained to the use of arms.’ Quite a surprising aim, perhaps, for men of the ‘pen’ to be striving for widespread use of the ‘sword’!

Next update will hopefully include the based figures themselves, though with a couple of other projects on the go it may take a couple of weeks to finally get there. Oh well, “Labor Omnia Vincit”, to quote Virgil!

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