Kent Family History Society Update

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Kent Family History Society, Thanet Branch

At our May meeting, following the A.G.M., Michael Lucas gave an illustrated talk on the reivers. These were families, of all classes, living on the Anglo-Scots border who stole each other’s cattle and other property; practised extortion with protection rackets and kidnapping; and readily resorted to violence, whether in pursuit of theft or deadly feud. Some were full-time outlaws, but others combined reiving with legitimate business. Larger reiving families could raise hundreds of armed men. The last great private battle in Britain took place near Lockerbie in 1593, between the Maxwells and the Johnstones, with 2,000 on the larger side, of whom perhaps 700 died. Contrary to legend, the reivers were not nationalist Robin Hoods, but often operated in international gangs and stole from anyone. Law enforcement was weak and its officers often corrupt, and if not corrupt were targets for murder. The reivers were only finally suppressed, by means of mass executions and transportations, when England and Scotland were united under King James I in 1603.

Michael ended by showing some reminders of the reivers to be seen today in the Borders, and some family history.

June: Geoff Beer gave an illustrated talk on Lord Cardigan, commander at the Charge of the Light Brigade. Born 1797 to a life of aristocratic privilege, James Brudenell joined the Army in 1824 and bought rapid promotion under the purchase system. By 1832 he commanded 15th Hussars. However, he behaved like a tyrant, leading him to court martial an officer. The man was exonerated and Brudenell removed. However, against a storm of public opinion, he obtained reinstatement and bought command of 11th Light Dragoons in 1836. Succeeding as Earl of Cardigan to a massive fortune in 1837, he spent lavishly on his regiment and repeatedly quarrelled with his officers. Cardigan’s military career culminated in the disastrous, but much celebrated, Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea. Here as the result of confused orders, he charged Russian batteries, with heavy losses to his men, but returned to England a hero, although his actions were soon mired in controversy.

Cardigan was notorious not only for his military activities, but also for his private life. In 1826 he married his mistress after an expensive divorce. He had countless affairs and in 1863 was cited in the very seamy Paget divorce case. He outraged Society and the public with his doings, which included duelling and horsewhipping a journalist. Immediately his first wife was dead, he married another mistress, notorious for her outrageous behaviour. He fell from his horse and died in 1868.