Also by Allan Mallinson










*Published outside the UK under the title HONORABLE COMPANY




Lord Cardigan, who led the Charge of the Light Brigade, was born six years later than Matthew Hervey. But whereas Hervey joined his regiment, the 6th Light Dragoons, when he was seventeen, seeing service throughout the Peninsular War and at Waterloo, the Honourable Thomas Brudenell, as Cardigan then was, did not join the army until 1824, when he was twenty-seven. Brudenell was not entirely without military experience, however, if it could be called that: five years earlier he had formed his own troop of yeomanry cavalry to guard against Reformist demonstrations in Northamptonshire, his family seat (Deene Park). But the troop's purpose and organization gave him a ludicrously feudal attitude to soldiering, which, coupled with an intellect that not even three years at Oxford had raised to adequacy, led with exquisite inevitability to that poetic debacle of the Crimean War.

Cardigan's rise was rapid: cornet in the 8th Hussars in 1824; lieutenant in January 1825; captain in June of the following year; major in August 1830, and lieutenant-colonel, commanding the 15th Hussars, in December that same year. All these promotions were by purchase: using his vast wealth, he literally bribed his way to command in six years. The purchase system was a sort of regulator: it was meant to guarantee that officers had a financial stake in the service of the Crown, after the uncertainties of the Civil War and the Jacobite rebellions and the revolutionary notions which had so disturbed the peace on the other side of the Channel. So the price of a commission was a sort of caution money. And, in truth, the official prices were not so great as to exclude men of talent. The problem lay in the unofficial price: an officer in a smart regiment was more or less able to name his own price when he decided to sell, which was often too high for a junior in his own regiment, and so a rich one from another regiment would buy in. There was, therefore, considerable coming and going. But a smart regiment could become non-smart overnight: all it needed was a posting to India, or some other place considered unconvivial (Beau Brummell resigned from the 10th Hussars when they were posted to Manchester). Fashionable officers would exchange with others in home-stationed regiments, and since an officer could live more comfortably on his pay and a smaller private income in the tropics (and, presumably, Manchester), there was no shortage of willing exchangees. There were actually some officers who positively sought out a posting to India, since that offered the best prospect of active service.

As long as all this buying and selling over-price didn't frighten the horses, the authorities were generally content. Periodically there were attempts to enforce the regulation prices, but never very vigorously and always without success. Enforcement was scarcely in the interests of anyone above the rank of cornet who had paid a penny more than the regulation, for he, not unreasonably, hoped to recoup his outlay when he 'sold out'. No one wanted negative equity. Besides, there were always ways for an able but impecunious officer to advance: (free) promotions in the field following the death of his senior, or in reward for some outstanding service; or the system of brevets, and acting and local rank. However, the army was getting smaller, and actual command, as opposed to appointments on the staff, was going to the men with large fortunes – at least in the Guards, the cavalry and some of the better-favoured infantry regiments of the Line; competition for command of the Forty-something Foot on a yellow-fevered island in the West Indies was not so intense. So it all sorted itself out in the end – more or less. But how was the British army to be sure of having capable generals if all that was needed to rise to command of a regiment was deep pockets and aristocratic connections?

Thomas Brudenell, Lord Cardigan, was the most infamous example of the mess into which the army was getting itself during the decades after Waterloo, but there were other contenders for that dubious distinction. Brudenell does not feature in the pages of this latest chronicle of the life of Major (Acting Lieutenant-Colonel) Matthew Hervey, but the man who ordered him to charge at Balaklava, his brother-in-law Lord Bingham, later Earl of Lucan, is remarked on. Bingham had joined the army after Waterloo, straight from school, but before buying command of the 17th Lancers for a record sum, and before he was thirty, he had seen no active service. Indeed, he had spent remarkably little time at actual duty. After command of the Seventeenth, Bingham went onto half-pay – another anomaly of the purchase system, whereby a man could retire from active soldiering, but if he had the right connections could continue to be promoted. Between 1837 and 1854, Bingham went from lieutenant-colonel to lieutenant-general (four ranks higher) without so much as attending a field day.

Today's National Curriculum, with its stress on 'empathizing' in the study of history, would no doubt phrase the exam question thus: 'How would you feel, as a veteran of real fighting, to have men promoted over you merely because they had money?' And doubtless there would be an A* for the candidate who wrote of how wretched he would feel, the victim of aristocratic oppression, but that he could do nothing for fear of the lash or whatever it was that officers were punished with. But the sort of student who gained a top grade in the old 'O' Levels would write something along the lines of 'but there again, the Duke of Wellington's rise had not been so very different from the Earl of Lucan's . . .'

* * *

It is 1828, and Matthew Hervey is thirty-seven. He is major (second in command) of the 6th Light Dragoons, though still nominally in command of a troop on detachment to the Cape Colony; and he has acting lieutenant- colonel's rank for command of the recently raised Cape Mounted Rifles. He has just made a textbook marriage, and his old friend and mentor, Daniel Coates, has left him a deal of money with which to advance himself. He is at a crossroads, a watershed, a pivot point – whichever is the most appropriate word for that magic number thirty-seven – which even in today's army is still the age at which a man's career is best sounded. Matthew Hervey has come a long way since that day in 1808 when the second son of the Horningsham parsonage, straight from Shrewsbury School, joined his regiment. Like Cromwell, he carried with him his Prayer Book on campaign; although unlike Cromwell, his religion was never militant, rather that of the clean young Englishman. Now, in this tenth instalment of the Hervey chronicles, the Prayer Book is altogether less well thumbed, though the sabre is no less bloody.



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