Sunday, January 30, 2011

February 16, 1841 --- A Trial in the House of Lords

For the only time in Victoria's long reign, a peer of the realm is placed on trial before the House of Lords. Amid medieval ceremony, James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, more than a decade before his heroics at Balaclava (see 25 October), pleads not guilty to a charge of attempted murder.

The commanding officer of the aristocratic 11th Hussars, Cardigan had shot and grievously wounded a junior officer in a duel on Wimbledon Common the previous September. The duel stemmed from a bitter feud within the officer's ranks of the Hussars, also known as the "Cherry Bums," owing to their tight red trousers. "The Black Bottle Affair" is in full swing; Cardigan had court-martialed a young Captain for placing wine on the regimental table in a bottle he thought "more suited for a pot-house." When The Morning Post published a series of letters from "An Old Soldier," attacking Cardigan, the Earl discovered and challenged the author, Lt. Harvey Tuckett "to afford him satisfaction." Tuckett was shot in the chest while Cardigan was unhurt.

So reviled is Cardigan, that police and the Scots Guards were called out this day to keep order in the streets of Westminster.  Inside, the trial is a farce. The indictment accuses Cardigan of having wounded Harvey Garnett Phipps Tuckett. But Cardigan's attorney, Sir William Follett produces the card which the wounded man gave police, it reads "Capt. Harvey Tuckett." Follett declares: "There is no evidence whatever to prove that the person at whom the noble Earl is charged to have shot upon the 12th of September was Mr. Harvey Garnett Phipps Tuckett." On that ludicrous basis, the Lords unanimously acquit their fellow Peer. The Times denounced the proceedings, suggesting they would only support "the opinion, most dangerous to the aristocracy, that in England there is one law for the rich and another for the poor."

In the evening, the insouciant Cardigan takes his wife to a concert at Drury Lane. After thirty minutes of hissing from the pit, he returns to his home in Portman Square.

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