Famous Brudenells

The following information has been condensed by G W Brudenell Esq. of Blandford Forum, Dorest, from "The History of the Brudenells of Deene" (Joan Wake).

He has graciously allowed me to use his excellent summary in my web site.

The earliest Brudenell to be found in contemporary English documents is a deed dated, February 10th, 1366, but it is interesting to speculate on their earlier background. The very blonde hair, and blue eyes which are a distinctive feature of many Brudenells strongly suggest a Scandinavian origin although in the 19th year of the reign of King Edward I there is reference to a William de Brudenell implying French ancestry, but if they did arrive in England with William the Conqueror it is more likely as Scandinavian mercenaries than as Normans. The Brudenells were first heard of on the borders of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire. William, the younger son of Richard Brudenell of Aynhoe, flourished during the reign of King Edward Ill and, by marriage to a Buckinghamshire heiress - Agnes Agrove of Amersham, laid the foundations of the family fortunes. However, we are indebted to the judge Sir Robert Brudenell for a record of 4 earlier generations of Brudenells for he copied on the flyleaf of his estate notebook details of the family stretching back to William of Deddington. There can be very few families who possess genealogical records for so early a period. A branch of the Brudenell family, descended from Sir Robert's second son Anthony was established for many generations at Barton Seagrove in Northamptonshire until 1754 when in all probability the family moved to London as the last Brudenell to be buried at Barton Seagrove was a Thomas Brudenell Esq., late of the Parish of St. Olive in the City of London.



Edmund Brudenell 1348/52 - 1425

Despite William's wealth, it was his second son Edmund who first brought distinction to the name of Brudenell. It is known from Public Records that in 1377 he held the office of Clerk of the Crown to King Richard II, and delivered the Roll of Parliament to the Clerk of Parliament. Edmund received many marks of royal favour. In 1380 he was granted a life pension of 60 marks (£6.13.4d) later increased to £10 and appointed for life as Kings Attorney and Coroner in the Common Court of Pleas, and King's Attorney in the Court of Kings Bench. He was the first of his family to become an M.P. A celebrated case in which Edmund was involved concerned Geoffrey Chaucer. The poet who was robbed of £10 at Westminster, and later in the same day set upon by a gang of ruffians at Hitchin in Surrey and robbed of his horse, £5worth of goods and. £20.6.8d in money - a considerable sum in those days. A Richard Brerelay was arrested and tried before Edmund Brudenell at Westminster Hall, but hoped, to save himself from the gallows by turning King's evidence. Unfortunately for him, one of the other accused, vigorously denied Brerelay's accusation, challenging him to a duel. On May 3rd. 1391 a duel was fought, very likely in the presence of both Brudenell and Chaucer, Brerelay was vanquished, and promptly hanged. Such was medieval English justice. Some 150 years after the death of Chaucer there came into the possession of the Brudenell family an early manuscript of the "Canterbury Tales" known to scholars as 'The Cardigan Chaucer". In 1916 a Belgian refugee staying at Deene Hall stole the manuscript, and sold it for a small sum to a London bookseller who in turn sold it to an American who bought it in good faith, and presented it to Vassar College U.S.A. In 1923 a member of the family happened to learn of this from a newspaper article. On being approached, the College immediately returned the manuscript to Mr. George Brudenell whose elder brother Earnest had been killed in Flanders. Returning it to Edmund, his principal residence was the manor house at Raans which stood on Amersharn common. The house was rebuilt in the reign of King Henry VIII, and is still in existence. However, the extent of his wealth may be gathered from the fact that he also owned manors and lands in the counties of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Essex. On the death of Edmund in 1461, his eldest son Drew inherited all but a fraction of the family estate leaving the younger son Robert to make his own way in the world.

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Robert Brudenell 1461-1531

The Wars of the Roses were raging when Robert was born. Although only receiving a meager part of the estate Robert, partly educated at Cambridge, applied himself to his -furies at the Inner Temple, and was duly called to the Bar. He flourished as a barrister and by 1503 had attracted the favourable notice of Henry VII. In 1506 he was appointed judge to the Kings Bench. On Henry's death, Robert attended the crowning of King Henry VIII with whom he also found favour being knighted in 1516/7 and sworn a Privy Councillor. In 1321 Henry appointed Robert Chief Justice of England. In 1514 it was Robert who acquired, and became the first Brudenell to occupy, what became the family seat - Deene Hall in the heart of the Northamptonshire countryside. The manor had been in existence before the Norman conquest in 1066, and for 150 years afterwards had belonged to Westminster Abbey who have never entirely relinquished its rights over Deene. Ownership of the manor was subject to a fee-farm rent of £18 a year which has been payable since the reign of King John, and is still rendered annually by Mr. George Brudenell the present owner of Deene Hall, Robert's life spanned the gulf between the Middle Ages and the new world of the Renaissance. He lived to see the end of the War of the Roses, the invention of printing, and the discovery of America. His portrait, which hangs at Deene, was painted over a century after his death, but the effigy on his tomb, and those of his two wives were executed from death masks so that a realistic likeness of those Brudenells of over four centuries ago has been preserved.


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Thomas Brudenell 1497 -1586

Although a lawyer like his Father, Thomas made no great mark in his legal career although appointed Sheriff of Rutland in 1537, of Northhamptshire in 1543 and Warwickshire and Leicestershire in 1543. He had strong leanings towards Protestantism unlike some later members, of the family who suffered because of their Catholic faith. Thomas was present at the marriage of King Henry VII to Anne of Cleves. The marriage was annulled six months later to the relief of both parties, and Anne retired to the country with Lucy Brudenell as one of her maids of honour. Thomas was knighted by King Edward VI in 1547.

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Edmund Brudenell 1521 - 1585

Knighted in 1565 Edmund was well regarded by Queen Elizabeth I who visited Deene Hall in 1566 and approved an expedition he sponsored to the New World which resulted in the formal possession of what is now known as Newfoundland. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, step brother to Sir Walter Raleigh, led the expedition but perished with all his crew on the return journey. There is much evidence of the Brudenells in North America some of which the writer has personally examined. For example, on Prince Edward Island, Canada, there is a Brudenell Bay, Brudenell River, Brudenell Hotel and golf course. A Reverend Brudenell was Chaplain to the general staff of General James Wolfe in his campaign against the French in Quebec, but there is also evidence which my late wife examined in New York, U.S.A.

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Thomas Brudenell ? - 1587

The fourth owner of Deene Hall he was a graduate of Cambridge University, qualifying at the Inns of Court as a Counsellor-at-Law. In February 1587 he was required to attend, the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringay some 9 miles from Deene Hall. She was beheaded, around 11.00 a.m. and one wonders how Thomas felt as he rode back to Deene having witnessed such a, gruesome sight.

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John Brudenell 1561 - 1606

John was about 43 years of age when he became the fifth owner of Deene Hall and the estates, religion and politics were so bound up together in the reign of Elizabeth I and her successor that a man's status depended as much on his profession of faith as on his political opinions, and while there was no firm proof that Thomas was a Catholic his wife certainly was. Soon after the death of Queen Elizabeth, the laws against Catholics were severely tightened. Early in 1603 all the imprisoned Catholic priests were sent overseas, and some 5,000 persons were convicted for refusing to attend Protestant churches. The Gunpowder Plot, which took place in 1605 was a direct result of this severe action against Catholics. Robert Gatesby, son of Sir 'William Gatesby a neighbour and intimate friend of the Brudenells, was one of the leading conspirators. Only a few months before, John Brudenell's nephew Thomas had married Francis Tresham's sister. Francis Tresham was one of the conspirators arrested and executed in the Tower of London. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Brudenells came under suspicion, but despite their obvious catholic connections they survived being publicly disgraced.

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Thomas Brudenell 1573 - 1663

Created a Baron in 1623 and 1st Earl of Cardigan in 166?, Thomas was also a graduate of Cambridge University, and legally trained at the Inns of Court. Owner of estates in eight counties, his vast fortune was somewhat decimated when his 18 year old son and heir Robert, sent abroad to complete his education, was captured at sea, by Spanish privateers, and eventually jailed in Spain where a £5,000 ransom was demanded, an enormous sum in those days. The money war eventually raised, and Robert returned to England after 2 years in captivity. Thomas supported the royalist cause, and was convicted, by Cromwell's Parliament of High Treason. Committed to the Tower of London on January 22nd. 1646 it was while so incarcerated that he learned of the death of his brother John in Newgate goal where he had languished since being taken prisoner during the storming of Burghley House by Gromwell in 1643. Thomas was released sometime in l648, and later that year received a personal letter from King Charles I offering him an earldom if he would help to finance a plot for an uprising against the parliamentarians. King Charles was at that time a prisoner at Carisbrook Castle on the Isle of Wight. Sir Thomas, at great risk, advanced £1,000 but within a, few months King Charles had been executed at Whhitehall. However, the earldom was honoured shortly after the restoration of King Charles II and personally received at the hands of the King - Earl and Lady Cardigan attending the coronation in Westminster Abbey.

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Robert Brudenell, 2nd. Earl of Cardigan 1607 -1703

Robert's reign at Deene Hall is remembered more for the scandalous behavior of his eldest daughter Anna Maria Brudenell who became Countess of Shrewsbury on her marriage to the 11th.Earl. She became notorious even among the not too reputable ladies at the court of King Charles II. A number of duels were fought for her favours, but the one that horrified England, and is recorded by Samuel Pepys in his famous diary, was that between the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Duke of Buckingham, The Earl was fatally wounded having been run through the body from right breast to shoulder. Pepys records another story about Anna Maria Brudenell, Countess of Shrewsbury, concerning a certain Harry Killigrew who was set upon in his hackney coach going from Hyde Park to Hammersmith by a gang of ruffians and wounded in nine places. It is alleged that they were hired by Anna Maria in revenge for him boasting of his intimacy with her. It is recorded that the Countess and the Duke of Buckingham actually buried an illegitimate son in Westminster Abbey under the title Earl of Coventry. She eventually retired to a Paris convent only to emerge some years later and annoy her son by marrying secretly, and informing him of the event 6 weeks later.

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George Brudenell, 3rd. Earl of Cardigan 1683 - 1732

It was at this time that the Brudenells became linked with the Bruce family i.e. the Earls of Elgin and Ailesbury, as George fell in love with Elizabeth Bruce. Her family were staunch Protestsants whereas George had been brought up in the Catholic faith, but to further his marriage he reverted to the Church of England.. The bride brought with her a dowry of £10,000, a. fortune in itself. The marriage proved to be a very happy one. It is interesting to note that at this period, whist and billiards were becoming popular as was smoking. A billiard table was installed at Deene at a cost of £40. Many improvements were carried out to the interior of the Manor house. Landscape gardening was also in fashion among the aristocracy. A stream through Deene park was diverted to form a canal in front of the house with a lake beyond. Some idea of wages in those days may be gathered from the fact that the 36 labourers employed on this work were paid 8d per day, about 3p in todays coinage, while the bricklayer who constructed many of the walls on the estate was paid 6s 6d per thousand bricks laid. Lord and Lady Brudenell were also responsible for setting up Cardigan House, a magnificent residence and town house in Lincolns Inns Field. However, the journey by family coach from Deene to London took 2 days and was no doubt hazardous. The four sons of the 3rd. Earl all enjoyed royal favour with King George III. The eldest son George was appointed Governor of Windsor Castle while James was Keeper of the Privy Purse; Robert Groom of the Bedchamber, and Thomas Bruce Vice Chamberlain of the Royal Household. In 1747, Thomas at the age of 17 inherited the Tottenham Court estate in Wiltshire, and lands in Yorkshire becoming Lord Bruce and adopting this as an additional surname to that of Brudenell. So developed the line of Brudenell-Bruce.

The lives of the 4th., 5th,, and 6th., Earls of Cardigan were relatively uneventful.

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James Thomas Brudenell, 7th. Earl of Cardigan 1797 - 1868

Educated. at Harrow and Christchurch, Oxford, James yearned for a military career, but being the only heir his parents would not allow it. As the only son and with 7 sisters it is not surprising that he was spoilt, andgrew up to be a somewhat tyrannical and arrogant man. He initially took an interest in politics, representing several constituences as M.P., but eventually was able to follow his first love of a military career where he served in India, as Commander of the 11th. Light Dragoons. When he returned to England, Queen Victoria was on the throne. With his great wealth, the Earl spent large sums of money on his regiment which became the best mounted in the Army, and was selected to escort Prince Albert on his arrival in England to marry Victoria. The Prince was so impressed he became their Colonel-in-Chief. However, the harsh discipline that James imposed on his regiment brought him into constant conflict with his officers culminating in a pistol duel with one Captain Harvey Tuckett. At 12 paces apart, both missed with their first shots, but on firing the second, Tuckett was hit in the hip. Cardigan was arrested, and arraigned before the House of Lords on a charge of felony. He was acquitted by his Peers, on what was a technicality in law. His marriage proved childless and unhappy, and in 1846 he had separated from Lady Cardigan. Later he married Adeline, which proved a successful marriage, but much to Earl Cardigan's annoyance, Queen Victoria, would not accept her at Court. So ended the close association of the Brudenells with the Royal Family over many centuries, although in 1937 Her late Majesty Queen Mary was entertained at Deene Hall when Mr. Brudenell was able to show her the entry Sir Edmund Brudenell had made when Queen Elizabeth I had visited Deene.

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The Charge of the Light Brigade

This epoch event in English military history took place in 1854when James, who had by then been promoted to Major General, as in command of the Light Brigade, but under the direct command of his brother-in-law the Earl of Lucan. They where not on the best of terms. On October 25th, the Russians were threatening to take Balaclava, and were assembled in great numbers at the end of a valley behind a battery of heavy guns with further guns on the flanks overlooking the valley. Through a misunderstanding over an order from Lord Raglan to Lord Lucan, the latter ordered Lord Brudenell to advance on the enemy down the valley. On hearing his orders Lord Brudenell said, "Certainly Sir, but allow me to point out that the Russians have a battery on our front and batteries and riflemen on each side." "I cannot help that" replied Lucan. "It is Lord Raglan's positive order that the Light Brigade should attack immediately". In Lucan's defence it must be recorded that on receiving the order from Raglan, Lucan protested that it would lead to the destruction of the Light Brigade, but the staff officer who brought this fatal message, a Captain Nolan, lost his temper and said angrily "Lord Raglan's orders are that the cavalry should, attack immediately". Lord Brudenell saluted Lord Lucan and on taking his place some 5 horse lengths in front of his Brigade was heard to mutter "Here goes the last of the Brudenells". The Brigade was in 3 lines and led them at a brisk trot down the valley. Before they had proceeded more than 100 yards, Capt: Nolan galloped diagonally across their front waving his sword, but before Lord Brudenell could remonstrate with him a shell burst between them a fragment of which pierced Nolan's heart killing him instantly. Men and officers soon began to fall under the heavy fire, but in a few minutes they had reached the guns and sabred most of the Russian gunners, but on passing through were confronted by 5000 Russian cavalry and masses of infantry. Lord Brudenell was attacked by several Cossacks and wounded in the hip and leg. The din was indescribable with smoke from the guns making it difficult to see more than a few feet and some desperate hand to hand encounters took place. Eventually the officers rallied the remnants of the Brigade and returned up the valley. 113 of all ranks were killed, 134 wounded with 475horses killed. 195mounted men remained out of the original 675. In a letter to his brother-in-law, Lord Howe, 3 days after the battle, Lord Budenell wrote, "I've been in a serious affair, and my Brigade is almost destroyed. My opinion is that the Lt: General (Lord Lucan) ought to have had the moral courage to disobey the order… I led the attack…the shower of grape shot and round shot for 3/4 of a mile was awful... almost every officer, but myself was either killed, or wounded, and how I escaped, being in front, and more exposed than anyone is a fearful miracle and I am most grateful to the almighty for such an intervention of Divine Providence. I considered it certain death, but led straight and no man flinched…" Arrogant he may have been, but no one can dispute his courage, or that of his officers and men. The charge of the Light Brigade has, of course, been immortalised in those epic verses by the then Poet Laureate, Lord Tennyson. Lord Brudenell received a hero's welcome on his return to England, and was required to give a personal account of the action to Queen Victoria Prince Albert, and their family - an event which is recorded in a painting which hangs in the long corridor at Windsor Castle.

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Modern Brudenells of Deene

With the passing of the 7th, Earl of Cardigan, the Brudenell title passed to a younger branch of the family - George, William, Frederick, Brudenell-Bruce. Although these Brudenells had adopted an additional surname, and lived at Savernake, Wiltshire as the Earls and Marquesses of Ailesbury, they are in fact Brudenells and the direct male descendents from George, 3rd. Earl of Cardigan. However, Deene Hall and its associated estates passed to Ernest Brudenell-Bruce, but he died of wounds on the Western front in 1917 whereupon the family seat and estate passed to George Brudenell-Bruce who, in that same year, and by royal licence, reverted to the single surname of Brudenell.

On November 6th., 1923 Mr. Brudenell married Mary Julia Schilizzi of Guilsborough Court, Northampton. Mrs. Brudenell served in the First World War as an Ambulance Brigade driver, while her daughter Philippa served in the Second World War as an operator of the Radar Equipment in a Heavy Aircraft Battery in England, later serving in Germany on the H.Q. staff of XXXth Corps. Mr. & Mrs. Brudenell continue to live at Deene Hall which has remained the family seat for over 430 years. The history of the Brudenells of Deene during the past 40 years is outside the scope of this particular account, but the writer is engaged on further research on which he hopes to publish later.


Once again I would like to thank G W Brudenell Esq for allowing the use of his work on this web site.

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