Earl of Cardigan loses paintings court battle


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An aristocrat whose family name is famed for its link to the Charge of the Light Brigade today failed in a bid to prevent dozens of portraits of his ancestors being sold.

The Earl of Cardigan, David Brudenell-Bruce, 59, lost a High Court battle over the ownership of paintings historically housed on his ancient family estate at Savernake near Marlborough, Wiltshire.

He had claimed that he was entitled to "use of the paintings" under the terms of a lease and wanted to stop estate trustees selling them. Estate trustees disputed his claim and said the paintings were not part of the lease.

A High Court judge today ruled against the earl at a High Court hearing in London.

Mr Justice Newey - who heard legal argument at a trial in London in March - concluded that the paintings were "held by the trustees".

A spokesman for the earl said the dispute was over about 40 paintings - thought to be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds in total.

Lawyers for trustees said the intention was now to put the paintings up for auction in coming months.

Trustees had told the court the estate was in "severe financial difficulties" and the need to sell and ease "financial pressures" was "urgent".

Judges have heard arguments about the Savernake dispute several times in recent months.

In August, Mr Justice Floyd made an order temporarily preventing the Earl from selling estate "chattels" after estate trustees complained he had tried to sell estate silverware under a "variety of pseudonyms" when he was not entitled to.

At that High Court hearing in London, barrister Henry Hendron, for the Earl, said his client was "to all intents and purposes down and out" and "had no money".

The Earl later dismissed Mr Hendron's submission and said he planned to engage another lawyer.

"I own half a stately home that has a re-build insurance value of £23 million and half a forest worth who knows what," the Earl told reporters. "I am not 'down and out'."

Mr Hendron said after the hearing that he had used the term "down and out" to describe how the Earl had "no cashflow, no income and no money coming in".

He said he had acted in accordance with his professional duties and done his best for his client.

In July, the Court of Appeal was told that the estate was facing a "dire financial crisis".

Appeal judge Lord Justice Hughes described the situation as a "very sad state of affairs".

The earl's name is renowned because of the part played by an ancestor in one of the most famous attacks in military history.

Details can be found on the Savernake Estate website, which explains: "In 1854, during the Crimean War, a very distant cousin of the Savernake Forest family was told that his commander-in-chief had ordered him and his men to mount a cavalry charge on some distant Russian cannons.

"Though he naturally queried the written order, he was again ordered to carry it out, which he reluctantly did - and so James, Earl of Cardigan and his Light Brigade passed into famous history."

The website says the estate is set in Savernake Forest, between Marlborough and Hungerford, and is privately owned by the earl and family trustees. It says the 4,500-acre woodland is the only privately-owned forest in Britain.

An estate history on the website says Savernake Forest "cannot be less than 1,000 years old" and is referred to in a Saxon charter from King Athelstan in 934AD and called Safernoc.

The website says there were four buildings called Tottenham House on the southern edge of the forest. The present stately home was built in 1820, it adds.

It says the family lived in Tottenham House until 1940. After the Second World War ended, the family moved to a smaller house on the estate.

The Earl's daughter, Lady Catherine Anna Brudenell-Bruce, is taking part in BBC talent show The Voice.

The singer, who performs under the stage name Bo Bruce on The Voice, has told of how she battled drink and drugs as a teenager and now struggles to pay bills.

The 27-year-old, who has been dividing her time between the BBC show and the hospital where her seriously-ill mother is fighting cancer, said she had lost contact with her father and dismissed suggestions she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth.

She said: "Although I was born into a privileged family, that spoon in my mouth was pretty rusty and not very silver.

"I don't live in Downton Abbey, this is the 21st century. I work in a pub and struggle to pay my electricity bills just like everyone else."