An 11th-hour injunction has brought a dramatic halt to an auction by Christie's in London of a treasure trove of hundreds of artefacts relating to Waterloo, Wellington and the Crimea.
Heirs of the 1st Lord Raglan, who commanded troops at the Charge of the Light Brigade, are embroiled in a bitter battle over the ownership of military memorabilia. Legal action by one member of the family has cancelled plans by another to sell more than 300 objects, including arms and armour, furniture and works of art, tomorrow.
The treasures, which had been estimated to fetch £750,000, were to have been sold on behalf of the executors of Fitzroy John Somerset, 5th Lord Raglan, great-great-grandson of the 1st Baron (1788-1855), whose military career was at the right hand of Britain's greatest soldier, the first Duke of Wellington, for almost 40 years, during the Peninsular War, at Waterloo, and as private secretary, through to his command of British forces in the Crimean War.
The memorabilia comes from Lord Raglan's ancestral home, Cefntilla Court – the Monmouthshire family seat since 1855 – presented to the son of the first Lord, FitzRoy Somerset, in recognition of his father's achievements as a soldier.
The 5th Lord Raglan, a Labour peer with no children of his own, died in 2010. He apparently defied expectations that the estate would go to Arthur Somerset, son of his younger brother, Geoffrey, now the sixth Lord Raglan, by changing his will in favour of his sister Cecily's son, Henry van Moyland, a Los Angeles-based recruitment consultant.
Mr Van Moyland's decision to sell the collection has dismayed the family as well as heritage campaigners who argue that such significant artefacts should be saved for the nation. The collection, continued by the 1st Baron's descendants, reflects his role in some of the most famous battles in British history, as well as featuring more personal items stemming from his relationship with "the Iron Duke". It includes the Iron Duke's armchair, a locket and a bracelet with locks of the Duke's hair, and rare war medals. Crimean treasures include two Russian cannons and an Imperial Russian bugle, taken at the Siege of Sevastopol.
A Christie's spokesman confirmed the auction "has been postponed pending resolution of a legal claim filed by a family member".
Mishcon de Reya, solicitors for Mr Van Moyland, declined to comment. Lord Raglan's lawyer, Jonathan Stephens, could not be reached.