Regular readers will know that I sometimes delve into the world of eponyms – objects named after their inventor, wearer or place of origin. Having examined Bowler hats and Wellington boots, it is now the turn of the humble cardigan.
Did you know that cardigans, so often worn by infants or by women with summer dresses, were originally military attire? They started life as a knitted waistcoat worn by British officers in the Crimean War and were named for their commander, Major General James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan.
The Earl rose to fame by leading the infamous, and disastrous, Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 and the cardigan rose with him.
The action was immortalised by Alfred Lord Tennyson in The Charge of the Light Brigade
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
The 7th Earl survived, and told the tale to Queen Victoria and the rest of an adoring London, but a sixth of his men did not. Afterwards many doubts arose as to the competence of those in command that day – well detailed at Wikipedia – but the public had already bought cardigans galore in honour of their hero and the garment has rarely been out of fashion since. I’m only sorry I couldn’t unearth a painting of the Earl wearing one.
The Crimean War (1853-1856) was clearly a cold affair and many of the warm clothing supplies for British troops didn’t arrive in time, hence the rise of the knitted cardigans and balaclavas (although the first use of that term for such a head warmer is 30 years after the battle).
So when you throw on a cardigan, spare a thought for the poor, frozen, soldiers of the Crimean War.
Interested in eponyms like cardigan? I’ve written a book about nearly 300 of them and the lives of the fascinating people who gave their name to English. “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” is out now in Amazon paperback (USA and UK), and ebook for Kindle, iBooks, and on Kobo.
Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfoolery,