Heather's Monthly Articles

The Origin of the Cardigan

June 2017

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The Cardigan Sweater/Jumper

Mr. Rogers wore one each and every day of the 33 years he walked through his neighborhood. Michelle Obama’s are part of her signature style – she even wore a black one in 2009 when she took tea with the Queen. They are a staple of the twinset and pearls brigade and once upon a time no self-respecting Wimbledon winner would ever have appeared on center court without one.

I’m talking of course about the Cardigan, or “cardi” as it’s known in Brit speak. Most everyone has at least one hanging in their closet. And what grandma worthy of the title hasn’t presented an assortment of hand-knitted cardis in sizes 0-6 months to their newborn grandbaby? They’re soft and cozy, or as the Danish would say, Hygge to the max.

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A popular garment

Cardis have been around for eons – and I don’t just mean the ones I own. Their inventor was James Thomas Brudenell, better known as the seventh Earl of Cardigan. It seems clothing was his passion. That and charging into battles, most notable of which was the Battle of Balaclava in 1854. Ah! The good old Balaclava! I remember it well. A homemade woolen head and face covering we were forced to wear growing up in the chilly north of England. Sadly, neither their Balaclavas, nor the knitted wool waistcoats his officers wore, when they faced off against Russian forces in 1854, could have prevented the devastation that Alfred, Lord Tennyson documented in his poem The Charge of the Light Brigade.

It would take a while after his return to England before Lord Cardigan’s last name would be assigned publically to the garment we know so well. In 1867, A year before the Earl’s death, Charles Dickens recalled his very first cardigan sighting when he wrote in his weekly periodical All the Year Round “he wore, I remember very well, a knitted sort of waistcoat, or Jersey — an article called, in the cheap linen-drapers’ shops, a Cardigan”.

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Michelle Obama wearing a cardigan
as she meets the Queen

As well as the Cardigan and the Balaclava, the Crimea War was also responsible for another clothing design – the Raglan Sleeve. Named after FitzRoy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan, whose loss of an arm in the Battle of Waterloo resulted in him acquiring a specially made coat, the sleeve of which extended in one piece to the collar. As overall commander of the British forces, it was under Raglan’s orders, via his cavalry commander the Earl of Lucan, that Cardigan lead his ill-fated charge.

The Charge of the Light Brigade
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke
Shatter’d and sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honor the charge they made!
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

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