D is for Frances Isabella Duberly

Fanny Duberly (1829-1902), here seen in one of Roger Fenton’s photographs, went to the Crimea with her husband, Captain Henry Duberly, paymaster of the 8th Hussars. She wasn’t the only officer’s wife in the Crimea. Nor is it at all likely that she was the only officer’s wife to keep a diary. But she was unique in publishing one.

Some of the Journal had already appeared in print. Fanny wrote often to her sister Selina who arranged for extracts to be published anonymously in the press. In one of her letters Fanny wrote, “Cardigan read me my own letter from The Advertiser,” adding “I should have died of suppressed laughter.” Evidently she enjoyed having her own words read to her. She decided to publish the whole journal and asked Selina’s husband, Francis Marx, to edit it. Thus it appeared in print before her own return from the Crimea.

The passage to which Lord Cardigan took exception was an account on page 57 of the published journal of his commandeering a spring for the sole use of himself and his horse. As brigadier commanding The Light Brigade, James Brudenell 7th Earl of Cardigan was Captain Duberly’s commanding officer, which was one good reason for Fanny’s laughter being suppressed. But he was a safe target. Nobody was likely to investigate the source of calumnies against Cardigan: there were too many of them.

What Fanny didn’t need to tell Selina was that she had no intention of foregoing the pleasure of occasional invitations to dine on Cardigan’s steam yacht. She was a social climber with a vengeance. It was a cause of bitterness to her that Lord George Paget’s wife Agnes never included her on her picnic parties.

Dining with Cardigan was something Fanny did do. Sharing his bed, she certainly didn’t. The seduction scene in John Osborne’s film script for The Charge of the Light Brigade is one of many complete inventions in that excellent movie. Here is Jill Bennett as Mrs Duberly being seduced by Trevor Howard’s Lord Cardigan.


And before we leave Lord Cardigan, here is a depiction of him leading The Charge of the Light Brigade by the artist Harry Payne, an officer of the East Kent Yomanry, and himself a more than competent horseman.

Back to Fanny Duberly. Never one to set her sights too low, she decided that a dedication to the Queen might assist her sales. With this in mind she drew a map and sent it to Prince Albert. The map, I think, is lost. The reply of the Prince’s private secretary survives, “Major General Grey has received the Command of His Royal Highness Prince Albert to acknowledge the receipt of Mrs. Duberley’s sketch of the portion of the British Army before Sevastopol, which she has been good to send….”

“Satisfactory so far,” Fanny wrote. But time was passing. William Howard Russell of The Times had already published. Someone might secure the royal dedication first. She wrote to her brother in law telling him to “cut in before anyone else. It must be dedicated to The Queen.” Marx got a friend, Seymour Tremenheere, an acquaintance of Prince Albert – they shared an interest in lace manufactories – to show some of Fanny’s letters to the Queen who returned them to him saying she had found them “interesting and curious.” Only Fanny could have found those two words encouraging. She was disappointed when Tremenheere was later obliged to tell her, “Her Majesty declines the invitation on the ground that so many applications of this kind are made to her….”

The siege of Sebastopol ended in September 1855, but the 8th Hussars – and Fanny, too – endured another winter in the Crimea. Finally in 1856 the regiment returned. On 12th May the Queen and Prince Albert inspected the regiment. Fanny told her sister both of them had bowed to her. But neither spoke to her though the Princess Royal is recorded as having recognised her. Christine Kelly, whose Mrs Duberly’s War (2008) is the latest edition of the Journal, surmises that the Queen could hardly be expected to have spoken to someone who hadn’t been presented at court. There is more to it than that.

Return of the 8th Hussars from the ILN

It wasn’t her criticisms of the high command that had caused offence. Her remarks about Cardigan are about as trenchant as she gets. William Howard Russell had written much worse. She went on and on about the suffering of the wounded and the state of Balaclava harbour. However, Prince Albert, who initially had believed reports like hers to be exaggerated, had now seen Roger Fenton’s photographs and knew that they weren’t. Punch called her Lady Fire-Eater but nobody would hold that against her.

The harbour at Balaclava

It was the whiff of scandal that attached to Fanny’s name that halted her social climb. She was a flirt. No more than that – she was devoted to Henry – but no less. And her flirtatiousness could be misconstrued. Lieutenant Colonel William Forrest wrote in one of his letters “I do not believe she is guilty of that which many say she is, but of course she has many ‘followers’ as the servant girls say, and her vanity causes her to encourage them.” Forrest is comparatively mild. If you want something more vicious, try reading the opinion of Captain George Frederick Dallas of the 46th.

8th Hussars stable dress 1858 by Oscar Norie

Fanny campaigned again in 1858, this time in India. Again she kept a diary. Again she published it. After that – silence. Henry ended as a lieutenant colonel and paymaster of 44th Depot. He retired in 1881 and the Duberlys went to live in Cheltenham. Henry died in 1891. Fanny died twelve years later. They are buried together at Leckhampton.

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