James Yorke Scarlett

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James Yorke Scarlett
James Yorke Scarlett (1799-1871), British soldier.jpg
General Sir James Yorke Scarlett
Born (1799-02-01)1 February 1799
London, UK
Died 6 December 1871(1871-12-06) (aged 72)
Burnley, Lancashire, UK
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Rank General
Commands held 5th Dragoon Guards
Aldershot Division
Battles/wars Crimean War
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath

General Sir James Yorke Scarlett, GCB (1 February 1799 – 6 December 1871)[1] was a British soldier and hero of the Crimean War.

Early life[edit]

The 2nd son of the 1st Baron Abinger, he was born in London[1] and educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge,[2] In 1818, Scarlett entered the army as a cornet in the 18th Hussars and in 1830 became a major in the 5th Dragoon Guards. He married Charlotte Anne Hargreaves, a Burnley coal heiress in 1835, the town becoming his adopted home.[3][4] From 1837 until 1841 he was a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Guildford.[5]

In 1840, he was appointed to command his regiment, a post he held for nearly fourteen years. In the Crimean War, the 5th Dragoon Guards formed part of the Heavy Cavalry Brigade (of which Scarlett was appointed Brigadier) and was sent to the Black Sea in 1854. There it suffered heavily from cholera in the camps of Varna.


Battle of Balaclava. Russian cavalry attacks over the Causeway Heights.

During the Battle of Balaclava on the morning of 25 October 1854, the Russians had stormed a series of hills known as the Causeway Heights beyond which lay the "Valley of Death" where the Earl of Cardigan would lead the Light Brigade in one of the great military blunders of the nineteenth century.

Lord Raglan ordered that Scarlett should move eight squadrons of his brigade back to Kadikoi, to support the 93rd Highlanders defence of the British base at Balaklava. As Scarlett led his column of the Heavy Brigade across the sprawling tented camp of the Light Brigade, a Russian cavalry force of approximately 2000 was spotted just 800 yards from their left flank, at the top of the heights.[6] It seems that the Russians were also surprised by his appearance and were slow to react, but soon began to move toward them.

The 55 year old Scarlett quickly assembled just 300 of his Inniskillings and Scots Greys (of Waterloo fame) at the foot of the heights, organising them into parade-perfect formation, and sounded the charge. As astounded onlookers watched from the rear, Scarlett led his red-clad Heavies into the centre of the grey mass of Russians. His attack was soon followed by rest of the column (the remainder of the Inniskillings and the 4th, and 5th Dragoon Guards). Even the two squadrons of 1st Royal Dragoons who had remained behind to hold the Brigade's original position, attacked on their own initiative. This action became known as the Charge of the Heavy Brigade and caused the enemy formation to collapse completely. The Russians were routed and retreated across the heights into the valley that shortly after would become so infamous. Although successful, it defied military doctrine of the time, as the Russians were more numerous and, more importantly, the charge was made uphill against an oncoming force. Scarlett survived the encounter with cuts and bruises, however his helmet had been stoved in by a blow that would have surely killed him, if he had been without it.

Cardigan had observed the action with his Light's from a short distance away, and had he used his initiative and chosen this moment to finish what Scarlett had started, the Charge of the Light Brigade might well have been remembered as a success. Later when Cardigan finally led his men into the valley, the Earl of Lucan, Scarlett and the Heavies waited in reserve. Scarlett had started to advance in the hope of salvaging something from the disaster when Lucan, fearing the complete loss of the Light Brigade, sounded the retreat.[7]

Later life[edit]

For his services that day Scarlett was promoted Major-general and in 1855 was made KCB. After a brief period of leave in England, he returned to the Crimea with the local rank of Lieutenant-general to command the British cavalry. Following the Peace of Paris, Scarlett commanded the cavalry at Aldershot until 1857, was Lieutenant-Governor of Portsmouth (57-60)[1] and then Adjutant-General to the Forces from 1860 to 1865. He was then made commander of the Aldershot Division, a post he held until his retirement in 1870. He had been made a GCB in 1869. In retirement Scarlett became involved in politics, standing for election to Parliament in Burnley at the 1868 general election, but was narrowly beaten by the Liberal candidate.[8]

Scarlett died at his Bank Hall estate in Burnley in December 1871, aged 72.[1] He is buried at Church of St John the Divine, Holme Chapel, Cliviger near Burnley. An estimated 60,000 people lined the streets of the Lancashire town for his funeral procession.[4]


A memorial to Scarlett was installed in the Royal Garrison Church at Aldershot. It includes a bronze bust of Scarlett flanked by two full-size bronze cavalry troopers of his former regiments, the 18th Hussars and 5th Dragoon Guards, wearing VCs and four-bar Crimean War medals.[9]

The brewery tap at Burnley's Moorhouse's Brewery is named in his honour.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d "Sir James Yorke Scarlett - Lt.Governor, Portsmouth". History in Portsmouth. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  2. ^ "Scarlett, James Yorke (SCRT816JY)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  3. ^ Chapples 2006, p. 6.
  4. ^ a b Bill Ashworth (21 October 2004). "Scarlett's 300: Balaclava heroes". Lancashire Telegraph. Retrieved June 2012. 
  5. ^ Craig, F. W. S. (1989) [1977]. British parliamentary election results 1832–1885 (second ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. p. 139. ISBN 0-900178-26-4. 
  6. ^ Brighton 2005, p. 92-3.
  7. ^ Brighton 2005, p. 124.
  8. ^ Craig, op. cit., page 71
  9. ^ Aldershot Museum
  10. ^ "Moorhouse’s signals commitment with pub investment". moorhouses.co.uk. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 


  • Brighton, Terry (2005), Hell Riders: The Truth about the Charge of the Light Brigade, Penguin Books, ISBN 978-0-14-101831-7 
  • Chapples, Steve (2006), General Scarlett: The Burnley Hero of Balaclava, Arncliffe Press 
  • Cecil Woodham-Smith, "The Reason Why," Penguin, 1965.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
James Mangles
Charles Baring Wall
Member of Parliament for Guildford
With: Charles Baring Wall
Succeeded by
Ross Donnelly Mangles
Charles Baring Wall
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir George Weatherall
Adjutant General
Succeeded by
Lord William Paulet
Preceded by
The Earl of Cardigan
Colonel of the 5th Dragoon Guards
Succeeded by
Richard Parker
Preceded by
Sir John Pennefather
GOC-in-C Aldershot Division
Succeeded by
Sir James Grant