illustration of a soldier in traditional nineteenth century military garb

The Charge of the Light Brigade

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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How does "The Charge of the Light Brigade" reflect nineteenth-century European political developments?

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The poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade" itself doesn't necessarily help us understand significant political developments in Europe in the nineteenth century, but reading the poem can encourage us to research its context. Though the poem is universalized—it could apply to almost any courageous but doomed attack during a war—audiences at the time would have understood the bigger picture of what was going on.

The poem refers to the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War and a tragic charge that cost many British lives. In fact, in the first published version of the poem of December 9, 1854, Lord Nolan was mentioned by name as the commander of the charge. However, it was Lord Cardigan who gave the order to charge.

A little research into the Crimean War tells us it lasted from 1853 to 1856. The British and French got involved because the Russians were trying to gain territory in the Middle East, and both countries feared that Russian incursions into the area could threaten their important colonial holdings.

Because the British had been victorious in the Napoleonic wars, the public thought this Crimean War against Russia would be an easy victory for them, the dominant superpower at the time. However, the war was plagued with mismanagement on the part of the British military leadership. This lead to such debacles as the charge of the Light Brigade. The cavalry was so outnumbered that it made no sense for them to attack. However, Tennyson hoped in his poem to honor the brave troops who did their duty—they, he thought, should have the glory, despite the problems at the top.

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