Into the valley of debt: Earl of Cardigan fights sale of 11 ‘irreplaceable’ paintings amid ‘dire financial crisis’

His ancestor led the Charge of the Light Brigade and his aristocratic family is among the most distinguished in Britain.

But the Earl of Cardigan is facing ‘dire financial crisis’, the Appeal Court heard yesterday – and charging into a modern-day battle to stop some of his historic estate’s most valuable assets being sold by trustees.

In a dramatic bid to halt the sale of 11 ‘irreplaceable’ paintings, the 58-year-old earl was granted a midnight injunction just hours before they were due to go under the hammer at Sotheby’s, it was revealed yesterday.

Art of the matter: The Earl of Cardigan, pictured here at the vine-covered site of the Charge of the Light Brigade in Ukraine, is trying to prevent some of his paintings being auctioned off

A judge described the action on July 6 as ‘an 11th hour, 59th minute’ intervention, and granted a temporary ban on an auction that had been planned for the next morning.

Now – in the majestic gothic battleground of the High Court in London – a renewed campaign to block the sale is set to be waged.

On one side will be colourful old Etonian David Brudenell-Bruce, descendant of the 7th Earl who famously led the disastrous British cavalry charge of the 600 in 1854 against the Russians in the Crimean War.

He is a noble relation of Prince Harry’s latest girlfriend Florence Brudenell-Bruce and the recently re-married head of the family home near Marlborough, Wiltshire.

Opposing him will be trustees and lawyers for the Savernake Estate, who insist the paintings belong to the estate – and need to be flogged off to raise cash.

Grand pile: The earl and trustees are in dispute over ownership of the ancient family estate at Savernake near Marlborough, Wiltshire

Penelope Reed QC, for the trustees, told Lord Justice Hughes the earl’s current account was presently £2million overdrawn. The ‘family silver’, as the paintings were described ‘may have already gone’, she said.

Henry Hendron, for the earl, told the court the Cardigan family had lived on the estate since the 11th century. The earl was ‘horrified’ to discover the paintings were due to be sold after he returned from the USA earlier this summer.

‘They were commissioned by his ancestors and have been in the estate since day one,’ he said. ‘If they were disposed of, damages would be an inadequate remedy because they are irreplaceable.’

Historic: Old Etonian David Brudenell-Bruce is facing hard times, rather like the 7th Earl who led the disastrous British cavalry charge of the 600 in 1854 against the Russians in the Crimean War

But he had substantial assets, the hearing was told, more than a third share in the estate,  and was due compensation in a defamation action. He also maintained he had signed a £50million deal with an American company.

He had been ill and suffering from depression, the court heard – and since returning from the US he had been ‘putting his life back together with his new wife’.

After hearing of failed attempts to sell part off the estate as a potential golf course development, the judge branded the case ‘a sad state of affairs for a very distinguished family’.

He refused to renew the injunction – and warned of a possible legal battle over the paintings this summer.

He said the status of the paintings would probably be decided by the High Court before the next available auction date in September.