An aristocrat whose family name is famed for its link to the Charge of the Light Brigade was "like a man possessed" as he launched an attack on one of his estate's trustees, a court heard today.

The Earl of Cardigan denies assaulting John Moore by beating on April 29 last year.

The alleged assault occurred just over a week after the earl lost a legal row with Mr Moore over ancestral portraits at the 4,500-acre Savernake Estate, near Marlborough, Salisbury Magistrates'

Court heard.

The 60-year-old earl, of Savernake Lodge on the estate, who was named on court documents as David Brudenell-Bruce, is also facing a charge of criminal damage after allegedly throwing a handful of debris at a Mitsubishi L200 driven by an estate employee.

Giving evidence, Mr Moore, an estate trustee, said he was driving through the estate when he came across the earl and his wife Joanne, who were walking their dog.

He said he stopped his Land Rover to say hello but the earl suddenly launched a verbal attack on him and his wife, before spitting at him in the face and throwing debris at him through an open window.

"His eyes were wide open and he looked like a man possessed," Mr Moore told the court.

"I think he just loses control and I think that is what happened; he lost control.

"The defendant was a very angry man, he did look possessed, his lips were sort of sucking in and he was looking fairly fearsome."

Mr Moore explained he was sitting in the car with the driver window open when the earl began using offensive language.

"He then actually picked up some debris from the side of the track - gravel, leaves and dirt really - and threw it at me through the open window," Mr Moore added.

"He also held with him a stick which he was poking towards my face, held a little over a foot from my face.

"It was vulgar abuse and very unlike him, he never used to be like that and I've known him for 30 years.

"He was offensive to me and my wife and he called her an ugly sow."

Mr Moore said that after an initial confrontation he drove off but turned his car around in order to try to calm the earl down.

But on a second encounter the earl spat at him three times - one of which hit him in the face. He told the court that the earl then bent down, picked up some debris and threw it at him.

"It was an extension of the aggression he was showing, he was looking wild. It was certainly thrown at me," Mr Moore said.

The earl, who is estranged from his pop star daughter Bo Bruce, denies that he threw the dirt at Mr Moore and suggests that he had placed a handful of debris into the Land Rover in order to get Mr Moore to leave.

The court heard there was a disagreement between the men after the earl took Mr Moore, a former friend, to the High Court last year and accused him of selling off the portraits without his knowledge.

"An action had been brought against me," Mr Moore said.

"That action was lost shortly before this incident and David was, perhaps understandably, angry."

Mike Pulsford, defending, suggested to Mr Moore that he had actually started the conversation with the earl, accusing him of "destroying the estate".

Mr Pulsford said Mr Moore had been goading the defendant and had followed the earl and his wife in his Land Rover, stopping six times to pass derogatory comments at the earl.

"You were persistent in trying to rile David, you were being totally offensive from the beginning," Mr Pulsford told Mr Moore.

The trustee denied he had said anything derogatory to the earl, claiming he has never sworn in his life and has no reason to offend the earl's wife.

The Savernake Estate, which includes Britain's only privately owned forest, has been in the earl's family for almost 1,000 years, and one of his predecessors in the title led the Charge of the Light Brigade.

The estate was left in the hands of two trustees, Mr Moore and Wilson Cotton, when the current earl went to America.

The case continues.