From the Historical Research Files: The Art of Dueling
Dueling in the Regency
Do a Google search on “Dueling in the Regency” and you will come across many informative blogs on the subject, from The Art of Manliness to Historical Hussies. Since I’m writing a dueling scene in my next book, I’ve been researching this topic in blogs and old texts.
If you read history, or historical fiction, you’ve probably encountered a character who practiced his sword technique at Angelo’s academy, or even fought a duel or two. The Hamilton-Burr pistol duel is one of the most famous in American history, leading to Hamilton’s death. Personally, I find the notion of two opponents standing and pointing pistols at each other to be INSANE.
Better the blade
Many, many years ago, I was on my college fencing team. Actually, I believe everyone in the small group of students who took the fencing class made the team! Still, it was a great deal of fun, and I actually came home from one tournament with a trophy.
Thus, my personal favorite in fictional duels is the dramatic sword fight in Rob Roy (the movie). In earlier times, men dueled with rapiers and daggers, two-handed swords, and broadswords. It seems to me that a good sword fight would be far more equitable, not to mention, rousing. But by the Regency, pistols were considered the better, fairer weapon for dueling.
The Art of Duelling
The Art of Duelling, by “A Traveler” and “Containing much information useful to young continental tourists” is the most interesting resource I’ve found so far on this topic. Written in 1836, the work is a brief collection of history, anecdotes, rules, and advice, and includes an appendix describing five famous duels.
A civilizing practice
It’s the author’s belief that engaging in an affair of honor is a civilizing practice. Men who might face death over insults are more likely to behave with courtesy and restraint:
I could quote innumerable opinions in favour of a practice which has been sanctioned by the acts of the most highly-talented and illustrious individuals of the present and former century. Burke, Fox, Pit, Sheridan, Canning, the Dukes of York, Wellington, and Richmond, are among the number.
The Marquess of Anglesey, who I wrote about a few weeks ago, also fought a duel with his future brother-in-law, who was incensed at his sister’s affair with him and the breakup of her marriage.
Beware the French
When traveling abroad, a young Englishman needed to beware being trapped into a duel with a Frenchman:
The coffee-houses were then infested with a set of bullies, whose practice was to insult every young foreigner of juvenile appearance; and being men who had served in the army, accustomed from their earliest years to face danger in every form, which, (even admitting their antagonists were equally skilful in handling a weapon,) gave them a considerable advantage: they generally returned from an encounter victorious, feeling, what may to many seem impossible, a pleasure in having added another notch to their score of victims.
His advice to young Continental tourists is to always choose the pistol.
As the weapon which I prefer, and should always strongly recommend my countrymen to use, is the pistol. I shall proceed by describing it, earnestly requesting at the same time, they will bear in mind my advice, and never fight a foreigner with any other, when they have the privilege of the choice.
He includes lengthy instruction on proper use of and training with pistols.
And he comments on the chances of survival:
The chances of a man’s being killed, are about fourteen to one; and of his being hit, about six to one. There are many parts of the body through which a ball may penetrate without the wound proving mortal. In Stapelton’s affair with Moore, for example, the ball passed within half an inch of the heart, yet he recovered. Recovery, however, in such cases, depends much on the sufferer’s habit of body, and strength of constitution. Some of my acquaintances now living have received shots through the lungs and spleen. One, formerly an officer in the Hanoverian service, has been twice shot through the head; and, although, minus many of his teeth, and part of his jaw, he still survives, and enjoys good health.
While this sounds like a very uncivilized result to me, a rigorous “civilizing” etiquette had grown up around dueling.
The seconds conducted formal negotiations by letter prior to the meeting on the field of battle, with a view to resolving the conflict. The author has advice on this subject also:
A man cannot be too careful in selecting the individual who is intrusted with his cartel. He should run over the names of his friends, and endeavour to obtain the services of a staid, cool, calculating old fellow; if possible, one who has seen some few shots exchanged: but I should advise his never choosing an Irishman on any account, as nine out of ten of those I have had the pleasure of forming an acquaintance with, both abroad and in this country, have such an innate love of fighting, they cannot bring an affair to an amicable adjustment. (By this remark I beg it will be understood, I do not intend any reflection upon the Irish character: on the contrary, many of my intimate associates are Irishmen, and I believe the oppressed sons of Erin to be the most generous, open-hearted, and truly courageous people on the face of the globe.)
In 1829, the Duke of Wellington took offense at something written by Lord Winchelsea, leading to an affair of honor between the two men. The final chapter of the appendix contains the correspondence (eleven memoranda in two days) between principles and then the seconds, Sir Henry Hardinge and Lord Falmouth. The duel took place on March 21st. Honor was satisfied without either man being injured, and Winchelsea published a formal apology which ended the matter.
Do you have a favorite dueling story or fictional duel? Please share in the comments!
Images: Wikimedia Commons