Posted: 10/6/2005 5:58:23 PM EST
This post will contain a series of articles from a variety of sources on Dueling.
To those who are curious or fascinated on this subject, I hope you enjoy them.
How Duels Work
by Ed Grabianowski
"Pistols at dawn!" The challenge is issued. To turn it down would leave you marked as a coward for life. You meet at the chosen spot, facing your opponent at a distance of 20 paces. Your dueling pistols are loaded. One or both of you could be severely wounded or killed today. Doctors are standing by to mend the damage if possible, while your friends eye each other warily. Why is all this happening?
Because you made fun of his hat.
Dueling, a one-on-one showdown typically with swords or guns, was a major part of many societies, shaping the lives (and deaths) of tens of thousands of rich nobles, crusading knights, prominent politicians and dusty Wild West cowboys. But for all its importance, dueling also represents the masculine instinct to compete and defeat others driven to an absurd extreme -- men willing to kill or die for the most inconsequential reasons, all at the drop of a glove.
In this article, we'll learn the rules of dueling, examine the reasons people dueled and see how dueling hasn't really disappeared at all -- it has merely evolved into other forms of combat.
Throwing Down the Gauntlet
A challenge could be issued on the spot by casting a glove, or "gauntlet," onto the ground before your opponent.
A duel is a fight, but it is a very controlled sort of fight. In a duel, two men face each other on equal terms (only on very rare occasions did women duel). Duels follow an agreed upon set of rules, begin at a specified time and are held at a specific place. The word itself comes from the Latin term duellum, a contraction of duo (two) and bellum (war).
Usually, duels didn't happen spontaneously. One man would issue a challenge to another, who would often respond by directing further matters to his second. A second was a friend who came along to help prepare your weapons, make sure the other duelist wasn't going to ambush you and make sure the rules of the duel were being followed. Seconds were also supposed to try to defuse the situation that led to the duel by getting an apology from one party or another. In truth, seconds often ended up fighting each other alongside the main duelists. Sometimes there were thirds and fourths along for the fight as well. In any event, after one man issued a challenge, the seconds would arrange all the details. The process could take days.
When a duel was declared, any weapon could be used, with either the challenger or his opponent given the choice depending on which set of dueling rules was in use. The dueling code of 1777 (which we'll discuss in more detail in the next section) provided that:
The challenged has the right to choose his own weapon, unless the challenger gives his honor he is no swordsman; after which, however, he can decline any second species of weapon proposed by the challenged.
For many centuries, the choice was limited to various types of swords. Later, when guns were used in duels, certain sets of rules indicated that only smooth-bore barrels were acceptable, as opposed to rifled barrels that cause the bullet to spin and give it greater accuracy and range (Holland, pg. 84). Many of the rules of dueling seem designed to prevent death and injury, or at least to reduce the likelihood thereof. For example, duelists were sometimes required to face away from each other, only turning to fire when the proper signal was given. This didn't give them enough time to properly aim their weapons.
The loser of a duel was ultimately at the mercy of the winner, who could choose to spare his opponent's life or slaughter him. Dueling etiquette also gave the winner the right to desecrate the body of his rival in any way he chose. This often took the form of decapitation and the posting of the head in a public place.
Dueling with a Feminine Touch
Usually, when women participated in duels, it was viewed as an oddity, a strange spectacle that was more an amusement than a deadly contest. The weapons the women used were often altered so the duelists could not harm each other, or the contest was stopped before blood was shed.
However, there was at least one famous female duelist, a french opera singer named La Maupin. By some accounts, her father trained her at sword fighting, while some claim she had an affair with a fencing master who gave her lessons. To support herself and her husband, she began performing at inns and taverns, singing and fencing while dressed as a boy, although she did not seem to conceal her true gender. It was simply easier to sword fight without frilly skirts and dresses to worry about.
Legendary stories surround her exploits. She was rumored to have dispatched an entire roomful of young noble men who complained when she insulted a lady with whom they were dancing. Her adventures also included digging up the corpse of a dead nun, placing it in a dorm room and setting the room on fire so she could fake her own death and escape a convent with her female lover [ref]. She died in 1707 after retiring from the opera.
Other Dueling Codes
The Code Duello largely replaced earlier codes, including the Flos duellatorum (written in 1410) and Il duello (1550), both Italian dueling codes, as well as the German dueling rules set by the Fechtshulen dueling schools (Holland, pg. 24).
In 1777, a committee of Irishmen drew up the dueling code that would come to be used widely throughout Europe and America. The 1777 Irish code was called the Code Duello, and you can read the complete set of rules at PBS.org: Code Duello. This code was so popular that people worldwide came to see it as the "official" rules of dueling. In fact, the U.S. Navy included the text of the Code Duello in the midshipman's handbook up until dueling by naval officers was finally banned in 1862 (Holland, pg. 142).
Highlights of the rules include the steps of an apology, might call off the duel; proper dueling etiquette in terms of dignified behavior; the role of seconds; and what constitutes the end of a duel.
An apology on the part of the challenged could avert a bloody duel if delivered properly. Keep in mind that most duels were carried out when one man offended another's honor. As such, the proper apology would logically help solve the problem, even once the duel had already begun. The Code Duello dictates a complex method of deciding who should apologize first:
Rule 1. The first offense requires the first apology, though the retort may have been more offensive than the insult. Example: A tells B he is impertinent, etc. B retorts that he lies; yet A must make the first apology because he gave the first offense, and then (after one fire) B may explain away the retort by a subsequent apology.
The rules also dictate when an apology can be accepted, thus preventing the duel, and when no verbal apology will be sufficient:
Rule 5: As a blow is strictly prohibited under any circumstances among gentlemen, no verbal apology can be received for such an insult. The alternatives, therefore -- the offender handing a cane to the injured party, to be used on his own back, at the same time begging pardon; firing on until one or both are disabled; or exchanging three shots, and then asking pardon without proffer of the cane ...
A duel is not a brawl. It is a controlled battle between gentlemen of honor. As such, a certain level of dignity was expected of all participants. Rule 13 is one that describes dignified dueling behavior. It is also one that was frequently broken, since many duelists did not really want to die, kill or maim. They only wanted to defend their honor. Rule 13 states:
No dumb shooting or firing in the air is admissible in any case. The challenger ought not to have challenged without receiving offense; and the challenged ought, if he gave offense, to have made an apology before he came on the ground; therefore, children's play must be dishonorable on one side or the other, and is accordingly prohibited.
Since the holding of the duel itself would usually be enough to satisfy honor, duelists might use dummy bullets, or declare ahead of time that they would fire their weapon into the air or at a non-vital area of their opponent's body. The Code Duello frowned on this.
The Code also encourages duelists to sleep on their wounded pride and then duel with a calm demeanor the next day: Rule 15 states:
Challenges are never to be delivered at night, unless the party to be challenged intend leaving the place of offense before morning; for it is desirable to avoid all hot-headed proceedings.
The role of the seconds is spelled out in several rules. (Note Rule 18's reference to smooth-bored guns as opposed to rifled weapons.)
Rule 18. The seconds load in presence of each other, unless they give their mutual honors they have charged smooth and single, which should be held sufficient.
Rule 21. Seconds are bound to attempt a reconciliation before the meeting takes place, or after sufficient firing or hits, as specified.
The Code Duello acknowledges that the seconds might get involved in the fight themselves, as mentioned in the previous section. The Code is highly specific as to how this involvement might occur: Rule 25. Where seconds disagree, and resolve to exchange shots themselves, it must be at the same time and at right angles with their principals.
When a Duel is Over
Dueling "to the death" is not considered desirable in the Code Duello, although this may have been the ultimate end to many duels. Remember: Dueling is about recovering honor, not about killing. Rule 5 states:
... If swords are used, the parties engage until one is well blooded, disabled, or disarmed; or until, after receiving a wound, and blood being drawn, the aggressor begs pardon.
Rule 22 addresses the issue as well:
Any wound sufficient to agitate the nerves and necessarily make the hand shake, must end the business for that day.
Perhaps one of the most important rules of dueling does not involve the mechanics of the duel itself, but rather who is allowed to duel.[/b] In medieval Europe, dueling was the sport of noble-born men. Although commoners did fight and certainly did face each other in contests that could be called duels, an actual, honor-bound duel had to be conducted between two men of noble rank. One reason for this was economic -- swords are expensive weapons, and not every peasant had one. But it was also a means of distinguishing the upper and lower classes. Many countries had laws forbidding commoners to fight amongst themselves, while dukes, princes and even kings were expected to duel each other.
What reason did nobles have for constantly fighting each other to the death? Read the next section to find out.
Dueling is very much entwined with honor. However, the concept of honor in centuries past is very different from what most people think of as honor today. For one thing, the socially accepted concept of honor had very little to do with being a "good" person. It was tied directly to nobility -- if your family was rich and had the favor of the king, as well as a noble title of some kind (Duke, Prince, Earl, etc.), then you had honor.
If you were a noble, you had to constantly protect your honor against various challenges to it -- and not just your own honor, but your entire family's honor, for several generations forward and back. There were several ways to lose honor, but the most common and most important was to be considered a coward. The best way to avoid being considered a coward was to challenge anyone who insulted you to a duel and to accept any dueling challenges offered to you. To refuse would mean that your opponent could publish an account of your cowardice, report it in church or simply spread the word to all his friends.
This loss of honor was not a completely abstract concept. Under some kings, failure to uphold a dueling challenge could result in a loss of noble ranking. Some countries even had laws that punished "cowards" with excommunication from the church, the loss of voting rights or outright imprisonment (Holland, pg. 31). To these men, it was better to die respectably in a duel over an insult than to live on without honor.
One aspect of being noble is that you were not allowed to work or to buy or sell anything (this would result in a loss of honor). Nobles were expected to live off the rents from their family's huge tracts of land. One result of all this not working was boredom. As the centuries went on, dueling became almost like a sport for young, bored noblemen. Sometimes they would intentionally insult people or cause trouble, then claim that they were "insulted" because someone bumped into them. If all else failed, they would throw down the gauntlet simply because another noble wasn't polite enough. When a noble was in the company of a lady, her honor was considered so fragile that anyone who did anything the least bit impolite within sight of the lady was liable to end up in a duel (Holland, pg. 38).
Another important factor is the belief that the winner of a fair fight was a superior person to the loser. He wasn't just a better or stronger fighter, he was better all around -- more honorable, wiser, and most important, favored by God.
Wild West Showdowns
The stereotype of two cowboys marching off 10 paces and firing their six-shooters on a dusty street did actually happen -- the American frontier period coincides with a time when dueling was popular in America. In fact, the absence of law enforcement in many frontier towns probably left a lot of room for violent disagreements.
Nobles weren't the only ones participating in duels. Some of the earliest legal systems relied on dueling to determine guilt or innocence. Prior to the 11th and 12th centuries, someone accused of a crime would have to go through a trial or ordeal of some kind [ref], and one form of trial was the trial by combat. They might have to face their accuser or a trained dueling expert appointed by the court. Winning a duel was a sign that God favored you, therefore proving innocence.
Many duelists (including nobles) issued challenges for pragmatic reasons, as well. For a man who was confident in his own skill at dueling, it was the solution to virtually any problem. Debts could be erased by finishing off the creditor. Land disputes were settled in a similar manner. Rivals for jobs or political appointments were all potential dueling partners, while elections could be decided with swords or guns rather than votes.
In antebellum Missouri, the political duel became a way of life. According to Dick Steward in "Duels and the Roots of Violence in Missouri,"
[The duelist's] immediate objective was ... the elimination of a political rival. The duel, therefore, became one upper-class tool in political clashes. From the territorial elections of 1816 through 1824 the code became legitimized as never before or after." In fact, Peter Burnett, the first governor of California, once said of Missouri politics, "It becomes desirable to kill off certain aspirants, to get them out of the way." (Steward, pg. 43).
In the next section, we'll look at the history of dueling.
The Most Famous American Duel
Hamilton vs. Burr
Alexander Hamilton, a political philosopher and politician who was present at the Constitutional Convention, met an untimely end in a duel with Aaron Burr, one-time Vice President of the United States.
Photo courtesy Beacon Lights of History Volume XI, John Lord, 1902
Depiction of Alexander Hamilton dueling with Aaron Burr
Hamilton and Burr had come into conflict as partners in a law firm and during Burr's presidential candidacy (at the time, the runner-up in a presidential election became vice president). Their dislike for each other boiled over one day into an exchange of insults, and Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. They met in Weehawken, New Jersey, on July 11, 1804, and fired pistols at each other simultaneously. Burr's shot hit Hamilton, while Hamilton shot into the air. There is speculation that he fired that way intentionally so as not to hit Burr, though some think his shot was thrown off when he was struck by Burr's bullet [ref]. Hamilton died the next day.
The Evolution of Dueling
Dueling is closely related to the jousting competitions of the middle ages. The development of dueling codes may be related to the Chivalric code of honor practiced by noble knights. A joust is basically a duel on horseback. Formal rules required that jousting competitors be of noble birth. When two knights approached each other at the beginning of a competition, etiquette required that they raise the visors of their helmets, revealing their identities to one and other. This helped assure that only nobles were participating in the fight. This gesture lives on today -- it eventually evolved into the military salute.
When pistols were first introduced, few duelists were willing to use them without a backup weapon. They were not reliable, so often duelists would arrive at a fight with a pistol on one hip and a sword on the other, just in case.
The introduction of firearms to European battlefields led to the eventual extinction of heavily armored knights, since no armor was really bullet-proof. Since massive swords were no longer needed to bash through plate armor, this led to the development of lighter swords that could be wielded with more finesse.
As sword fighting shifted to lighter, more skill-oriented weapons, some duelists began to practice the art for sport rather than honor. It became a contest, not to the death, but to a certain number of points. Injuries were still common, even after the Italians started placing a button on the tips of their swords, but fatalities dropped dramatically. The art of swordplay was practiced as the sport of fencing.
Photo courtesy ANA/Alexandros Vlachos
Opening day of the Fencing Grand Prix 2004 in Athens, Greece
As guns became more common weapons in Europe, they affected another major change in dueling -- now, anyone could duel. Buying a pistol was much less expensive than buying a sword. Costly training with an Italian fencing master was not necessary to participate in a pistol duel. This democratized dueling. It was no longer something done only by barons and princes. Dueling filtered down throughout society.
In the United States, doctors, newspaper editors, politicians and lawyers dueled one and other. The breakdown of the "dueling class" was complete -- America didn't have kings or dukes. Duels soared in popularity throughout the United States and Europe until the 20th century.
A Martyr for Abolition
In 1859, politics in the fledgling state of California were sharply divided along pro-slavery and anti-slavery lines. Lawyer and Supreme Court justice David Terry, originally a Texan, was against abolition. David Broderick was the leader of the anti-slavery splinter group of Democrats known as the Free Soil Party. Broderick declared that Terry was not an honest man and called him a miserable wretch, and Terry had previously made speeches attacking Broderick. Several letters were written back and forth until Broderick refused to apologize and Terry issued his challenge: "This course on your part leaves me no alternative but to demand the satisfaction usual among gentleman, which I accordingly do"
Read This for an Account of this Duel
After some confusion regarding the count-off before firing, both men turned at the same time. Terry was quicker, hitting Broderick in the chest. He died a few days later.
Historians think Broderick's death may have created some sympathy for the anti-slavery movement. That momentum led California, with all its gold for funding an army, to enter the Civil War on the Union side.
The Death of the Duel
Dueling didn't die out because of sudden opposition to the practice. In fact, there have been calls to ban dueling dating back centuries. Christian leaders disliked dueling because it clearly violated one of the commandments. They also were against it because "legal ordeal" dueling took power away from church officials, who would have preferred to judge such cases themselves. Church opposition to dueling continued from the middle ages until dueling's eventual demise. Kings and military leaders opposed dueling at times because it cost the noble classes so many young men who might otherwise have filled the officer ranks in the military.
In the 1800s, politicians, judges and writers were very vocal in their desire to see dueling banned. Mark Twain was against dueling (Holland, pg. 214), and both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin found dueling a waste of human life [ref]. Many states passed laws against dueling, but for many years juries refused to find anyone guilty of the crime.
The ultimate demise of dueling was due to a complex set of cultural factors. It had survived for centuries as something carried out by noble men to help keep themselves distinct from the lower classes. Once dueling had spread to every stratum of society, it no longer served this function. At that point, the destructive nature of dueling began to have an impact on public opinion. Also, some historians speculate that the great wars of the 19th and 20th centuries exposed people to the horrors of combat while simultaneously killing off a large portion of the younger generation. The Civil War in the United States and World War I in Europe mark rough points at which dueling began to decline in the respective cultures.
Today, dueling still exists, but it has taken less bloody forms. In the purest sense, one-on-one contests such as boxing and wrestling capture the spirit of dueling, while fencing as a sport descends directly from duels. Almost any head-to-head showdown guided by very specific rules of etiquette can be considered a modern-day duel and may show up anywhere -- at the poker table, in the corporate boardroom, on the tennis court or in video games.
For more information on dueling and related topics, check out the links on the next page.
Cohen, Richard. "By the Sword." Random House, 2002. 0-375-50417-6.
Holland, Barbara. "Gentlemen's Blood: A History of Dueling." Bloomsbury, 2003. 1-58234-366-7.
McAleer, Kevin. "Dueling: The Cult of Honor in Fin-de-Siecle Germany." Princeton, 1994. 0-691-03462-1.
Poliakoff, Michael B. "Combat Sports in the Ancient World." Yale University Press, 1987. 0-300-03768-6.
Steward, Dick. "Duels and the Roots of Violence in Missouri." University of Missouri Press, 2000. 0-8262-1284-0.
Wow! That is even more information than I thought I wanted to know.
They should bring back dueling.
I wanna duel against George Soros. Weapons? 1911 pistols.
Dueling is an over-abundance of testesterone. Good riddance. There are more peaceful ways to resolve a personal dispute than taking up arms against each other.
BANG! BANG! You're Dead
by Barbara Holland illustrations by Peter De Sève
Dueling at the drop of a hat was as European as truffles and as American as mom’s apple pie.
He was a tall, bony, wild-haired man, and he faced his opponent at eight paces instead of the standard ten. He knew the other’s reputation as a deadly shot, probably the best in all of pistol-packing Tennessee. He himself wasn’t nearly as good, and his eyes, though fierce, were getting weak, but he was here deliberately, even eagerly. He was to rack up a lifetime total of at least 14 duels; in most duels a slight flesh wound would end the matter, but this man he had sworn to kill. Their seconds stood by.
He let Dickinson fire first. The bullet struck him in the chest, where it shattered two ribs and settled in to stay, festering, for the next 39 years. Slowly he lifted his left arm and placed it across his coat front, teeth clenched. “Great God! Have I missed him?” cried Dickinson. Dismayed, he stepped back a pace and was ordered to return to stand on his mark.
Blood ran into our hero’s shoes. He raised his pistol and took aim. The hammer stuck at half cock. Coolly he drew it back, aimed again, and fired. Dickinson fell, the bullet having passed clear through him, and died shortly afterward.
“I should have hit him,” our bleeding hero said, “if he had shot me through the brain.”
A costume melodrama in glorious Technicolor from the archives of MGM? A paperback swashbuckler at the airport newsstand? Well, no. The year was 1806 and the survivor was Andrew Jackson, later our widely beloved seventh President, just doing what any gentleman would do. The spat had begun when Dickinson took the “sacred name” of Jackson’s wife, Rachel, into his “polluted mouth” and escalated in an argument over a horse-racing debt until death was the only answer.
Americans like to think of dueling as antique, elitist and purely European. Not our kind of thing at all. Our historians and biographers ignore gentlemanly dueling as much as possible, though the historic air is blue with accounts of rude Western types plugging each other in places like Dodge City. Only one formal American duel can’t be politely overlooked in our textbooks; such schoolchildren as still learn history learn that Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton. When they do, they’re shocked. Accustomed as they are to random murders, the formality of the occasion and the importance of the players seem alarming. How was it possible that after the duel Burr went not to prison but back to Washington, D.C. to resume his presidency of the United States Senate?
Many confuse Burr with the likes of John Wilkes Booth: assassins both. Nobody tells the children that the Burr-Hamilton matter (Smithsonian, November 1976) wasn’t a uniquely gruesome crime but quite an ordinary event. Or that affairs of the kind were faithful to an ancient code of honorable behavior and, by the 19th century, so characteristic of American political and journalistic life that the Rev. Lyman Beecher, father of Henry Ward and Harriet, once cried out, “We are murderers, a nation of murderers.” Nobody mentions that Hamilton, not quite the textbook’s martyred innocent, had been a principal in 11 previous affairs of honor, mostly aborted, including clashes with the abrasive John Adams and the otherwise easygoing James Monroe; or that Hamilton’s son Philip was killed in a duel.
We’d like to forget that only in recent times has American umbrage mutated into highway wars in which rival commuters run each other’s cars off the road, or into lesser rituals like libel suits in which honor is restored by cash instead of blood.
Scholars suppose that dueling took root with the most primitive judicial systems, when disputes insoluble by witness testimony were solved in a trial by combat. The lower classes bashed each other with cudgels and staves in their customary fashion; the gentry used more gentrified weapons. On the hazy theory that God identified the good guy and lent him a hand, the winner, whether he did his own fighting or hired a proxy, was more than just the winner. By the fact of winning he was held to be innocent of the charges brought; he was honest, and the defeated man a liar; the disputed land, or ox, or fair maiden was rightfully his.
The ritual battle moved out of the courts and into the world. Gallant knights in heavy armor challenged fellow knights according to an established code, making the welkin ring with sword blows. In spite of periodic bannings, personal combat spread. It appealed to young aristocrats with too much time on their hands. Landowners laid out and leased special dueling sites, complete with bleachers for onlookers. In France, the judicial trial by combat was officially abolished in 1385—and was occasionally unabolished in the centuries to come. Queen Elizabeth I squashed it in England about 1570. Yet the private duel of honor, which was sometimes graciously attended by the reigning monarch, was just hitting its stride.
Young men from all over Europe slipped off to Italy to learn the art of fencing at the flourishing schools there. It was in Italy that the first essential manual on dueling, Flos duellatorum, was published in 1410, and every medieval gentleman studied it closely. Traveling fencing masters spread out and founded their own schools. By 1480 in Germany such schools, called Fechtschulen, enjoyed privileges conferred by the emperor himself, establishing a tradition beloved by the military and students in dueling clubs until well into the 20th century—perhaps, it’s hinted, even today.
In 1527 Charles V, overlord of the Holy Roman Empire, declared that Francis I of France had broken a treaty and was, as Charles would have it, “a stranger to honor and integrity becoming a gentleman.” Francis challenged him. Charles accepted. Their duel, like so many, fizzled away in preliminary negotiations. It was finally canceled, but news of the plans between the two most powerful men in Europe sparked fresh enthusiasm all over the continent. Dueling was plainly the socially correct thing to do.
Battles of honor with various sharp instruments became a favorite pastime in England, Scotland, Spain, Italy, Austria and Germany. For Irish laddies, dueling became an essential rite of passage. In France, swordplay developed into such an obsession that Henry IV was alarmed enough to outlaw it in 1599. His subjects paid no attention. Even though an apology or a few drops of blood often ended such matters, it has been claimed that during a peak 180-year period, 40,000 Frenchmen died of dueling wounds. The figure does not seem so preposterous when you learn that in just one decade under Henry IV, as many as 6,000 dueling deaths occurred. Even women joined in. In 1721, a Lady de Nestle met the Countess de Polignac with pistols in the gardens of Versailles over the handsome Duc de Richelieu. Their first shots went wild, but in the second round de Nestle was badly wounded. In the reign of Louis XIV, Madame de St. Belmont, dressed as a man, met a cavalry officer on the designated field and promptly disarmed him with her sword. It is by no coincidence that the Three Musketeers, who never parted from their swords, are French national heroes—along with Cyrano de Bergerac who outpointed 100 assailants at a time, presumably while composing and reciting his own verse.
By the 1700s dueling textbooks were less concerned with the fine points of swordplay than with the fine points of personal honor, the etiquette involved in exactly when a challenge was required, how to deliver it, how to accept it, and how to emerge, dead or alive, washed clean of the disrespectful look, word or gesture. The semiofficial Code Duello was adopted in Ireland in 1777 and spread rapidly. Its 36 rules laid out the proper conditions for upper-class combat, the wording of challenges, and the right of the challenged to choose the place and weapons. The rules were paramount; if they were broken, it wasn’t a duel at all, merely an unseemly brawl.
The rules of swordplay had long been established, but when guns took over the field, the seconds had more leeway in negotiating matters like distance, the number of shots to be fired, and when. Sometimes a second would call “Ready?” and the duelists, back-to-back, their weapons at their sides, would march forward to the count of paces, wheel and fire. More usually, the seconds measured off the distance and drew their marks. The principals often stood sideways to each other, sucking in their stomachs to narrow the target. One of the seconds counted, “Fire, one, two, three”; it was bad form to fire before “one” or after “three.”
Only another gentleman could meet a gentleman. If a churl insulted a gentleman, the gentleman might have him flogged, but there was no way he could honorably avenge himself face-to-face. Not that it mattered: a peasant’s insult was no insult at all. Among the elite, however slight a slight might be, it could not decently go unchallenged and no challenge could decently go unmet.
Like bungee jumping, rock climbing and other dangerous customs, duels were popular because they were exciting. They offered the restless young an outlet for natural aggressions. With this in mind when he ran for mayor of New York, Norman Mailer called for real jousting in Central Park. Duels spiked the testosterone; they provided the heady rush of risk without the large-scale cost and inconvenience of going to war. They impressed fair ladies. They impressed one’s peers. They impressed those who might grant advancement at court or in the military, illegal or not. In short, they looked good on the résumé.
Alexandre Dumas (Smithsonian, July 1996), writing in the mid-19th century of the glory days of the 17th, gave the world the merrily fearless Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan, parents of dozens of rousing movies. (One of Dumas’s Musketeers at least was based on a real firebrand, Armand de Sillègue, Lord of Athos, who died by the sword in 1643.) As the young hero, d’Artagnan, sets forth to seek his fortune, his father lectures him: “. . . never tolerate the slightest affront from anyone except the cardinal or the king. . . . Fight duels at the drop of a hat, especially since duels are forbidden: that means it takes twice as much courage to fight one.”
Who could resist?[/b]
Duel-wise, America hit the ground running. The ink of his signature on the Declaration of Independence was barely dry before the brilliant Button Gwinnett was killed at 12 paces by Gen. Lachlan McIntosh, of the battling McIntosh clan, in a matter concerning a Colonial appointment.
By this time pairs of dueling pistols had come into their own as specialized weapons, elegant and, for their day, accurate. The earliest were made in England, and Americans ordered them from there until makers like Constable of Philadelphia and Cooper of New York were producing their own. Usually about .50 caliber, exquisitely engraved and housed in velvet-lined mahogany boxes with their own cleaning rods and accessories, they became a distinguished element in any gentleman’s haberdashery.
Until the 1830s, many were fitted with hair triggers, requiring only the most tentative touch. A man who, through nerves or inexperience, touched too soon would shoot a tree or the ground, depending on whether his arm was falling or rising. But for less ham-handed duelists, the hair trigger allowed not only a faster shot but a more accurate one, too.
Hair triggers fell into disrepute, but speed and accuracy continued to improve, particularly for shooting at greater distances. (In 1834 Alexander McClung, inveterate Southern duelist, set a new record by fatally shooting his man in the mouth with a percussion pistol at over a hundred feet.)
Like so much of our Old World baggage, the duel underwent a sea change in crossing the Atlantic. Here, fair maidens and a gentleman’s honor soon became less of a problem than politics. The new country took its politics to heart; almost from the beginning of the Republic all political factions considered all other political factions a threat to the country and a personal insult. They called each other not just traditional things like “liar,” “coward,” “puppy” and “poltroon,” but “fornicator,” “madman” and “bastard”; they accused each other of incest, treason and consorting with the Devil. Political debate often led straight to whatever secluded local spot had been set aside to soak up the blood of satisfaction.
It was political suicide to suffer an affront without challenging, or to decline a challenge. Such things had a way of getting around, by way of dinner parties, pseudonymous newspaper articles or the purely American custom, popular clear into the 1890s, of “posting” in taverns and on street corners notices that called the coward a coward. (Posting was also a common way of issuing a challenge in the first place.) Obeying the code of honor showcased a man’s courage, integrity and conviction, and marked him as leadership material. It was a wise career move. One James Jackson, at the tender age of 23, killed the lieutenant governor of Georgia for his “overbearing” manners and went on to become governor himself, as well as congressman and senator. Hamilton, explaining his acceptance of the Burr duel, wrote, “The ability to be in future useful, whether in resisting mischief or effecting good . . . would probably be inseparable from a conformity with public prejudice in this particular.” A pompous way of saying nobody would vote for or listen to a poltroon.
Judges, governors, senators, congressmen and rival candidates for office blazed or slashed away at each other. From 1795 until 1800, Federalists dueled with Republicans. After Jefferson’s election, Clintonian (so named for New York’s first governor, George Clinton) Republicans battled Burrite Republicans, and then went back to shooting Federalists. Decades later, when Andrew Jackson was polarizing the American political scene, an anti-Jacksonian, Col. Robert Crittenden, shot Jacksonian general Henry Conway through the heart.
The following year on Bloody Island, a favorite dueling site near St. Louis, Congressman Spencer Pettis, who was running for reelection from Missouri, and Army Postmaster Maj. Thomas Biddle, who had called Pettis “a bowl of skimmed milk,” killed each other at the brutal distance of five feet. Among many encounters in the corridors of power, Congressman Jonathan Cilley of Maine and Congressman William Graves of Kentucky had a falling out over a newspaper article and chose rifles at 80 paces; Cilley died.
From the 1830s on, in the territories and border states, pro-slavery and abolitionist hotheads challenged each other regularly.
In California in 1859 the former chief justice of the state supreme court, proslavery judge David Terry, killed antislavery senator David Broderick before a large crowd of fascinated spectators. In the South, being called an abolitionist was added to the list of insults that required a challenge.
Policy differences rankled for years. Having disagreed about the War of 1812, and most other matters since, in 1826 U.S. Secretary of State Henry Clay and Senator John Randolph of Virginia finally met by appointment across the Potomac from Washington. Randolph showed up in a long flannel dressing gown. (Considered eccentric if not downright deranged, he had reportedly fought his first duel in college over the pronunciation of a word.) The rendezvous with Clay was a distinguished encounter, though not quite historic, since the statesmen narrowly missed each other. Then they shook hands and (more or less) made up. A good duel could be cleansing.
Political honor hung by threads as slender as mail delivery. In the 1820s when Sam Houston was a congressman from Tennessee, he mailed his constituents some packets of vegetable seeds to plant. They were never delivered, and Houston called Nashville postmaster Curry a scoundrel. Curry sent a general named White with a challenge. Houston said he wouldn’t fight such a lowlife as Curry, so White offered himself instead. They fired at each other from 15 feet, and Houston wounded White severely in the groin. Nobody knows whether the seeds ever turned up.
Even Abraham Lincoln, that tower of common sense, was not a complete stranger to the field of honor. He’d objected to the tax policies of Illinois state auditor James Shields and wrote a piece signed “Rebecca,” calling Shields a fool, a liar, and smelly to boot. Shields sent a friend storming into the newspaper office, demanding to know Rebecca’s true identity. (People frequently stormed into newspaper offices in the 19th century, often heavily armed; pressrooms kept a loaded gun handy.) The editor quickly exposed his source. Shields challenged Lincoln.
According to one version, Lincoln accepted, choosing cavalry sabers, presumably because of his famously long arms. Everyone showed up as planned on a sandbar in the Mississippi near Alton, Illinois. Honest Abe sat on a log idly swishing his saber around in the air, suggestively slashing the branches high above his head, while the seconds, whose duty it was to try to mend matters, conferred. Presently a statement was agreed on, in which Lincoln was said to have said he hadn’t meant anything personal in the article, including, apparently, how Shields smelled. Then everyone went home.
Naturally newspapers and their editors were always in the thick of the dueling scene, fanning the flames. The notion of impartial political reporting would have been laughable; a newspaper was a partisan organ, fiercely praising its faction and calling its opponents monsters, consummate traitors and contemptible scoundrels. When the editors’ invention flagged, contributors pitched in, signing their pieces with noms de plume like “Vindix” or “Democritus.” A politician who couldn’t find a paper to wave his banner was forced to start a paper of his own.
Opposing editors put on their pistols when they dressed in the morning. Challenges rained down on their heads. Pressed for time, one 19th-century San Francisco editor posted a notice on his door, “Subscriptions received from 9 to 4, challenges from 11 to 12 only.” In Vicksburg, Mississippi (est. pop. 3,500), three newspaper editors died in duels in 1843 and the early part of 1844. In hot-blooded New Orleans, Dr. Thomas Hunt, perceiving slurs on his family name, killed John Frost, editor of the Crescent. In Kentucky, the proslavery Charles Wickliffe killed the editor of the Lexington Gazette over an anonymous dissenting article. He was tried and acquitted, but the succeeding editor, George Trotter, disagreed with the verdict in print. Wickliffe challenged him and was killed at eight feet.
Virginia editors had a particularly short shelf life. The two brothers who edited the Richmond Examiner in the early 19th century both died in duels. Edgar Allan Poe challenged one of the paper’s later editors but showed up too drunk to shoot. Before the Civil War, O. Jennings Wise, editor of the Richmond Enquirer, fought eight duels in only two years. John Daniel of the Examiner disagreed with Edward Johnston of the Whig over the esthetic merits of a particular statue. In the inevitable duel, they both missed.
As the duel went West it lost some of its classic formality, and sometimes instead of the courtly letter of challenge delivered by a dignified second, a glass of whiskey thrown in the face would suffice . It flourished, however, especially in California, where in 1852 a dispute over whether or not to send aid to the snowbound Donner Party led Gen. James Denver, Secretary of State of California, to kill Edward Gilbert, editor of the Alta California. (This proved a good career move; Denver, untainted, went on to serve as congressman and territorial governor, and had a city in Colorado named in his honor.)
Many Westerners didn’t own dueling pistols and used what they did have, homelier weapons, including the wicked bowie knife that could slice off a man’s nose like butter. In Denver versus Gilbert, the weapons were rifles at murderously close range. (With rifles, if your weapon misfired you were in deep trouble.) Around the same time and place Charles Lippincott, editor of the Sierra Citizen, killed a lawyer named Tevis in a duel with double-barreled shotguns loaded with ball at 40 yards. The effect was quite gruesome.
Even as late as mid-century there were few laws against dueling, and where such laws existed they proved hard to enforce, harder to prosecute and hardest to explain to a jury. Dueling was still considered, even by the federal lawmakers, as the mark of a manly and vigorous society and necessary to keep rude tongues in check.In 1838 Congress did make it illegal to offer or accept a challenge within the District of Columbia, but that same year Gov. John Wilson of South Carolina issued his 16-page pamphlet revising and updating the Code Duello for American use, even softening the European prejudice against fighting one’s social inferiors. It was a big seller, regularly reprinted for years.
By 1859, eighteen states had banned dueling, with little perceptible effect. Indignant duelists—with their seconds, attending physicians and sometimes crowds of onlookers in tow—continued to troop out of town or across a state border or simply into a grove of trees to settle their differences. New Yorkers slipped across the river to New Jersey, to Hoboken or to Weehawken, where Hamilton met Burr. The dueling doctors of New Orleans repaired, like all the bloods of that mettlesome town, to a grove known as “The Oaks” to settle medical matters—surgical methods, purges, poultices and the proper treatment of typhoid—with sword and pistol.
Islands and sandbars were popular because of their ambiguous jurisdiction. Richmond duelists headed for Belle Isle in the James River. Vidalia, in the Mississippi, was favored in Natchez, in part because it was convenient for the citizens to row over and watch. Bloody Island served St. Louis. Memphis duelists often crossed the river to Arkansas to fight, while farther south, Arkansans repaired to the mouth of the White River in Mississippi. Mid-river, on a paddle-wheel steamer, was another oasis, and James Bowie killed a gambler in a duel over a card game aboard the Orleans.
Most famous of all was the more-or-less-official national dueling ground in Bladensburg, Maryland, a convenient mile or so beyond the District of Columbia line. Here, on 15 vine-choked acres, a hundred or more duels were fought. It has been described as “the court of last resort, in which weighty points of etiquette, social and political problems and questions of veracity, propriety and right were expounded by the convincing power of gunpowder.” It was here that Gen. Armistead Mason died by a shotgun slug from his cousin, Col. John McCarty. It was here that Commodore Stephen Decatur, a brave and dashing officer, fell.
The Navy had long treasured its dueling tradition; a copy of the Code Duello was in every midshipman’s handbook, and until the Civil War no niggling official rules hampered naval dueling. In 1808 Decatur sat on the court-martial board that suspended Capt. James Barron, in effect, for mishandling a confrontation with the British Navy, and Barron went abroad to brood. Decatur became the wildly popular hero of the War of 1812 and coiner of the phrase “Our country, right or wrong.” When Barron came back and asked to be reinstated, Decatur opposed him. Barron called him out, and they met at Bladensburg, eight paces apart. Decatur, 41 years old and by all accounts as sweet-natured as he was brave, died that night; Barron lived to be 89.
Around 1857 Bladensburg’s bloody ground was cleared, plowed and planted. Dueling, however, fueled by the passions of the impending Civil War, was hardly deterred. Indeed, the Civil War itself, and the Southern response to it, sometimes seems more an affair of honor than a war, involving what might be called collective personal pride more than common sense or public advantage.
The temper of the country was shifting, however. By war’s end, enough blood had been shed to give many a distaste for the deliberate gore of dueling. Public opinion, the only effective court, changed, and anti-dueling laws were enforced. The lawless territories settled into respectable statehood. Commerce flourished, and a man’s reputation came to rest more on his cash than his courage; and besides, the war had left a backlog of certified heroes who didn’t need to prove themselves under further fire.
Dueling lingered in the reckless Far West and the proud-tempered South. It wasn’t until 1893 that Joseph Bryan, Confederate hero and editor of the influential Richmond Times, rejected a challenge, calling the custom “absurd and barbarous,” and was widely applauded for his stand. The custom ground slowly to a halt.
The mahogany cases of pistols went to the attic. As the 20th century dawned, politics became less central to our emotional lives. Manhood could be exercised in making money. Legions of lawyers sprang up to defend our good names in libel suits, less colorful but safer and more profitable. Maybe the Founding Fathers would be proud of us. Maybe they’d feel we’ve made great strides in honorable behavior. On the other hand, maybe they’d feel we’ve degenerated into a nation of greedy poltroons without spirit or conviction, unworthy to meet a true gentleman at ten paces.
Here and there, though, the tradition lingered on. In 1959, in Hollywood, Barney Silva, co-owner of a chain of Los Angeles restaurants, experienced irreconcilable differences with jazz musician Jack Sorin over one Dorothy Simon. Resolving to do the thing right, the two men marked off ten paces in Silva’s living room, wheeled, and fired. Both died.
Tagged for future use!
Barbara Holland's Opinion on Dueling
Q. You suggest we might bring the duel back. Why?
A. It had its points. It certainly siphoned off a lot of hostility and testosterone. It took the strain off the courts, since nobody sued anyone they could shoot at instead. It livened up the political scene. And it was great for the white male's self-esteem, which I hear is in sad disarray these days. Maybe we should.
Q. Wouldn't that encourage violence?
A. Violence doesn't need much encouragement. It seems to be here to stay, and the duel was set up originally to limit it. Keep it organized within strict bounds, with an elaborate code of rules all gentlemen had to obey or get shunned socially. Better to defend your honor with regulated swordplay and witnesses than to hire some thugs to break your enemy's skull on the highway or burn down his house at midnight.
Now, of course, we defend our honor with libel suits, and wash away the insult with cash. We consider ourselves more civilized. Our forebears might consider us a bunch of cowardly poltroons.
An Enormous Amount of Information On Dueling can be found Here
Bring back legal dueling with edged weapons. Guns are not gratifying enough.
Thats a lot of information.
Richard Francis Burton (the famous English Explorer, Adventurer and Linguist)
was also one of Europe's greatest Swordsmen with the Saber and have had fought in numerous duels.
Wrote a book on Swords and Dueling which can be found here
You left out the duels of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. C'mon!
I think dueling should be legal. SOlve alot more problems than lawsuits, cheaper too
A dueling loophole: Harpoons at 20 paces
By BUDDY STALL
Harvey, La., located on the Westbank of the Mississippi River just above New Orleans, is named for S.M. Harvey. He came to New Orleans in 1840 and married Miss Louise Destrehan of the wealthy and prominent family of that name.
Prior to coming to New Orleans, Harvey was a skipper of a whaling vessel. In his new environment of wealth and influence, and not knowing the intricacy of Creole customs, he was as out of place as a New Orleanian carrying snow skis in August.
One evening Harvey and his wife attended a gala dinner party that was followed by the customary gentleman’s card game. The game proceeded quite pleasantly until an altercation arose between Mr. Harvey and a Creole gentleman of high position named Mr. Albert Farve. Mr. Farve did something that provoked Harvey, who (in an ungentlemanly fashion) punched Farve, knocking him to the ground and inflicting a black eye.
The next day Farve sent his second (person selected to represent him according to the dueling code) to advise Harvey that he had been insulted and wished to meet him in mortal combat on the field of honor. The second then advised Harvey that his being challenged allowed him choice of weapons.
Harvey, being unaccustomed to the code duello rules, asked for a further explanation. Farve’s second responded, “You, sir, may select pistols, swords, rifles, shotguns or any dangerous weapon in which you may be skilled.” Thinking for a minute or two, Harvey then said, “I understand now and will meet your friend on the terms you state. Please pick the time and place to suit your own convenience.”
Farve’s second replied, “That, sir, is prompt and like a gentleman of honor.” He then asked, “Please favor me with your choice of weapons that I might communicate it to my friend.” Harvey very politely said, “Please wait a minute.” He then went into another area of the house and returned with two 10-foot long hickory handled whaling harpoons. He advised the second that this was his choice and would be used at a distance of 20 paces.
He then went outside and demonstrated the weapon by splitting a tree in half at 20 paces. The astonished and confused Creole gentleman questioned, “What, sir, do you suppose my friend to be, a fish to be stuck by such a damn tool as that?”
“Fish or no fish,” replied Harvey, “this is my choice of weapons.”
The indignant Creole left in great disgust and reported to his principal. After careful deliberation, Mr. Albert Farve no doubt decided he had not really been insulted by Harvey and the duel with the proposed harpoons never took place.
In this instance because of quick thinking and a sense of humor by Harvey, in place of blood being spilled on the field of honor, laughter spilled throughout the city as word spread of the unusual choice of weapon selected by Harvey.
(Parents’ clubs interested in arranging a talk by Buddy Stall, vice president of Radiofone, should contact Julie Dawson at 849-4508 or www.buddystall.com.)
I was thinking about putting together a set of paintball dueling pistols. All the same elements as the real thing, but without the death.
Imagine: You're at a party, when some rube tells your woman to "Make me a sammich!". You challenge him. You load up your paintguns, face away from each other, take ten paces, turn and fire. Being the schmuck he is, he misses. Then a ball of paint, moving at 300 fps drills him in the nads. The party attendees point at him and laugh. You have retained your lady's honor. Now she can go make you a sammich.
Pray good knight, that thou shalt never have to utilize thy worthy skills.
I am currently reading Bullfinch's mythology on the legends of King Arthur, etc....
It is worthy.
Chivalry is a lost art...
...or is it?
If some rich handsome dandy comes up to you and "smacks" you across your face with a gold plated glove....
Whatcha gonna do?
He has a Jaguar and you only have a Subaru.... Whatcha gonna do?
Chivalry sounds real good, except when you're on the receiving end of it.
STILL, chivalry is enticing.
Can the "little man" be chivalrous too?
P.S.... I will, by any means, defeat that "shining knight". And, my great, great, great grandchildren will lay flowers upon that "great knight's" grave. For... he died a noble death.
Being the challenged, you get to choose the weapons. Mrs. Rich Dandy had better hope Mr. Dandy is good with an AR-15
Well, I'm "respectable" out to 300 yards.!!!!
Do I get his wife in the deal? I think by "chivalrous" standards, she is mine.
Funny, I was just thinking about that guy.
A movie with several good duelling scenes is Barry Lyndon, by Kubrick. There's also a movie called the Duellist with Harvey Keitel, but that is pretty boring. But it's probably the only movie about duelling.
Based on a book by Joseph Conrad, whose books usually translate poorly to film, even though they're very interesting.
under the codes of Chivalry, that which was the loser's becomes the winner's.
So, whatever was precious to you becomes mine...to do with what I will.
And it won't be pretty......
P.S. I "saved" this too. Everything is instructive.
But then everyone would just duel everyone else in order to avoid actually working for stuff. It would be a constant struggle, because even if you dueled your way to the top, there would always be people trying to challenge you to duels just so they could steal your shit.
That would be 99% of the "underdeveloped" world.
Welcome to the real world.
Bowies.....a man's weapon
This is a Great Thread. Please, I beg you all, continue. This is Beauty, this is Truth.
Alright first of all above post was kinda scary. You creep me out.
On the other shit... the duelling system worked in the class system, which (despite Jesse Jackson's bitching) is not something utilized in American society. It was also used to defend honor, not to get that good promotion at a job. Only honorable men need defend honor, all the rest try to prove something that is not obviously there.
With the amount of bitching in the world, where would we find all the space for dead bodies? Mortician would be quite a business to get into at that point...
Great. Just what we needed; some guy whose ego is bruised and thinks his "honor" needs defending, so he wants to duel you. Thats all it would take, literally; some little mans warped thinking that his "honor" needed defending. Like I said, thank god its gone.
Killing someone over perceived slights still occurs. For example:Go up to a Gang Member or Hells Angel Member and start something.
The Violence still occurs, but in an uncontrolled manner.
The only thing that a Duel does is to Control the Violence so that both parties have something of an equal chance of surviving the outcome and defending their honor.
Edited to Add - From a sociological standpoint - Dueling makes perfect sense as a mechanism to contain violence - whereas our current laws ignore human behavior and thus, are irrational.
A Perinnial Duelist
Charles Mohun, 4th Baron Mohun, (c. 1675 – November 15, 1712), was an English politician; however, he is best known as a duellist and a rake. His father died shortly after his birth, following a duel, and left him the family estate. The estate, however, was heavily in debt. Due to this Mohun received no education, and was forced to resort to gambling in order to support his lavish lifestyle.
Mohun married the grand-daughter of Charles Gerard, 1st Earl of Macclesfield in 1691 with the hope that this match would alleviate some of his debt. Unfortunately he received no dowry for the marriage, and the couple separated shortly thereafter. Following the separation, Mohun's behaviour became ever more licentious. A gambling dispute in late 1692 resulted in his first duel, with John Kennedy, 7th Earl of Cassilis. But Mohun is best remembered for the events of December 8 of that year — a friend of Mohun's, an officer named Richard Hill, had fallen in love with the actress Anne Bracegirdle, however he faced competition from actor William Mountfort. Mohun and Hill ambushed the actor after a performance and, whilst Mohun restrained him, Hill stabbed him through the chest. Following Mountfort's death the next day, Hill fled the country, Mohun was captured and tried by the House of Lords. However, in a verdict that was widely condemned, Mohun was acquitted on February 6, 1693.
Mohun joined the army shortly after his acquittal, wherein he served under Charles Gerard, 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, the uncle of his former wife, and briefly served in France. In 1697 Mohun was again tried by the Lords for murder following a duel on Leicester Square. Mohun was again acquitted, although his friend Edward Rich, 6th Earl of Warwick was found guilty of manslaughter. After this incident Mohun took his seat in the House of Lords. In 1701 he accompanied the Earl of Macclesfield on a diplomatic mission to Hanover. Following the death of Macclesfield later in the year, Mohun was left most of his estate. He went on to spend over a decade defending his inheritance from rival claimants, most famously James Douglas, 4th Duke of Hamilton. In 1707 he became a member of the Kit-Cat Club, the pre-eminent Whig political and literary association of the period.
In 1712, two years after Mohun's Whig party had been heavily defeated in an election, the Duke of Hamilton was given the post of special envoy to Paris. Also at this time Mohun's legal dispute with Hamilton over his inheritance of the Macclesfield estate was going badly. Shortly before Hamilton left for France Mohun challenged him to a duel, which was fought on November 15 in Hyde Park. Hamilton was killed during the fight, and Mohun died shortly afterwards from his wounds. This bloody duel was immortalised by William Makepeace Thackeray in his novel The History of Henry Esmond. The injuries suffered by the two men were so horrific that the government passed legislation banning the use of seconds in such duels. Also as a result swords passed out of favour as the weapons of choice for such contests to be replaced by the pistol, which tended to result in shorter and less bloody fights.
Peter Wessel Tordenskjold, also known as Peter Wessel, Peder Tordenskjold, or Peder Tordenskiold, (October 28, 1691-1720), was an eminent Norwegian naval hero in the service of the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway. He rose to the rank of Vice-Admiral in the Royal Danish Navy for his services in the Great Northern War. His last name translated into English means "Thundershield."
Early life and career
Born at Trondheim, he was the tenth child of alderman Jan Wessel of Bergen. Wessel was a wild unruly lad who gave his pious parents much trouble, eventually stowing away in a ship bound for Copenhagen. Here, the king's chaplain Dr Peder Jespersen befriended the boy and sent him on a voyage to the West Indies, and finally procured him a vacant cadetship. After further voyages, this time to the East Indies, Wessel was, on the July 7, 1711, appointed 2nd lieutenant in the Royal Danish Navy and shortly afterwards became the captain of a 4-gun sloop Ormen (The Serpent), in which he cruised about the Swedish coast picking up useful information about the enemy. He also commanded the 6-gun vessel Lindorm, and earlier, was 2nd on the 26-gun frigate Postillion.
Exploits in the Great Northern War
In June 1712 he was promoted to the 20-gun frigate Løvendals Gallej, against the advice of the Danish admiralty, which considered him unreliable. His patron was the Norwegian admiral Løwendal, who was the first to recognize the young man's potential as a naval officer. Wessel was already renowned for two things: the audacity with which he attacked any Swedish vessels he came across regardless of odds, and his unique seamanship, which always enabled him to escape capture. The Great Northern War had now entered upon its later stage, when Sweden, beset on every side by foes, employed her fleet principally to transport troops and stores to her distressed German provinces. The audacity of Wessel impeded her at every point. He was continually snapping up transports, dashing into the fjords where her vessels lay concealed, and holding up her detached frigates.
On 26 June 1715, near Lindesnaes, he encountered the frigate Olbing Galley, pierced for 36 guns but carrying 28, which had been equipped in England for the Swedes and was on its way to Gothenburg under the command of an English captain, Bactman (?). Wessel instantly attacked her but in the English captain he met his match. The combat lasted all day, was interrupted by nightfall, and renewed again indecisively the following morning, until Wessel ran out of ammunition. His crew suffered 7 killed and 21 wounded over about 10 hours of fighting.
Wessel’s free and easy ways won him many enemies in the Danish navy. He was accused of unnecessarily endangering his majesty’s war-ships in the affairs with the frigate and he was brought before a court-martial. But the spirit with which he defended himself and the contempt he poured on his less courageous comrades took the fancy of King Frederick IV of Denmark-Norway, who cancelled the proceedings and raised Wessel to the rank of captain. When, in 1715, the return of the Swedish King Charles XII of Sweden from Turkey to Stralsund put new life into the dispirited Swedish forces, Wessel distinguished himself in numerous engagements off the coast of Swedish Pomerania and did the enemy considerable damage by cutting out their frigates and destroying their transports. On returning to Denmark in the beginning of 1716 he was ennobled under the title of Tordenskjold ("Thundershield"). When in the course of 1716 Charles XII invaded Norway and laid siege to the fortress of Fredrikshald, Tordenskjold compelled him to raise the siege and retire to Sweden by pouncing upon the Swedish transport fleet, laden with ammunition and other military stores, which rode at anchor in the narrow and dangerous Dynekil Fjord, utterly destroying the Swedish fleet with little damage to himself.
For this, his greatest exploit, he was promoted to commander, but at the same time incurred the enmity of his superior officer Admiral Gabel, whom he had failed to take into his confidence. Tordenskjold’s first important command was the squadron with which he was entrusted in the beginning of 1717 for the purpose of destroying the Swedish Gothenburg squadron. which interrupted the communications between Denmark and Norway. Owing to the disloyalty of certain of his officers who resented serving under the young adventurer, Tordenskjold failed to do all that was expected of him. His enemies were not slow to take advantage of his partial failure. The old charge of criminal recklessness was revived against him at a second court-martial before which he was summoned in 1718; but his old patron Admiral U. C. Gyldenløwe again intervened energetically in his behalf and the charge was quashed.
In December 1718 Tordenskjold brought to Frederick IV the welcome news of the death of Charles XII and was made a rear-admiral for his pains. Tordenskjold’s last feat of arms was his capture of the Swedish fortress of Carlsten at Marstrand, when he partially destroyed and partially captured the Gothenburg squadron which had so long eluded him. He was rewarded with the rank of vice-admiral.
Death by duelling
Tordenskjold did not long survive the termination of the war. On November 20, 1720 he was killed in a duel with a Livonian colonel, Jakob Axel Stael von Holstein. He fought von Holstein in a duel using nothing but a decorational rapier, whereas von Holstein was armed with a solid steel longsword (called a Karolinerverge, a "Carolinga sword"). Tordenskjold refused to back out, even though his sword was ridiculously inferior. This duel was encouraged by a dispute with von Holstein, whom Tordenskiold offended by labeling as a cheater at gambling. He metioned the Hydra from Greek mythology, and asked the man if he were the owner of it. This dispute turned into a melee, but Tordenskjold wacked the living daylights out of him. When Stäel tried to pull a sword, he was unsuccessful, and Tordenskjold used this sword to beat him up (not using the blade). Stäel demanded a duel, and it were agreed that it were to be fought with pistols, a weapon that Tordenskjold was very skilled with. Instead, Stäel cheated and had it arranged so that it would be fought with swords instead - he tricked the man keeping the firearms to travel away, believing that the duel was cancelled. Tordenskjold only had his small decorational rapier, and was run through by his adversary, the blow slicing both arteries wide open. He stumbled a couple of steps backwards, and died in the arms of servant Kold.
He corpse was brought to Copenhagen and was buried in Holmens kirke without much ceremonial, because dueling victims were not allowed a Christian burial according to Danish law.
Although, Dynekil excepted, Tordenskjold’s victories were of far less importance than Sehested’s at Stralsund and Gyldenløwe’s at Rügen, he is certainly, after Charles XII, the most heroic figure of the Great Northern War.
The young admiral has been memorialized in a variety of fashions. His life has been retold in fiction and on film; the 1910 Danish motion picture Peder Tordenskjold was based on the novel by Danish writer Carit Etlar (1816-1900).
The Royal Danish Navy has named several ships after him, including an early 20th Century coastal battleship, and the Niels Juel class corvette KDM Peter Tordenskiold (F356). The Royal Norwegian Navy has also named ships after him and the Norwegian naval training establishment in Bergen is named KNM Tordenskjold.
Button Gwinnett (1735 - May 19, 1777), was one of the signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of Georgia. He was also briefly the provisional president of Georgia in 1777, prior to his death, and has Gwinnett County (now a major suburb of metro Atlanta) named after him.
Button was born in the parish of Down Hatherley in Gloucestershire, England to Reverend Samuel and Anne Gwinnett. There are conflicting reports as to his birthdate, but he was baptized in St Catherine's Church in Gloucester on 10th April of 1735. He started his career as a merchant in Bristol, England. He then moved to Wolverhampton in 1755 and married a local, Ann Bourne, in 1757. In 1762 the couple left Wolverhampton and moved to America.
Arriving first in Charleston, South Carolina, by 1765 they had travelled to Savannah, Georgia. Gwinnett abandoned his mercantile pursuits, selling off all his merchandise to buy a tract of land on St. Catherines Island where he started a plantation. He prospered as a planter, and by 1769 had gained such local prominence that he was elected to the Provincial Assembly.
He was appointed commander of Georgia's continental militia, but declined the position, and was elected to attend the Continental Congress. After signing the Declaration of Independence, he returned to Georgia and served in the legislature there, helping to draft the state's constitution. As president of the Council of Safety, he led an unsuccessful attempt to invade Florida. He was cleared of wrongdoing in this undertaking and ran unsuccessfully for Governor. He challenged his chief political foe, Lachlan McIntosh, to a duel, which was fought on May 16, 1777. Both were wounded: McIntosh survived, but Button Gwinnett died three days later of his wounds.
A fairly obscure historical figure, Gwinnett nonetheless does hold one claim to fame: his autograph is among the most valuable in the world. Valuations usually suggest an example of an original Gwinnett signature would be valued only behind the likes of Julius Caesar and William Shakespeare, making Gwinnett's by far the most valuable American autograph. Single examples of Gwinnett's autograph have been sold for as much as $150,000. Its extraordinarily high value is a result of a combination of the desire by many top collectors to acquire a complete set of autographs by all 56 signatories of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and the extreme rarity of the Gwinnett signature (there are less than 30 known extant examples, since Gwinnett was fairly obscure prior to signing the Declaration and died shortly afterwards).
Code Duello: The Rules of Dueling
Reprinted from "American Duels and Hostile Encounters," Chilton Books, 1963.
The Code Duello, covering the practice of dueling and points of honor, was drawn up and settled at Clonmel Summer Assizes, 1777, by gentlemen-delegates of Tipperary, Galway, Sligo, Mayo and Roscommon, and prescribed for general adoption throughout Ireland. The Code was generally also followed in England and on the Continent with some slight variations. In America, the principal rules were followed, although occasionally there were some glaring deviations.
Rule 1. The first offense requires the first apology, though the retort may have been more offensive than the insult. Example: A tells B he is impertinent, etc. B retorts that he lies; yet A must make the first apology because he gave the first offense, and then (after one fire) B may explain away the retort by a subsequent apology.
Rule 2. But if the parties would rather fight on, then after two shots each (but in no case before), B may explain first, and A apologize afterward.
N.B. The above rules apply to all cases of offenses in retort not of stronger class than the example.
Rule 3. If a doubt exist who gave the first offense, the decision rests with the seconds; if they won't decide, or can't agree, the matter must proceed to two shots, or to a hit, if the challenger require it.
Rule 4. When the lie direct is the first offense, the aggressor must either beg pardon in express terms; exchange two shots previous to apology; or three shots followed up by explanation; or fire on till a severe hit be received by one party or the other.
Rule 5. As a blow is strictly prohibited under any circumstances among gentlemen, no verbal apology can be received for such an insult. The alternatives, therefore -- the offender handing a cane to the injured party, to be used on his own back, at the same time begging pardon; firing on until one or both are disabled; or exchanging three shots, and then asking pardon without proffer of the cane.
If swords are used, the parties engage until one is well blooded, disabled, or disarmed; or until, after receiving a wound, and blood being drawn, the aggressor begs pardon.
N.B. A disarm is considered the same as a disable. The disarmer may (strictly) break his adversary's sword; but if it be the challenger who is disarmed, it is considered as ungenerous to do so.
In the case the challenged be disarmed and refuses to ask pardon or atone, he must not be killed, as formerly; but the challenger may lay his own sword on the aggressor's shoulder, then break the aggressor's sword and say, "I spare your life!" The challenged can never revive the quarrel -- the challenger may.
Rule 6. If A gives B the lie, and B retorts by a blow (being the two greatest offenses), no reconciliation can take place till after two discharges each, or a severe hit; after which B may beg A's pardon humbly for the blow and then A may explain simply for the lie; because a blow is never allowable, and the offense of the lie, therefore, merges in it. (See preceding rules.)
N.B. Challenges for undivulged causes may be reconciled on the ground, after one shot. An explanation or the slightest hit should be sufficient in such cases, because no personal offense transpired.
Rule 7. But no apology can be received, in any case, after the parties have actually taken ground, without exchange of fires.
Rule 8. In the above case, no challenger is obliged to divulge his cause of challenge (if private) unless required by the challenged so to do before their meeting.
Rule 9. All imputations of cheating at play, races, etc., to be considered equivalent to a blow; but may be reconciled after one shot, on admitting their falsehood and begging pardon publicly.
Rule 10. Any insult to a lady under a gentleman's care or protection to be considered as, by one degree, a greater offense than if given to the gentleman personally, and to be regulated accordingly.
Rule 11. Offenses originating or accruing from the support of ladies' reputations, to be considered as less unjustifiable than any others of the same class, and as admitting of slighter apologies by the aggressor: this to be determined by the circumstances of the case, but always favorable to the lady.
Rule 12. In simple, unpremeditated recontres with the smallsword, or couteau de chasse, the rule is -- first draw, first sheath, unless blood is drawn; then both sheath, and proceed to investigation.
Rule 13. No dumb shooting or firing in the air is admissible in any case. The challenger ought not to have challenged without receiving offense; and the challenged ought, if he gave offense, to have made an apology before he came on the ground; therefore, children's play must be dishonorable on one side or the other, and is accordingly prohibited.
Rule 14. Seconds to be of equal rank in society with the principals they attend, inasmuch as a second may either choose or chance to become a principal, and equality is indispensible.
Rule 15. Challenges are never to be delivered at night, unless the party to be challenged intend leaving the place of offense before morning; for it is desirable to avoid all hot-headed proceedings.
Rule 16. The challenged has the right to choose his own weapon, unless the challenger gives his honor he is no swordsman; after which, however, he can decline any second species of weapon proposed by the challenged.
Rule 17. The challenged chooses his ground; the challenger chooses his distance; the seconds fix the time and terms of firing.
Rule 18. The seconds load in presence of each other, unless they give their mutual honors they have charged smooth and single, which should be held sufficient.
Rule 19. Firing may be regulated -- first by signal; secondly, by word of command; or thirdly, at pleasure -- as may be agreeable to the parties. In the latter case, the parties may fire at their reasonable leisure, but second presents and rests are strictly prohibited.
Rule 20. In all cases a miss-fire is equivalent to a shot, and a snap or non-cock is to be considered as a miss-fire.
Rule 21. Seconds are bound to attempt a reconciliation before the meeting takes place, or after sufficient firing or hits, as specified.
Rule 22. Any wound sufficient to agitate the nerves and necessarily make the hand shake, must end the business for that day.
Rule 23. If the cause of the meeting be of such a nature that no apology or explanation can or will be received, the challenged takes his ground, and calls on the challenger to proceed as he chooses; in such cases, firing at pleasure is the usual practice, but may be varied by agreement.
Rule 24. In slight cases, the second hands his principal but one pistol; but in gross cases, two, holding another case ready charged in reserve.
Rule 25. Where seconds disagree, and resolve to exchange shots themselves, it must be at the same time and at right angles with their principals, thus:
If with swords, side by side, with five paces interval.
N.B. All matters and doubts not herein mentioned will be explained and cleared up by application to the committee, who meet alternately at Clonmel and Galway, at the quarter sessions, for that purpose.
Nary a word about the rules of dueling with a banjo.
The History of Dueling in America
The fatal duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr shocked the nation. But it was the identity of the man killed, not the fact of the duel itself, that produced such dismay. By 1804, dueling had become an American fixture. And for another thirty years or more, its popularity would continue to grow.
Like many early American customs, dueling was imported. Starting in the Middle Ages, European nobles had defended their honor in man-to-man battles. An early version of dueling was known as "judicial combat," so called because God allegedly judged the man in the right and let him win. In an era known for its bloody encounters, judicial combats probably prevented men from killing in the heat of passion. Still, numerous authorities, including heads of state and the Catholic Church, banned dueling -- with little effect.
In 1777, a group of Irishmen codified dueling practices in a document called the Code Duello. The Code contained 26 specific rules outlining all aspects of the duel, from the time of day during which challenges could be received to the number of shots or wounds required for satisfaction of honor. An Americanized version of the Code, written by South Carolina Governor John Lyde Wilson, appeared in 1838. Prior to that, Americans made do with European rules.
In a typical duel, each party acted through a second. The seconds' duty, above all, was to try to reconcile the parties without violence. An offended party sent a challenge through his second. If the recipient apologized, the matter usually ended. If he elected to fight, the recipient chose the weapons and the time and place of the encounter. Up until combat began, apologies could be given and the duel stopped. After combat began, it could be stopped at any point after honor had been satisfied.
Edward Doty and Edward Lester, of the Massachusetts colony, fought the first recorded American duel in 1621, just a year after the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth. Armed with swords, both men sustained minor wounds. A unique aspect of this duel was that Doty and Leicester were servants. For the most part, only gentlemen dueled.
Most duelists chose guns as their weapons. The large caliber, smoothbore flintlock pistols Hamilton and Burr used in their encounter typified the American dueling weapons. Many American men owned a pair of such pistols, and, from about 1750 to 1850, many were called to use them.
The chance of dying in a pistol duel was relatively slim. Flintlocks often misfired. And even in the hands of an experienced shooter, accuracy was difficult. Generally, pistols had to be discharged within three seconds; to take aim for a longer time period was considered dishonorable.
In an 1802 duel, DeWitt Clinton was challenged by John Swartwout, a friend of Aaron Burr. Swartwout accused Clinton of trying to ruin Burr with political smears. The men exchanged five rounds. After each round, as the code provided, seconds encouraged the combatants to mend their differences. Clinton adamantly refused to sign a letter of apology. Swartwout, despite being shot in the thigh and ankle, refused to quit. Unwilling to continue shooting at a wounded man, an exasperated Clinton left the field. Surgeons standing at the ready tended Swartwout's wounds.
In America, duels were fought by men from all walks of life. But many of America's most important citizens defended their honor on the dueling grounds. Button Gwinnet, who had signed the Declaration of Independence, was shot down by General Lachlan McIntosh in a duel. Commodore Stephen Decatur of the United States Navy, an experienced duelist, died at the hands of another commodore, James Barron. And Abraham Lincoln narrowly averted a battle with swords by apologizing to an Illinois state official he had ridiculed in a local newspaper.
Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were among the most prominent Americans to condemn dueling. Franklin called duels a "murderous practice…they decide nothing." And Washington, who undoubtedly needed all the good soldiers he could get, congratulated one of his officers for refusing a challenge, noting that "there are few military decisions that are not offensive to one party or another."
Religious and civic officials worked hard to stop duels. But diatribes such as Reverend Mason Weems' illustrated pamphlet "God's Revenge Against Dueling" did little to change public sentiment. Anti-dueling ordinances also failed to stop the flow of blood. Duelists ignored or evaded such laws. In fact, the most popular dueling ground in America was at Bladensburg, Maryland, near the nation's capital. Dueling was banned in Washington, but not in Maryland, which was a short carriage ride away. Irate legislators could simply shuttle out to Bladensburg and fire at will.
Due to the partisan nature of their work, politicians frequently received challenges -- as did newspaper editors and attorneys. As a young man, attorney Andrew Jackson, future president of the United States, earned a reputation as a formidable duelist. His honor suffered, however, after a duel against Charles Dickinson in 1806.
Dickinson fired his pistol, slightly wounding Jackson. Jackson's weapon misfired -- which according to dueling rules counted as a shot. Technically, the duel should have ended there. But Jackson coldly pulled his hammer back again and fired, this time killing Dickinson. In the eyes of many, Jackson's behavior amounted to little more than murder.
By the time of Hamilton and Burr's deadly encounter, dueling had begun to decline -- at least in the North. In the South, where the chivalrous novels of Walter Scott held sway, dueling remained the preferred way to defend one's honor -- or even to commit murder. A jilted lover need only wait for a rival's insult, or even manufacture one. He was then free to challenge and kill the rival without condemnation.
Some men -- accurate shots in particular -- practically made careers of the duel. Among these men was Alexander McClung, who once killed an opponent at over 100 feet with a smoothbore pistol. This remarkable shot -- and subsequent killings at shorter distances -- honed McClung's fearful reputation. Yet it was said that he was haunted by the ghosts of his victims, and maybe this was so. The last man McClung killed with a pistol was himself, in 1855.
For every man who gloried in the duel, there were many others who feared it. A word or two passed in private company on a Friday night could well mean a challenge on Saturday morning and death on Sunday. Avoiding a challenge wasn't easy. Particularly in the South, where men who refused to duel would be "posted." A statement accusing them of cowardice would be hung in public areas or published in a newspaper or pamphlet.
When Congressman John Randolph of Virginia refused to meet General James Wilkinson in a duel, a furious Wilkinson posted him. The post declared "In justice to my character I denounce to the world John Randolph, a member of Congress, as a prevaricating, base, calumniating scoundrel, poltroon, and coward." Wilkinson, a co-conspirator in Aaron Burr's treason plot, had little character to damage. Randolph lost little by his posting.
By the time of the Civil War, dueling had begun an irreversible decline, even in the South. Not surprisingly, public opinion, not legislation, caused the change. What once had been a formal process designed to avoid violence and amend grievances had deteriorated into cold-blooded murder. People at last were shocked by it, and they showed their disdain. It may have been too late to save Alexander Hamilton. But if American was to become a truly civilized nation, the publicly sanctioned bloodshed would have to end.
History of Fencing - Where did it start?
Swordfighting as sport has existed since ancient Egypt, and has been practiced in many forms in various cultures sincethen. Although jousting and tournament combat was a popular sport in the European middle ages, modern FIE fencing owes more to unarmoured dueling forms that evolved from 16th century rapier combat. Rapiers evolved from cut-and-thrus military swords, but were most popular amongst civilians who used it for self-defence and dueling. Rapiers were edged, but the primary means of attack was the thrust. Rapier fencing spread from Spain and Italy to northwest Europe, in spite of the objections of masters such as George Silver who preferred traditional cutting weapons such the English broad sword.
The Spanish school, under masters such as Narvaez and Thibault, became a complicated and mystical affair whose geometrical theories required much practice to master. Italian masters like Agrippa and Capo Ferro developed a more pragmatic school in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, introducing innovations such as linear fencing and the lunge.
By the 18th century, the rapier had evolved to a simpler, shorter, and lighter design that was popularized in France as the small sword. Although the small sword often had an edge, it was only to discourage the opponent from grabbing the blade,and the weapon was used exclusively for thrusting. The light weight made a more complex and defensive style possible,and the French masters developed a school based on defence with the sword, subtlety of movement, and complex attacks. When buttoned with a leather safety tip that resembled a flower bud, the small sword was known as le fleuret, and was identical in use to the modern foil (still known as le fleuret in French). Indeed, the French small sword school forms the basis of most of modern fencing theory.
By the mid-19th century, dueling was in decline as a means of settling disputes, partially because victory could lead to a jail term for assault or manslaughter. Emphasis shifted to defeating the opponent without necessarily killing him, and less fatal dueling forms evolved using the dueling sword, or epee de terrain, an unedged variant of the small sword. Later duels
often ended with crippling thrusts to the arm or leg, and fewer legal difficulties for the participants. This is the basis of modern epee fencing.
Cutting swords had been used in bloodsports such as backsword prizefights at least as far back as the 17th century. Broadswords, sabres, and cutlasses were used extensively in military circles, especially by cavalry and naval personell, and saw some dueling application in these circles as well. Training was performed with wooden weapons, and stick fighting remained popular until Italian masters formalized sabre fencing into a non-fatal sporting/training form with metal weapons in the late 19th century. Early sport sabres were significantly heavier than the modern sport sabre and necessitated a strong style with the use of moulinets and other bold movements. As with thrusting swords, the sabre evolved to lighter, less fatal dueling forms such as the Italian sciabola di terro and the German schlager. Hungarian masters developed a new school of sabre fencing that emphasized finger control over arm strength, and they dominated sabre fencing for most of the 20th century.
Dueling faded away after the First World War. A couple of noteworthy duels were fought over disputes that arose during Olympic games in the 1920s, and there have been rare reports of sword duels since then. In October 1997, the Mayor of Calabria, Italy, publicly challenged certain Mafiosos to a duel. German fraternity dueling (mensur) still occurs with some frequency.
The first modern Olympic games featured foil and sabre fencing for men only. Epee was introduced in 1900. Single stick was featured in the 1904 games. Epee was electrified in the 1936 games, foil in 1956, and sabre in 1988. Early Olympic games featured events for Masters, and until recently fencing was the only Olympic sport that has included professionals. Disruptions in prevailing styles have accompanied the introduction of electric judging, most recently transforming sabre fencing. Foil fencing experienced similar upheavals for a decade or two following the introduction of electric judging, which was further complicated by the new, aggressive, athletic style coming out of eastern Europe at the time.
Women's foil was first contested in the 1924 Olympic games, and Women's epee was only contested for the first time in 1996, although it has been part of the World Championships since 1989. Women's sabre made its first appearance in the 1998 World Championships as a demonstration sport.
Quoted from the Offical Fencing FAQ
1190 B.C.: The earliest relief carving of a fencing match
(using blunted swords and
wearing face masks with referees and an
audience) is drawn in Egypt.
1400s: The combination of the new influence of
firearms in warfare and the development of
harder metals results in less armour and lighter
swords. Bullets (from single-shot guns) can
penetrate armor, so mobility becomes more
1500s: The rapier, a narrow and lightweight
sword becomes popular. (Today's epee is the
descendant.) Because men use a sword and
buckler, or shield (hence, swashbuckler),
long-bladed rapiers are developed to enable
fighters to stab from a distance. Writings on
fencing first appear. The earliest was the
Spanish Francisco Roman's treatise in 1532.
Agrippa first numbered the parries (from 1-5) in
1600s: Non-military gentlemen begin using a
single, lightweight sword, held in one hand.
This results in the development of the small
sword (a defensive weapon), which becomes
popular with French nobility.
1754: The first record of a fencing teacher in his
own store front in the colonies (USA) ... John
Rievers opens a physical education club at the
corner of Whitehall & Stone in New York City.
1859: The New York Athletic Club is
established. By the 1880s it is deeply involved
1883: The Fencers Club, the oldest continuous
running fencing club, is founded in New York
City. The first U.S. club devoted exclusively to
fencing was the New Orleans Fencing Club:
date of establishment is not known.
1888: The Amateur Athletic Union holds its first
fencing championships. Professor J. Hartl of
Vienna tours America with a women's fencing
demonstration. As a result, women's fencing
classes begin. Newspapers begin following
these students, so the women begin fencing at
1891: The Amateur Fencers League of America
(later USFA) is founded by a group of New
Yorkers who dislike the AAU's choice of direct
elimination for its national championships. This
group wants a tournament composed strictly of
1892: The first AFLA National Championships
are held in New York City. Foil, dueling
swords (epee) and sabre events are held for
1894: The Intercollegiate Fencing Association
(IFA) is founded by Columbia, Harvard and
Yale. Annual championships are held.
1896: Fencing is included in the first Olympic
Games in Athens. Baron Pierre de Coubertin,
the father of the modern Olympic Games, was a
fencer. Men's foil and sabre events are held.
Fencing is one of only four sports to have been
included in every Games since.
European dueling sword/smallsword
Under feudal systems, lords would generally make war rather than duel and their subordinates would not duel but would submit to their lords for judgment. As the middle classes gained power they took as one of their prerogatives the right to redress slights, not by war but by the duel. Since duels were generally 'on the spot' affairs, those who would claim the privilege of the duel must always be armed; and since these were civilians dwelling in cities they had no need for heavy armor and preferred lighter weaponry. The drive to be armed with lighter weaponry than required by a professional soldier gave rise to specialized weaponry, the European dueling sword.
The dueling era began in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries and lasted well into the nineteenth century. Firearms displaced swords as the preferred weapons of duelists in the late eighteenth century.
The evolution of the European dueling sword--from arming sword (often termed broadsword, though sensu stricto this refers to basket and cage hilted weapons from the late 17th through 19th ceturies) through three stages of rapier to the smallsword--reflected the evolution from a cutting style of swordplay to a thrusting style ('foining' or 'fencing') coupled with the advantage achieved by wielding a slightly lighter and therefore faster weapon. The smallsword and the last stage of the rapier were made possible only by metallurgical advances in the seventeenth century.
During the arming sword and rapier periods, a weapon or object was generally held in the other hand from the sword for use in parrying attacks. The most common 'off-hand' weapons were the buckler, the dagger, and the cape. In general the buckler was more effective against cutting weapons, the dagger was more effective against thrusting weapons, and the cape was better than nothing.
An edged off-hand weapon could also be used to strike. Especially in the era of longer rapiers, it was common for the weapons to become entangled. Many duels were ended by a timely strike with an off-hand dagger. They were also popular in areas where brawls were common.
Some duellists fought with two rapiers, called a 'case' of rapiers. It is assumed that the longer off-hand weapon was more useful for parrying attacks and less useful should the opponents be brought to close quarters, although Giacomo DiGrassi taught that a man who used two rapiers must be able to use either, indifferently, for offense or defense or he would betray himself in combat.
Single Time versus Double Time
The arming sword and the rapier were heavy enough that if used to parry they could not easily be used to mount an offense. Swordplay was usually thought of as occurring in beats or tempos, and during a single tempo the heavy swords could only perform a single action, thus only capable of an act in single time. If an attack could be intercepted with the off-hand weapon, this meant that the main weapon could be used in that tempo for a counterattack. Likewise, a swordsman could control timing and distance to simultaneously parry and counterattack or avoid the attack and counterattack, although these required much more skill.
Only with the development of the smallsword were weapons fast enough to allow the riposte, where a parry is followed smoothly by an offensive action without delay. This is called double time, because a combatant attacks and defends in two beats. After swords were obsolete, metallurgical advances allowed the development of the épée and the foil used in modern fencing. Modern fencing--and most sword fighting shown in movies--is done in double time.
Cutting versus Thrusting
Cutting -- striking with the edge, which causes percussive damage as well a possibly making a cut in the target, and thrusting -- striking with the point to puncture -- have been shown to be essentially balanced modes of combat. However civilian dueling styles leaned more and more to the thrust over time. The reason for this progression is not known, though common arguments are discussed below. It is perhaps as simple as that the thrusting style allowed for lighter weapons.
It is possible that the single most important advantage of thrusting weapons was that in combat against a cutting weapon of a similar weight, the thrusting weapon -- especially with the lunge -- was useful from a greater range. The wielder of a cutting weapon must step in to strike, a predictable motion which would make him vulnerable to a time hit while his major weapon was necessarily out of line for defense. However the Victorian Captain A. Hutton repeatedly demonstrated that the cavalry sabre could hold its own against the smallsword or the épée of a similar length. His success can be attributed to his ability to use the thrusting swordsman's arm as a target, and that the lighter thrusting weapon is inadequate to parry the heavier sabre.
It is often said that the thrust is more dangerous than the cut because the vital organs may be struck at directly, and in fact many duels were ended by a single lunge. However there are also many recorded instances of both contestants being run through several times while the duel continued. Due to the limitations of medicine in that era, it often happened that a duelist would die of infections or internal bleeding from such a thrust long after the duel had concluded.
It is also alleged that thrusting weapons had various advantages in terms of speed of defense: because they were kept in line with the opponent while preparing to strike they were more available to defend. However it should be remembered that through most of the dueling era -- until the last stage of the rapier and the smallsword were developed -- an off hand weapon was used for defense.
Evolution of blades
The first swords carried by civilians for use in duels were generally arming swords. A military weapon turned to civilian use, they were generally less than 90 centimetres in length, relatively heavy (2000 grams), and two-edged with a short point. The cross-section was basically that of a narrow diamond or flattened hexagon.
Starting around 1500 CE, the arming sword began to be replaced by the rapier. 'Rapier' is the british term for the sword, but they were used all across Europe where they were called simply 'dress swords', 'side swords', or just 'swords'. The rapier was more slender than the arming sword, and longer. Rapiers ranged from 90 centimetres to 130 centimetres, averaging about 107 centimetres. They weighed on average 1250 grams. Early rapiers retained their cutting edges, are at times called 'cut and thrust rapiers' by modern enthusiasts, and were diamond in cross-section, though less of a flattened diamond than the arming sword. They generally had simple cross hilts similar to arming swords. By the middle of the 16th century edges were often discarded in favor of purely thrusting rapiers and the cross-section was very often triangular. Many other cross-sections were tried in the attempt to minimize weight while maintaining strength. Since a popular grip involved wrapping the finger over the quillon, a finger guard was added to prevent injury when the rapier was parried.
The final period of the rapier is called the 'transitional' period, which lasted from about 1650 to 1680. This marked the shift into fighting in double time. Rapiers became shorter and lighter; the off hand weapon was abandoned in favor of the parry-riposte; and the cup-hilt became common. Also present during the transitional period is the Colichemarde, a sword with a heavier blade up to the mid-point and then a light blade up to the point.
The rapier was replaced by the smallsword, a very light weapon designed for fast double time fighting. Smallswords might be around 78 centimetres in length and weigh 500 grams, considerably lighter and shorter than the rapier. While any sword of that size was called a smallsword, there was a form specific to the smallsword: a blade that had a triangular cross-section, although some still had a diamond cross-section well into the 18th century.
In Scotland heavier cutting swords (broadswords) remained popular into the nineteenth century.
In southern Italy the off-hand dagger remained in use into the nineteenth century. Many Italian fencers also used a heavier version of the smallsword and continued to fight in single time.
The Truth About Duels
Many a time our dashing heroes are compelled to defend their lady’s honor in a duel. In Amanda Quick’s novel, Mischief, Imogen Waterstone is horrified that Matthias Marshall, the Earl of Colchester, has contracted a duel with the villain Lord Vanneck. We are all too familiar with the statement "my seconds will call upon yours" so that the hero and villain can meet at dawn over a pair of dueling pistols.
The dramatic scenes can be exciting, but as expected, our heroes survive the ordeal either through circumstantial intervention or their own skills. Duels and dueling, however, are not a fictional contrivance of the historical romance author. Private combat between opposing men did exist even in some parts of Europe until after World War I.
A War of Two
The duel can be traced back to the time of the Middle Ages. In the beginning, knightly combatants would fight in the lists* in the presence of the king. Unresolved disputes would be handled in this fashion. The man who won the duel was viewed, from a divine intervention perspective, in the right.
All participants adhered to strict rules and the formality of the event. The challenged man had the right to select the weapon of choice for the duel. In earlier times, charms, magic, or assistance from friends and spectators was strictly forbidden.
*Lists: the enclosed area where tournaments or jousts were fought.
Types of Duels
The act of the duel changed through the ages, particularly with the advancement of weaponry.
Dueling with Swords
Until the middle of the 16th century in Europe, "trial by combat" was conducted in the lists. The last Judicial Duel was conducted during the reign of King Henry II in 1547. The confrontation between the two combatants resulted in the death of one of the duelists. King Henry II did not allow trials by combat after the event.
Duels were banned thus duelists had to conduct duels in secret. The period of the late 16th century to the middle of the 17th century experienced a change in the dueling system. The term "duello a la mazza" or "duel to the death" brought on the acceptable statement of "Will you walk in the fields with me?" Combatants no longer wore armor or chain mail. The weapons of choice for the period were rapiers, swords and daggers.
The practice of dueling continued, but there were no "teeth" in the laws until Louis XIV of France ascended the throne in 1643. Combatants could now be executed for participating in duels. As a consequence, during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the "rencontre" or "accidental encounter" replaced the prearranged duels where "seconds" were present.
The event of dueling continued to evolve as weapon technology advanced. The small sword replaced the rapier. The rapier was small and much lighter and easier to wear. It became the fashion to "accidentally fall into fighting" rather than a prearranged event. In the case that one of the men died, the other could state that he was defending himself.
The 19th Century Duel
Duelists could select from two different types of swords: the epee, a triangular-bladed dueling sword, or a light saber. The combatants adhered to strict fencing rules of the day. Instead of fighting to the death, in France, the first to draw blood was considered the winner. As a result of this change in dueling, the event became a harmless sport.
Dueling with Pistols
The development of firearms in the middle of the 18th century provided another option for weaponry use by duelists. Although a double-barreled shotgun could be used, the pistol was the most practical and characteristically used if a firearm was chosen.
By the 1770s and 1780s, the use of pistols for duels was commonplace. It was during the reign of George IV that dueling reached is peak. The fatal duel between two army officers, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Winchilsea, the Marquis of Londonderry and Beau Brummel was the catalyst for making it an offense to conduct a duel. In turn, dueling soon became unfashionable in civilian society as well.
General Rules on Dueling
The rules of the duel were simply identified:
•The challenged party had the selection of weapons
•The first insult required the first apology
•Once both participants had arrived at the dueling ground, no apologies were accepted until there had been an exchange of shots
The duels that occurred in early English and American duels required distances of 8 -12 paces for a duel. In later practice, the distance was increased to 20 paces. In France, an acceptable distance for a duel could be 25-30 paces.
The position of the duelists were determined by lot. After walking the necessary paces, a command was given to turn and fire. The men were not permitted to take deliberate aim. However, a rule that developed during the 19th century allowed for an apology on the field of honor. The party could raise his pistol to the air and shoot. This was called "deloping."
Rules of the Duel
As we peruse the pages of history, we find examples of duels where men lived and died. Although by contemporary standards, a duel seems a drastic way to "set the record straight" for some transgression.
A duel which took place in the United States in 1845 between two Congressman provide a fine example of how rules would be negotiated prior to the duel. (You'll be glad to know that after the first firing, the police intervened and stopped the duel).
Thomas Clingman, Congressman of North Carolina, and William Yancey, Congressman of Alabama, scheduled a duel. As was expected, their "seconds" met to discuss the rules pertaining to their duel. The list consisted of eleven specific items.
A Duel: A Methodical Business
The weapons chosen were pistols. The pistols were to be prepared by the seconds in front of all the attendees. (This ensured there was no cheating). The participants were to walk ten paces while holding their pistols perpendicular. The statement to be said to commence the dual was, "Gentlemen, are you ready? Fire - one-two-three-halt!" The intervals between shots was to be one second.
Other particulars included that the wind and sun was to be equally divided among the duelists. In addition, Congressman Clingman and Congressman Yancey could each have a a surgeon and three friends at the site.
Other Famous Duels of the 19th Century
There are numerous other well-known duels that occurred during the 19th century. Despite the adventure that a duel presents in fiction, it was actually a dangerous business often resulting in wounds and/or fatalities.
Philip Hamilton vs.. George Eacker (1801)
In the New York Evening Post, dated November 24, 1801, the newspaper reported that Philip Hamilton, age 20 and son of Alexander Hamilton, died in a duel. The duel, a result of what can only be viewed as ridiculous through 21st century eyes, was triggered by an "offensive expression" made by Eacker. (The offensive expression was "damned rascal.")
Hamilton "received a shot through the body at the first discharge, and fell without firing." The young man was then taken to Alexander Hamilton's home where he soon died.
M. De Grandpre vs. M. Le Pique (1808)
The particular duel that occurred between De Grandpre and Le Pique is really bizarre! These two gentleman dueled because of a dispute over a woman. The two men, along with their seconds, went up in balloons above Paris to effect their duel. Le Pique and his second dropped a half a mile to their demise when De Grandpre shot a hole in their balloon. And, all for a woman!
Duels from 1806 through 1842 would take the lives of other men. In 1817, Charles Lucas, a lawyer, died within 12 hours of receiving a bullet near his heart. If you can believe it, Lucas extended his hand and forgave his adversary before he died.
Henry Clay, the Secretary of State in 1826 fought a duel with John Randolph, a Senator. Fortunately, neither man was harmed in the duel. Senator Randolph's coat got a bullet through it at which time in advised Clay, "You owe me a coat, Mr. Clay." The two men shook hands and put the event behind them.
Dueling ban is off the books
News/Current Events News
Source: Beacon Journal
Published: 15 May 2000 Author: Phil Trexler
Posted on 05/15/2000 02:15:04 PDT by Deadeye Division
Dueling ban is off the books
Lawmakers repeal statute outlawing fights to preserve honor, but they don't expect an outbreak of disputes
BY PHIL TREXLER
Beacon Journal staff writer
What in the name of Aaron Burr are those people in Columbus doing?
Few may have noticed, but tucked discreetly away in a recently enacted bill, state legislators unanimously voted to repeal the statute that had outlawed dueling.
Alexander Hamilton need not duck for cover. It seems our leaders in the Statehouse believe that the law is simply outdated and archaic.
There's no hidden agenda here, they insist. Besides, everyone knows politicians and military officers no longer settle their disputes or regain their honor with swords or pistols. Right?
``Maybe it's one more tool for Democrats to regain the majority,'' said state Rep. Ed Jerse, D-Euclid, tongue-in-cheek.
The dueling statute fell like many 19th-century laws. Legislators routinely scan through the law books, looking to delete old, little-used laws. Such is the case with dueling, where other statutes, such as murder and menacing, are already in place.
State Sen. Robert Latta, R-Bowling Green, was the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 107, which came about to create a vehicular manslaughter law. Along the way, some old laws -- bans on dueling and firing a gun near a cemetery -- were eliminated.
It's hard to say exactly how long Ohio's dueling law existed or how long it had been since anyone was charged with the crime. Law books from the 1870s list dueling as a fourth-degree felony.
Until March 23, when the law was officially repealed, anyone convicted of fighting a duel, being party to a duel or challenging or accepting to fight a duel could receive up to 18 months in prison.[/b]
Dueling dates to about 500 A.D. when Gundebald, king of the Burgundians, established the ``judicial duel.'' It was thought at the time that God would favor the honorable one and allow a victory.
In Europe, judicial dueling eventually gave way to honor duels around 1600. The practice came to America soon after, and the country's first duel was fought with swords in 1621.
Back then, whenever a gentleman or a military official was insulted and no apology was in the offing, a challenge to a duel was issued to resolve the dispute, swords in hand.
Refusing the duel was viewed as worse than death. It wasn't surprising then that some of the first ``superstars'' were fencing instructors, whose lessons to soldiers and aristocrats were literally a matter of life and death.
``Most people today don't live their lives concerned with honor, but back several hundred years, honor was everything,'' said Ernest Kiraly, a student of dueling history, who operates fencing schools in Akron and Canton. ``And you couldn't ignore or refuse a challenge. If you did, you were branded a coward and ostracized from society.
``In some ways, it kept people on their best behavior. You didn't want to offend somebody and be challenged to a duel.''
Laws prohibiting dueling arose with the popularity of the sport when leaders grew weary of losing fine soldiers to death. They had little effect. The winner usually walked free, and the loser was, well, usually buried.
Hamilton and Burr, of course, engaged in the most famous duel in the United States. It happened in 1804, a year after Ohio entered the Union.
Burr, the country's vice president, and Hamilton, the first U.S. treasury secretary whose picture adorns our $10 bills, were longtime adversaries.
Burr was particularly incensed with Hamilton's penchant for thwarting his every political move. In fact, Burr blamed Hamilton for swaying electoral votes and costing him the presidency in 1800.
The two men met in Weehawken, N.J.
Various accounts exist over who fired first. But history shows that Hamilton died two days after the duel from a bullet wound to the abdomen. Burr was vilified, accused of murder, acquitted of treason and lived in obscurity until dying 32 years later.
``We don't think repealing the law will lead to an onslaught of dueling,'' said David Diroll, executive director of Ohio's Criminal Sentencing Commission. ``But if another Aaron Burr comes along, we may look pretty bad.''
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or [email protected]
My 10yo daughter is a fencer. Interesting sport - the better you become, the more it becomes more like chess and less "swashbuckling". Being in great shape and being coordinated are a baseline. To excel, you have to master the mental aspect. My little princess is tiny for her age but is fast and smart and ruthless with a sword in her hand. Her best practice partner is a big ponytailed, Japanese guy who looks like a samurai has mastered other martial arts. Amazing to watch 6' 200 lbs of bear fight my 4' 55lb wolverine.
ALDO NADI (who by the way fought in some duels).
The Greatest Swordsman
Who Ever Lived
by Linda Carlyle McCollum
He was the last great professional fencing champion of the twentieth century and was considered the greatest swordsman who ever lived. Aldo Nadi was a superchampion whose highly publicized fencing exhibitions attracted thousands of spectators. By literally crushing his adversaries on the fencing strip, he eventually exhausted his supply of challengers. No one wanted to fence him since their inevitable loss would be devastating to their fencing career.
A Family of Fencers
Born in Livorno, Italy in 1899 to a family of master fencers, he and his brother, Nedo, were taught as children by their father Giuseppe Nadi, a famous fencing master who coached Italian fencers for over fifty years. Aldo Nadi began fencing at the age of four and won his first title at twelve.
At the 1920 Olympics Nadi won three gold medals on the Italian Team in all three weapons and a silver in sabre in the individual events with his brother Nedo winning the gold. He always remained second to his brother until, at the age of 34, his brother Nedo retired as International Champion and Aldo succeeded to the title.
French vs. Italian
In 1922 a foil contest in Paris was arranged between the twenty-two year old Italian Aldo Nadi and the French fencing champion, Eucien Gaudin, to settle the dispute over the supremacy of the rival schools of fencing. At this time Gaudin was considered the greatest fencer in the world. This match drew over seven thousand spectators with three thousand being turned away. It. was a spectacular occasion with music, preliminary exhibition bouts by the leading European fencers, and a performance by the Comedie Francaise.
A Questionable Score
Aldo lost the match to Gaudin 20 to 11, but the score was not genuine. Judges called "Halt" to legitimate beat lunges by Nadi who was using the Italian foil which easily disarmed Gaudin who was using the French foil. There were questionable calls by judges who seemed blind to clean hits against Gaudin even when Nadi's foil had to be straightened after the hit.
There was also a temporary rule framed prior to the 1920 Olympics which allowed hits on the sword-arm above the elbow, even when there was no deliberate shielding of the body. This rule remained in effect for this match. Six of the ten hits scored by Gaudin were to the upper part of Nadi's extended arm in the second part of the match.
It was at this time that Nadi turned professional doing exhibitions matches for large sums of money (which he quickly lost in the casinos of Europe). His fencing encounters throughout Europe were gala events accompanied by banquets, champagne and beautiful women. Fencing experts called him the "Virtuoso of the Sword." He was a marvel of speed, grace and precision. The speed and brilliance of Aldo's footwork enthralled all who saw him.
This elegant and boastful young swordsman became known as the "bad boy" of fencing. He casually took on all comers in his fencing exhibitions, be they professional, amateur, Olympic or European Champions and beat them soundly. While his opponents trained intensively for these matches, Nadi would take only a couple of weeks prior to the exhibition to prepare himself for the fencing exhibition.
Coming to America
In 1935 Nadi moved to the United States and made his American debut at the Plaza Hotel in New York under the auspices of the Amateur Fencers League of American on December 12, 1935. His foil exhibition with George Santelli of the New York Athletic Club was described as "classic in design and execution."
Nadi deplored the lack of interest in fencing in the United States. "No student can learn fencing without much hard work," he wrote, "but the rewards in health, well-being and pleasure are well worth the effort." He eventually retired from fencing exhibitions.
In 1943 he moved to Los Angeles where he opened a fencing school on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles. His prowess with the sword brought him to the attention of the film industry and he began to supervise fencing scenes in motion pictures.
Making the Move to Film
In Europe he had been the star of the 1928 silent film The Tournament (Le tournoi dans la cite) directed by Jean Renoir. In the United States he created the fencing choreography for the Daphne du Maurier pirate story, Frenchman's Creek with Basil Rathbone and Captain from Castile with Tyrone Power. (He also had one line as the body guard in the Humphrey Bogart film To Have and Have Not.)
Nadi felt strongly about the differences between competitive fencing and stage or screen dueling. "Anyone with two legs and one arm - and no brains - can put on a decent stage duel in a couple of weeks while it takes years of very demanding work to become a mediocre competitive fencer."
In his autobiography, "The Living Sword", Nadi makes numerous comments on film duels. His scathing remarks are meant to set the record straight as to the value and validity of Hollywood swordsmanship.
Everyone's a Critic
Since fencing is an art that is many centuries old Nadi felt it was impossible for someone who was not a great fencer to pretend to be a great fencer. He found Jose Ferrer's duel in Cyrano to be utterly silly and a far cry from the legendary skill of Cyrano. After seeing Gene Kelly's fencing as D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers, Nadi wondered how Dumas' bones could remain in his grave.
But for Nadi the duel to end all duels in Scaramouche was the greatest travesty of all on the art and science of fencing. He felt it was an utterly ridiculous spectacle that crudely offended one of the noblest arts and sciences in the world. No duelist in his right mind would ever consider fighting on such terrain as the top of orchestra seats, or being precariously balanced in air or leaning out of boxes or dangling from ropes while fencing.
His greatest outrage was directed toward the monotonous and repetitious cutting of the ropes on stage which held the scenery so that it would fall on one's adversary defiles the dignity of the sword by degrading it to an ax. Men armed with swords use these weapons to kill, not for dropping scenery on their opponent. For Nadi these people had obviously never heard of the traditions, glamour, glory and dignity of the sword.
Fencing Training for Actors
Nadi advocated that all actors make fencing as part of their permanent program of education. He encouraged producers to give enough time in advance to rehearse the duel with a competent teacher and that directors should not interfere with the fencing master's work. Nadi believed that the director's ideas concerning the duel should always be sifted through the fencing master.
A Masterwork on the Foil
In 1943 Nadi wrote his fencing treatise, "On Fencing", which is considered a masterwork on the art and science of the foil. Not only is "On Fencing" a model of fencing instruction, it is also an entertaining swordsman's-eye-view of mankind. Besides its wealth of technical and tactical advice, his insights into the psychology of combat are revealing and are helpful for the actor/combatant.
"Fencing is the sport of gentlemen. It is the Fencing Master's strict moral duty towards his artistic ancestors to see to it that centuries-old traditions are respected, honored, and enforced."
Aldo Nadi, the guardian of this great tradition, died in his sleep in his home in Los Angeles in 1965 at the age of 66.
People have paid up to one hundred dollars for a copy of Nadi's fencing manual. Out of print since World War II when its copper plates were diverted to the manufacture of munitions, "On Fencing" was reprinted in 1994 by Laureate Press. [See below to buy "On Fencing"]
Aldo Nadi's autobiography, "The Living Sword", completed in 1955 but lost for nearly 40 years has been edited by Lance C. Lobo and has also been published by Laureate Press. It is a captivating look at fencing in the 20's and 30's in Europe and the United States.
Just as we labor over understanding Marozzo or Silver today, some scholar four hundred years from now will probably study Nadi to better understand the fencing style prevalent in the early 20th century, before the introduction of electrical scoring. Here it is today for our own edification and enlightenment.
Aldo Nadi - Considered by many fencers to be the greatest fencer of all time. He was the undefeated European champion for 12 years in a row and won a silver medal in the Olympics (his brother Nido won 5 gold medals in the same competition). He fought an actual duel with rapiers. His father fought against another highly experienced fencing master in a very famous "duel to the death". This was a true fencing family that spawned a number of famous fencing masters over several generations. He trained several national champions, including Janice Lee Romary who competed in four Olympics and carried our flag in the 1984 Olympics. Aldo was the ultimate perfectionist and a disciplinarian. Movements had to be absolutely perfect in order to get any form of compliment. Some time after he accepted me as a serious student who was eager to learn, he told me to abandon saber and epee in order to concentrate on foil. I was unwilling to do this and, being excessively stubborn about being a three-weapon fencer, decided to seek out another fencing master. Although I found another great fencing master, I do have many regrets about my decision, as I believe that Aldo truly wanted me to become a top fencer and had devoted more efforts in honing my skills than for some of the other fencers in his salle. Aldo had some unique personality characteristics, but I really did like him personally and most certainly respect him as the most expert master of fencing technique.
Bela de Tuscan - One of the world's greatest sabre fencers. He once performed in an exhibition for Mussolini, who was a fencing enthusiast, and staged swordplay dancing routines at the London Palladium. He was a top fencer in the Hungarian Military Academy and narrowly escaped death after being caught in an unsuccessful revolution. He invented an electric weapon in which the electric wires were threaded through a hollow blade, but it failed to gain the approval of the F.I.E. Bela was a very gregarious person who would stop in the middle of a lesson that he was teaching and welcome me into his salle. He would tell some very interesting stories and had pictures and weapons to back them up. He showed me a saber that they used for teaching in the Hungarian Military Academy, and it was much like a real weapon, heavy and thick. Although they also used very thick jackets, he said that the weapon could still produce a painful blow. He said that when his master was displeased with his fencing he would place him with his back to the wall and would only allow him to parry the attacks of the fencing master. Bela's wife, Normaleen (his second wife), was also very gregarious and they were a great couple. When I established the fencing club at Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after Bela passed away, Normaleen gave me the equipment from their club to work with.
Ralph Faulkner - Known fondly by the moniker "The Boss", the name of a character he played in a Robin Hood movie. The Boss staged fencing scenes and played characters in over 300 movies. He was an accomplished fencer who won a medal in the World championships and competed in the 1924 Olympics. He also taught several national champions. Interestingly, he grew up in a small town in Kansas and told of going fishing with the Eisenhower brothers at a nearby creek. Both brothers attained eminence, but Dwight was destined to become a famous general and U.S. president. Ralph was an excellent athlete, excelling in gymnastics. He once told me that he used to walk around the gymnasium on his hands, so I told him "Let's see it". This got a laugh from the other fencers nearby, since he was in his 90's at the time (and still teaching fencing). He cut a handsome figure in his youth and became an actor in silent films after migrating to Los Angeles. His film career ended when sound was added to movies, as his voice was not considered suitable. He married a famous dancer, and they set up a studio to teach acting, dance and fencing in Hollywood. The signed pictures of many famous actors adorned the walls of their studio, and it was interesting to walk around during a rest period and view these historical gems. In the many rooms of their studio, you might find flamenco dancers, singers, actors, or TV personalities, and before fencing we could sometimes watch the ballerinas practicing in the gymnasium. Some of his fencers were also famous actors, such as Cornell Wilde, who was metropolitan junior champion in New York, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who was a junior champion. I fenced one of the Mouseketeers, Bob Crawford (who had a twin brother) in several fencing competitions, and he was a very good fencer who was taught by the Faulkner. Halton Arp was the top foil fencer in the club, highly ranked nationally, and became a world-reknowned astrophysicist. The students loved The Boss, both as a genuine person and a great fencing instructor.
George Ganchev emigrated to the United States from Bulgaria and became an actor and writer. He was a European champion and is an expert in all three weapons. He taught fencing in Los Angeles and developed some excellent fencers there. While fencing at Faulkner Studios one day, he came up to me after a bout and asked if I would like to take lessons from him. I was skeptical about accepting his offer at the time, since I did not then know about him, but I later found out that he is a top world fencer and would only accept students who met with his approval, so it was really quite an honor. George had the "fastest eyes" of anyone that I have ever met. He could record the fastest fencing movements in his mind and was always able to keep excellent distance. He demanded the deepest lunge of any of my former fencing masters. He taught what I would call the "forward parry", which is very hard to do but provides the greatest protection. George returned to Bulgaria and actually ran for president of the country and did quite well. He is still a major politician in Bulgaria, and you can learn more about him by doing a search on the Internet.
Dr. Sam Munson - Another of my favorite fencing masters, Dr. Munson was a professor at The George Washington University when I was a graduate student there. He studied under some of the great Italian fencing masters who migrated to Washington, D.C. after WWI. Dr. Munson and some of the fencers would go to the Red Lion (a local pub) and quaff a few beers and discuss fencing, politics and other interesting subjects after fencing at the downtown YMCA. Dr. Munson would tell fascinating stories about various Washington luminaries, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom he took a stroll in the garden. After leaving the Washington area, I met him again at the 1972 National Championships and we had dinner and talked about fencing. Fencers in the competition were wildly attacking each other with fleches (running attacks) at the instance of the command to fence, and it was never very clear as to who had right-of-way. I asked Dr. Munson what he thought of that, and he replied: "They [the competitors] haven't learned how to parry yet". How true!
Lathrop Gay - Lathrop was a three-weapon expert who taught fencing at the Phoenix YMCA in the early 1950's who first got me interested in fencing. He was also ranked in the top ten fencers in the United States, and I believe that he may have studied under Joseph Vince, an Italian who earned a silver medal in saber in the Olympics in 1920 and taught in his own salle in Los Angeles. Lathrop was an accomplished abstract artist, and I respected him as both an instructor and a fencer of honor and spirit.
The Duello in Elizabethan England
by Maelgwyn Dda
Picture yourself in a crowded restaurant Two well-dressed upper-middle-class gentlemen are discussing politics at the next table. One of them tells a scandalous anecdote about a prominent political figure, and the other man calls him a liar. They step out into the street draw swords, and kill each other. This is the Duello.
You are walking down the street and you bump into someone - You immediately apologize, explaining that you meant no offence, but if he demands satisfaction, you will meet him behind the Abbey at sunrise with a rapier in you hand. This is the Duello.
You discover one morning that your best friend has been killed by your cousin in a dispute over the quality of a bottle of wine that they had shared. This, too, is the Duello.
It is difficult for modern people to understand a culture in which mortal combat was an accepted part of the lifestyle of the elite. The Duello may only be understood when it is seen in its historical perspective and in the context of the culture in which it existed. I intend to look at the culture of Elizabethan England, and the responsibilities of a gentleman in that culture with regard to honor and combat, bearing in mind both historical precedent and contemporary influences.
One way of understanding the Duello is to look at its roots as a judicial institution. The duel first appears in 510 A.D. when the King of the Burgundians instituted trial by combat as a means of settling disputes.1 The theory behind this "trial by battle" was not that justice would always prevail, but rather that anyone slain while defending a just cause would be blessed in Heaven while anyone defending an unjust cause would be rewarded in an opposite manner. Out of this custom rose the duel of chivalry: the meeting of two knights to contest a point of law, ownership, or honor.
The duel of chivalry was much like a medieval joust or tournament, but the weapons were sharp and the contest was often to the death. This public display was much criticized by the church, and eventually fell out of practice. One reason for the decline of the duel of chivalry may have been a change in military technology which made the heavily armored knight on horseback obsolete on the battlefield.
During a transition period between the early fifteenth and mid sixteenth centuries, disputes between noblemen were settled by means of great feuds where each lord armed his men with "backswords and bucklers." As historian Lawrence Stone observes,
"these weapons allowed the maximum muscular effort and the most spectacular show of violence with the minimum threat to life and limb."
These conflicts excluded the ever more numerous and powerful gentry, who had no gangs of retainers with which to enter the fray.3
At the same time other changes were taking place, both in fashion and in military technology. On the battlefield a long, thin weapon called an estoc was developed to penetrate the joints of plate armor.4 the nobility, who were required by custom to go armed, began to carry this lighter, more comfortable weapon. The demands of both fashion and efficiency caused the weapon to be lengthened and the hand guard improved until it took the form of the classic cup-hilted rapier.
The concurrent growth of towns caused a concentration of wealth and population, which in turn led to an increase in thievery and brigandage. It became more and more important for gentlemen to carry an effective weapon for discouraging assaults upon his purse or his person. The rapier filled this need very nicely. It was light and comfortable enough to carry at all times, and yet more swift and deadly against unarmored opponents than the more traditional sword. This weapon having become the fashion, it is little wonder that the gentlemen of the day expressed a great interest in learning the proper technique for wielding it.
Where could the English gentlemen find instruction in rapier combat? Certainly not in England. Not yet, anyway. The rapier was commonly carried in England beginning in the mid fifteen hundreds, but the English Masters of Defense were too conservative and tradition bound to learn or teach the use of "frog pricking poniards and rapiers."
The solution to this problem was for wealthy families to send their sons away to Italy or France, where they might learn first-hand all of the refinements of Renaissance culture. It was mentioned by an Elizabethan chronicler that in Paris, "The fencing masters have their schools full of English gentlemen of quality."7
In 1576 an Italian gentleman and sword-master named Rocco Bonetti established a school of arms in London.8 One contemporary writer reported,
"He caused to be fairely drawne and set round his Schoole all the Noblemen's and Gentlemen's armes who were his Schollers."9
Bonetti appears to have taught the use of other weapons in addition to the rapier and dagger, most notably the two-handed sword. In 1590 Vincentio Saviolo arrived in London. He was a professional swordmaster from Pauda who had studied systems of rapier combat both in Italy and in Spain.12 Saviolo wrote a two-volume treatise on the Duello which was published in 1595 entitled, "Vincentio Saviolo his Practise. In two Books. The first in treating of the use of the Rapier and Dagger. The second, of Honor and honorable Quarrels."13
Once the gentry had acquired these sharp deadly rapiers and learned to wield them, the custom of feuding became intolerable, due to the horror of such widespread carnage. The "Code of the Duello" was developed in order to limit the bloodshed caused by these dangerous weapons. As John Seldon wrote in 1610,
"truth, honor, freedome and curtesie being as incidents to perfit chivalry upon the lye given, fame impeached, body wronged, or curtesie taxed, a custom hath bin amongst the French, English, etc. To seek revenge of their wrongs on the body of their accuser and that by private combat sul a' seul, without judicial lists appointed them."14
A person who was challenged to a duel would select time, place, and weapons to be used. Each combatant would choose a second, a person to come along and observe that no treachery or foul play was committed. The seconds also served to seek any possible means of reconciliation without bloodshed, although this was rarely successful.15
One important custom was that a duel ended any dispute, and further combat over that issue was forbidden. Another aspect of the Code was that no man of sound body could refuse a challenge without severe consequences. Examples of this include Sir William Wentworth, who was publicly proclaimed a coward when he refused a challenge, and Antony Felton, who received lasting public disgrace for refusing to avenge a beating, despite the efforts of the Earl Marshal's Court to clear his name.16
What constituted sufficient grounds for a challenge? One contemporary wrote that,
"it is reputed so great a shame to be accounted a Iyer, that any other injury is cancelled by giving the lie, and he that receiveth it standeth so charged in his honour and reputation, that he cannot disburden himself of that imputation, but by the striking of him that hath so given it, or by challenging him the combat."17
Vincentio explained that.
"All injuries are reduced to two kindes, and are either by wordes or deeds. In the first, he that offereth the injurie ought to be the Challenger: in the later, hee that is injured."
Injury by word included any form of slander, either of a man's honor, or that of his lady or his friend, or his judgement and good taste. Such statements were to be answered by the giving of the lie. In the case of injurie by deed, however,
"whosoever offereth injurie by deede, as striking, beating, or otherwise hurting anie man, ought presently without anie further debate or questioning to be challenged to the Combat, unlesse hee refuse the same by making satisfaction for the offence of offered injurie."
This is because there can be no question as to whether a blow was struck, but the question was whether such a blow was delivered justly and honorably.20 For example: I strike you. You state that I did so unjustly or in a dishonorable manner. I call you a liar, you challenge me, I choose weapons, and we proceed merrily from peccadillo to bloody mayhem in accordance with the rules.
Thus we can see that according to the rules of the Duello. each man of noble or gentle birth is charged with maintaining his honor at all cost, for as Vincenlio points out. "What is to defend your reputation. but so to hurt your enemye, as your selfe may escape free?"21
But why did the Elizabethan gentleman value honor and reputation so highly? There are a couple of important factors to consider. First we should note that gentlemen of quality were forbidden by custom from engaging in anything that might be considered "work". Their only socially acceptable ambition in life was to gain noble rank by winning the favor of their Soveriegn. Only a few out of hundreds of gentlemen in each generation would attain this ambition. so the competition was fierce. Dueling provided each gentleman with a means to demonstrate his skill and courage, prove his willingness to die for noble ideals, and dissuade anyone from disparraging his other virtues (including his good judgement or "taste").
Second. we should remember that the life being risked was already in peril . If you are fairly likely to die soon from plague or warfare, why not gamble your life on a chance for glory and honor? One Elizabethan observed,
"For these and such like offenses the law can make no adequate retribution - in such a state life is a burden, which cannot be laid down or supported, till death either terminates his own existence or that of the despoiler of his peace and honor."22
CULTURAL IMPACT OF THE DUELLO
The Duello should not be thought of as an entirely bloodthirsty institution. It was in many ways more civilized than the feuds and killing affrays that came before it when noblemen would settle their quarrels through sending armed gangs of henchmen out to fight their feuds. This placed the risk of injury upon the commoners and not on the noblemen who were responsible.23 The Duello changed that, making each man personally responsible for his actions. This seems to have resulted in a distinct improvement in the manners and humility of the nobility.
Another result of the Duello was a leveling effect amongst the gentry and the nobility. The gentleman no longer needed a private army to deal on an equal footing with the nobility.24 Patrick Ruthven, in a challenge to the Earl of Northumberland, pointed out, "though Nobility makes a difference of persons, yet injury acknowledgeth none," Thus the gentry gladly accepted the Duello. As the modern historian Lawrence Stone put it,
"The traditional ambition of the propertied classes to demonstrate their personal courage and In avenge any disparagement of their virtue or their honor was given an outlet which at last affected no one but themselves."25
The evolution of the Duello may also be seen as an out-growth of the Humanistic philosophy of the Renaissance. Whereas trial by combat was deeply rooted in the Concept that God would reward the just, the Duello placed the defense of justice and honor in the hands of the individual. Each man, through the perfection and exercise of his own skills, could win honor and renown, not "by the grace of God" but through his own efforts.
This, then, was the Duello. The gentry and nobility of England, armed with long, sharp rapiers and short, deadly poniards or daggers, trained by Italian masters, were driven by custom, peer pressure, and personal ambition to defend their honor and good name against anyone who would besmirch it. They placed their trust not in God, but in their own skill and efforts, ready to engage in mortal combat over any slight or insult, lest the failure to do so should cause them to lose the respect of their peers. Honor and the title of "Gentleman" were more valuable to them than life itself.
1 Robert Baldick, The Duel (London: Chapman and Hall, 1965)p. 12
2 Baldick, p.22
3 Lawrence Stone, The Crisis of the Aristocracy (Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1965), pp 242-43
4 Mc Quown, "A Brief History of the Use of Rapier and Dagger" Tournarnents Illuminaled, Summer 1980, p. 10
5 J. D. Aylward, The English Master of Arms (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1956). p. 26
6 Aylward, p. 39-40
7 Stone, p. 245
8 Aylward, p. 41
9 George Silver, Paradoxes of Defense (London: Edward Blount 1599)
10 Aylward, p. 49
12 Aylward. p. 51
13 Vincentio Saviolo, His Praclise (London: John Wolff,\1595)
14 Baldick, p. 32
16 Stone, p. 246
17 Baldick. p. 33
22 Baldick, p. 33
23 Stone, p. 243
24 Stone, p. 245
25 Slone, pp. 244-45
DUEL BETWEEN A MAN AND A DOG
Of all the accounts of duels, ordinary and extraordinary, this is certainly one of my favorites. If you know and love dogs as I do, it will not surprise you in the least. Perhaps this is why dogs enjoy such liberty in France. In any case, it’s a tale with the wag of truth in it. This account is taken from The Romance of Duelling in All Times and Countries, Vol. 1, by Andrew Steinmetz, 1868. Republished by The Richmond Publishing Co., Ltd., Surrey, 1971.
At the close of the thirteenth century, Philip the Fair, having justly entertained at that early period a refined sense of the evil attending the judicial combat, used his best means to put a restraint on its practice. But the state of the times militated so much against his good intention that all he was able to effect was the publication of an edict of regulation, whereby nothing was to be brought to that bloody issue which could be determined by any other means. In consequence of this was adopted that singular ordeal, for want of other evidence, which took place in the Isle of Notre Dame, in the reign of Charles V. of France.
The Chevalier Maquer, in the sight of all Paris, entered the lists, with a dog, in mortal combat. The spot which was the scene of this singular encounter is still shown. The following are the circumstances that gave rise to it.
Aubry Mondidier, whilst taking a solitary walk in the neighbourhood of Paris, was murdered and buried under a tree. His dog, which he had left at home, went out at night to search for his master, whom at length he traced to the forest, and discovered his grave. Having remained some days on the spot, till hunger compelled him to return to the city, he hastened to the Chevalier Ardilliers, a friend of the deceased, and by his melancholy howling gave him to understand that their common friend was no longer in existence.
Ardilliers offered the dog some food, and endeavoured to quiet him by caresses; but the distressed animal continued to howl pitiably, and, laying hold of his coat, led him significantly towards the door.
Ardilliers at length complied with the dog’s apparent request, and was led by the sagacious and affectionate animal from street to street, and conducted from the city to a large oak in the forest, where he began to howl louder, and to scratch the earth with his feet. Aubry’s friend could not help surveying the sport with melancholy foreboding, and desired the servant who accompanied him, to fetch a spade and dig up the earth, --when, in a short time, he discovered the body of his murdered friend.
Some time after, the dog accidentally met the murderer of his master, barked, rushed upon him, and attacked him with such ferocity that the spectators could not, without great difficulty, extricate him. The same circumstance occurred several times. The faithful animal, which was in general as quiet as a lamb, became like a raging tiger every time he saw the person who had murdered his master.
This circumstance excited great astonishment; and strong suspicions having arisen, it was remembered that Maquer, on several occasions, had betrayed symptoms of enmity against Aubry; and various other circumstances being combined, brought the matter almost to a certainty.
The King, hearing of this affair, was desirous of being convinced with his own eyes whether or not the dog was in the right. The parties were brought before him; the dog fawned upon everybody else, but attacked Maquer with the utmost violence as soon as he saw him enter. The King, considering this to be a fair occasion for the ordeal, --which was at the time customary upon less important occasions, --ordered the fate of Maquer to be determined by single combat with the dog. Charles instantly appointed the time and place.
Maquer entered the list armed with his lance; the dog was let loose upon him, and a most dreadful contest ensued. Maquer made a thrust, but the dog, springing aside, seized him by throat, and threw him down. Thereupon the villain confessed his crime, and Charles, in order that the remembrance of the faithful animal might be handed down to posterity, caused to be erected to him, in the forest where the murder was committed, a marble monument, with a suitable inscription.
You still haven't answered why its neccesary to defend ones "honor" by killing someone.
This dueling stuff sounds a little too upper crust for me. How about cage matches where people throw in weapons like in Mad Max Thunderdome, would probably sell alot more tickets to boot.
Certainly there are. This is why we have courts that are backlogged with lawsuits and make decisions which are silly on their face, like giving a pedophile 6 years for raping 3 boys.
If a judge could face an angry parent on the field of honor for handing down an obviously over-lenient sentence, would the courts not be certain of their verdicts?
If a lawyer could be called out for continuously soliciting for lawsuits would we not see a decline in frivolous suits?
The largest problems with bringing back the duel would not be that they use violence to settle matters, but how they could be enforced so as to not become a street-level occurence.
Judges have to go by sentencing guidelines for the charges convicted of. If you have an issue with how long sentences are imposed for a specific offense, take it up with the legislature.
While a parent may want to see the death penalty because their own child was involved, society through the courts must act in a calm deliberate manner absent any hot-headedness or threats of death if some parents wishes are not met.Its that way for any criminal case, not just child abuse.
Its a persons right to bring suit if they feel they are faulted. Now you want to kill them for doing so?
And this would be bad how? (I believe the planet is too overpopulated as it is, doubly so w/stoopid [sic] &/or rude people!