Follow Me On

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Trial by Combat and The Duel

Nobody expects The Spanish Inquisition - Monty Python 

In part one of Trial by Combat, we briefly reviewed the foibles of basing a judicial system on the assumption that the innocent will receive divine intervention.

We also mentioned a possible benefit of jettisoning our current form of governmental elections and returning to Champion warfare. 

You can read it here. Trial by Combat and Trial by Ordeal

My second favorite duel in this collection: 



In 1842, James Shields, the State Auditor of Illinois, supported the closing of the Illinois State Bank. Abraham Lincoln, in disagreement, submitted a letter to the paper. Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel. Lincoln, entitled to choose the weapons, named cavalry broadswords. 

At the face off, Lincoln standing at six feet four inches, reached over his head and easily hacked off a tree branch. Shields, standing at five feet nine inches decided he had exceeded his reach and called for a truce.


From The Graphic "Diana Wood's Wedding"
5th January:
I chose the weapons - whips.
Snow had fallen in the night.
We fought from 8.37 to 10.14 am.
Feel quite sore

Two young Frenchmen Melfant and Lenfant, were playing billiards in 1843. Post the inevitable dispute, the men chose billiard balls as their weapon of choice. Standing 12 paces apart, Melfant threw first, hitting Lefant in the head and killing him. He was arrested and the duel was determined to be improper. He was tried and convicted of manslaughter.

A man may shoot the man who invades his character,
as he may shoot him who attempts to break into his house.
- Samuel Johnson

Dueling with pistols increased lethality, not only because it is bad to get punctured by a fast moving projectile, but because controlling the intended assault was difficult. 

Delope occurs when a pistol is intentionally fired to miss, generally in an attempt to avoid a body bag, while saving face, honor and manliness.


Alexander Hamilton, of Hamilton: An American Musical and the harassment of VP Pence, prior to his duel with Aaron Burr, wrote in a statement that he was opposed to dueling and intended to "throw away my first fire." Hamilton's son had died a few years earlier while dueling with the same pistols that were to be used in the Burr duel.

After Hamilton's death, Burr called the delope, "Contemptible, if true." Burr was charged with murder but served out his term as Vice President under Thomas Jefferson when the charges were dropped . . . 

which I was going to try to compare to Cheney's VP bloodbath but I don't have the will. 
Illustration of Eugene Onegin by Aleksandr Pushkin. Russian literature was pretty duel heavy. Pushkin was fatally wounded in a duel with his brother-in-law, who he accused of seducing his wife, Natalia Pushkina.

Admiral de la Susse, while attending a ball in 1816, believed that a large German had "waltzed against him". During the subsequent duel, the German was shot in the heart but was saved by wearing a heavy breastplate. Evidently the unchivalrous act was countered when the German was given a good kicking.

The affections of Mademoiselle Tirevit, 
a young dancer of evident charm, 

employed at the Paris Opéra 

was the cause of a duel in 1808.


Monsieur de Grandpre and Monsieur de Pique
, believing their high social standing demanded a grandiose venue to dispute claim to the same young dancer, hired identical hot air balloons. At 2,000 feet, Le Pique fired his blunderbuss first, but missed the target. Grandpré took aim, and successfully managed to penetrate his opponent’s balloon. Le Pique and his second plummeted to their deaths.

Female "petticoat" duelists, 
while not as common as male non-petticoat duelists, 

apparently occurred and were very sensational.


Per Carlton House Magazine in 1792, Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs Elphinstone were taking tea when Mrs Elphinstone, after an exchange of 'bloated compliments' between them, said to Lady Almeria, "You have been a very beautiful woman."

Eventually age and date of birth was called into question. Lady Braddock wounded her opponent in the arm and Mrs. Elphinstone agreed to write a letter of apology.

An artistic representation of The Emancipated Duel 

In 1892, Princess Pauline Metternich and Countess Kielmannsegg had a dispute over floral arrangements. Agreeing to a duel, Baroness Lubinska attended as the medical representative. The Baroness convinced the women to duel topless because receiving a wound through cloth increased the chances of infection. The duel was represented in countless titillating photos and artistic representations. 

The duel sans clothing does have another reference. 


While at a bar during the Brighton races of 1806, British MP Humphrey Howarth and the Earl of Barrymore were both inebriated and offended. A duel was arranged in four hours, during morning light.

Barrymore, who at one time was an army surgeon, had experience treating wounds infected by embedded detritus including soiled fabric, and appeared to duel without clothing. The MP declined to engage a man in such a state. They both fired into the air and deemed that sufficient to preserve their honor.

The Great Train Robbery,
a 1903 American silent Western film

The quick draw duel from the wild west, while relatively rare, became the American romanticized version of rugged individualism . . .  

while risking being shot over a variety of things. 

Wild Bill Hickok,
gunfighter, gambler, scout, lawman, actor
and self promoter.

While Wild Bill Hickok was well known to embellish his deeds and his reputation, he did engage in a well documented quick draw duel in 1865. Davis Tutt, a gambling rival, taunted Hickok by publicly confiscating his watch as collateral for a gambling debt and then announcing that he would wear the watch "in the middle of the town square".


Tutt did so and subsequently died after being hit in the side from Hickok's single shot. Hickok, who was not hit when Tutt's shot went wide, was tried for manslaughter and found not guilty three days later.

Nothing better described the times than the fact that dangling a watch held as security for a poker debt was widely regarded as a justifiable provocation for resorting to firearms. - City of Springfield Missouri, government website. 

My favorite duel in this collection: 

Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made. - Otto von Bismarck

Rudolf Virchow
 was a German physician, anthropologist, pathologist, writer, and politician who advanced public health in the mid to late 1800s. As a leader of the Progressive Party, he had several clashes with Otto von Bismarck, the Minister President of Prussia. 

Bismarck, in 1865, attempted to dispatch the political irritant with a duel. Virchow, exercising his rights to chose weapons, informed Bismarck that he would be presenting two sausages, one containing a lethal dose of Trichinella parasite. 

Choose and consume the parasitic-free sausage and the victor could watch his opponent parish over the next few weeks. His challenger declined the duel. 

A Final Mention:



Leon Humphreys, age sixty, was cited for failing to notify the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) that he had removed his Suzuki motorcycle from road usage. He was fined £25. 

Leon refused to pay and claimed that he had the right, under medieval law, to choose a trial by combat with a "champion" assigned by the DVLA. He suggested "samurai swords, Ghurka knives or heavy hammers".

The court of magistrates denied the claim and fined Mr. Humphreys an additional £200 with £100 in costs.

No comments :