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Post dueling
Since you are all so knowledgeable and helpful, here is another question you might help me with...

How prevalent was dueling in France in the 18th century? (A question that I wonder about after watching Dangerous Liaisons, Ridicule, etc.) I'm under the impression that it wasn't as common as it was in the 1600s. Were swords used more commonly than pistols?

Any further resources would be appreciated.

Wed Mar 04, 2009 1:42 am
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Post Re: dueling
Hi Victoire!
I'm not a specialist, but for what I know it was actually less common than in the XVII century. I also know it was illegal, so if one killed another man in a duel, he risked paying a high price. However, I don't know what was exactly the legislation.

As a fncer, I would also be very curious to know more! :D

Vera incessu patuit dea

Wed Mar 04, 2009 8:22 pm
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Post Re: dueling
This reminds me how woefully behind I am on getting entries from my defunct newsletter "Sundries" up on my site.

First, here are some books to look at:
"The duel in European history: honour and the reign of aristocracy"
VG Kiernan - 1988 - Oxford University Press

"The Duel: Its Rise and Fall in Early Modern France"
F Billacois, T Selous - 1990 - Yale University Press

"The End of the Modern French Duel"
R Nye - Men and Violence: Gender, Honor, and Rituals in Modern …

"The Duel: A History of Duelling"
R Baldick - 1965 - Chapman & Hall

"Men of Honour: A Social and Cultural History of the Duel"
U Frevert - 1995 - Polity Press

Otherwise, the last part of what follows should answer the question, at least in part:
- THE OLD REGIME POLICE BLOTTER: Duels (1) - Bastille cases

"The rage for duels has caused the flower of the Nobility to
perish....Dueling is a bold action, & the result of an extravagant vanity." "Dictionnaire
universel françois et latin" (Dictionary of Trevoux) (T3, 488)

Dueling, which might be considered both a quarrel and a homicide, had a
special place under the Old Regime, legally and otherwise. Ravaillon, in a note
to the case of the marquis de Termes and the chevalier de Flamarens below,
resumes the paradox which faced those who were challenged:

"Among the numerous anomalies of the old regime, the situation of duelists
was not one of the least singular. Dueling was then an unpardonable crime, and
Louis XIV, in his quality as civil leader, punished it with severity; but as
military leader, he had leave the army anyone who refused a provocation, not
wanting to see them at his court and treating them as dishonored. The other
sovereigns of Europe reacted in the same way, and all the kings received
foreign duelists with favor and employed them in war; their misfortune aroused
the general sympathy. So it was that Frenchmen fought in the armies of the
Empire, without anyone condemning them."

Jousse's chapter on the official judicial position begins as follows:


Dueling is a type of homicide, more criminal than ordinary homicide; because
it is a voluntary sacrifice made to vengeance, or a point of honor, most
often imaginary, which is normally followed by the loss of life and possessions.

Dueling was once permitted in France, by an abuse that custom had
authorized, against the rules of Religion..."

Jousse goes on to provide a history of dueling in France, which was finally
outlawed by Henry II after a favorite of François I's, his predecessor, was
killed in a duel. "The crime of dueling is so grave, that it is regarded as a
crime of Leze-Majesté, according to all the Statutes." Both Louis XIV and
Louis XV swore to never pardon the crime.

Article II of Jousse's article covers a wide range of penalties. The first,
for simply calling for a duel, contradicts Jousse's statement elsewhere that
a prison sentence was not regarded as a punishment per se: the punishment was
two years of prison and a fine equal to at least a year of the income from
his possession, as well as the suspension of other benefits. Longer prison
terms were given for calling for duels against one's commanders, because of
resentment, etc. In theory, actual fighting was to be punished by death, and even
if one or both of the combatants died, "a trial must be held against their
memory" and they were to be forbidden burial. With this, they (and, after
1711, their wives and children) were to lose all their possessions. Those who
called on seconds were also to be deprived of their titles, "their arms
blackened and broken publicly by the Executor of High Justice" (that is, the
executioner). People of low birth who challenged gentlemen to duels were to be hung.

There is a distinction here - probably lost on most modern readers - between
those fighting duels and those fighting over a point of honor: "Those who
claimed to have received an offense, & who do not inform the Judges of the
point of honor" were punished as ordinary duellists. Apparently (it is mentioned
more in passing) the fact of informing a judge was an important element in
defining an encounter over honor as a "meeting" (rencontre) rather than a duel.
Jousse quotes an example from Brillon from March 31, 1706 of a captain who
fought the man he believed responsible for his disgrace: "It was considered
that this was neither a duel nor a murder, but the desire to avenge oneself, by
one who had given offense, by the paths which honor & courage seemed to

Nor could simple quarrels between gentlemen be regarded as duels (though
some of the examples given under "Assaults, quarrels, etc." seem very much like
them.) In practice, the main distinction between a quarrel and a duel
sometimes seems to have been the time passed between the original offense and the
combat, and the level of formality of the actual encounter.

Jousse's chapter on duels is one of his longer ones ("Traité de la Justice
Criminelle, III, 325-337). Without attempting to resume the rest of it, here
are some other key points:

- Servants or lackeys who delivered challenges, led people to the dueling
ground, etc. could be whipped and branded the first time and sent to the
galleys the next.
- Royal judges or even local parlements were to try such cases, as were
provost marhsals.
- Any other cases between dueling parties were to be suspended while the
dueling case was being tried.
- To avoid intimidation of witnesses (a concern not often mentioned in Old
Regime law), the officers concerned were to gather statements within the first
twenty four hours after they first had news of the duel.
- Even when proof was not forthcoming, "those accused of dueling by public
rumor" were to be held in prison until a full inquiry had been made.

Article VI - "Precautions taken to foresee & prevent Duels" - discusses
various steps royal administrators should take to resolve conflicts before they
went this far, and to be informed by those who might (accidentally or not)
have given another offense.

All this shows how seriously Justice took dueling in the eighteenth century.
Officially, at least.


Far less cases of duels are mentioned in the Bastille archives than, say, in
the press or in memoirs, suggesting that even the mildest punishments here
were somewhat exceptional.


This case is more extensively documented than most, and is one of those
Bastille dossiers that almost reads like the outline of a novel (Ravaillon seems
to have augmented it with items from other archives as well.) It shows how
broad the consequences of a duel could be - death, exile, pain for family
members, service in foreign armies, etc - but also the way rumors grew about the
original event and the degree to which other royal courts could be concerned
by what started as a minor quarrel at a ball in France. As is often true in
very formal societies, there are also some interesting maneuvers here to either
transmit information without compromising either the sender or the receiver,
or to pretend ignorance of known facts.

The Venetian ambassador's note provides a colorful and compassionate
introduction to the whole affair. On a minor linguistic note, it is interesting to
see the term (translated from Italian) "returned the blows with interest"
(rendit les coups avec usure) used this early, and in so elegant a context.

I have retained the (illogical) shifts between 1663 and 1662 in Ravaillon's

Entry order: April 11, 1663


Ambassador Grimiani, to the Doge of Venice

Serenissimo prince, it often happens that great misfortunes arise from a
small cause. What has happened these days to ruin several nobles houses and
eight lords of the court is the proof of this. Here are the details which I owe
to Your Excellence.

Monsieur gave, in the apartments he occupies on one side of the Tuileries, a
ball and a magnificent party; the King and the Queen, all the ladies and the
lords of the court were there, with many people, and followed by the crowd
habitually seen in this country at all solemnities. A gentleman, named M. de
la Frette, after having passed the last door, came down the middle of the
stairs through the middle of the tumult, crying Watch it! Watch it! Another lord,
M. de Chalais, was before him with his brother. He found this behavior too
impertinent and told him that he had never seen anything like this. They
exchanged harsh words; Chalais slapped La Frette. The latter, backed by his
brother, returned the blows with interest. The marquis of Noirmoutiers,
brother-in-law of Chalais, came to his help with two other friends; meanwhile all this
tumult was ended, and all six got in carriages and were taken far away. The
lords la Frette having found two other lords as seconds, they went there the
same morning, at the break of day, behind a charterhouse in the faubourg
Saint-Germain. All eight of them fought, and remarkably, all four on one side
succumbed, that is on the side of the Chalais. The marquis d'Antin was left lying
there. Noirmoutiers will not recover, and M. Flamarens and Chalais are
wounded. On the other side, the two la Frette, de Saint-Aignan and d'Argenlieu
were not wounded; the seven survivors at once fled, and the cadaver was hidden
in order to keep this spectacle from the public.

The King is extremely upset about so great and numerous a duel, held in
contempt of his statutes and his express orders. He wants to make of it a strict
and exemplary justice. H. M. also shows some resentment against the other
lords and against the guards who watched the beginning of this quarrel, without
the first having prevented this misfortune by their intervention and by the
authority of the marshals of France and the others, by arresting the

While the trial is being investigated, the King has already charged the
guilty parties, and the parlement will soon pronounce against them the most
severe sentences. The duke of Noirmoutiers, who is now in his lands, will be very
distressed at this news. He will have great pain at seeing his son and his
son-lin-law reduced to such an extremity; the first in danger of losing his
life, and both fallen into disgrace with the King, that I do not know if the
duke will be able to still keep the engagement he had made with Your Serenity,
and attach himself to your service, since he can no longer think of maintaining
his governance for his son; far from that, during the exile of his
son-in-law and of his son, he will have trouble supporting with his money the house of
Chalais at the same time as his.

(translated from Italian)

Paris, January 24, 1663
[NOTE: This date may apply to the letter above, though it appears to precede
the next item.]


Alas! this poor d'Antin who died yesterday in a duel, this poor Noirmoutiers
who, in the same combat, was badly wounded; it is the young Noirmoutiers,
and d'Antin, as you know, I think, was the nephew of M. the archbishop of Sens.

*Parlement minutes*
Today April 21, 1662, the three chambers met to judge the contumacy charged
against the lords de la Frette, Flamarens, Chalais, Saint-Aignan, Argenlieu
and de Termes and the trial held against the memory of the late marguis

Jean Servant, fifty-eight years old, curator for the memory of lord marquis

It is a murder which was committed against his person, and [he?] is too well
bred to have violated the King's edicts; everybody mourns him, and will
mourn him forever, and the witnesses only speak by hear-say.


The chevalier de Flamarens fought a duel with the marquis de Mossac, his
friend, over a young woman of whom the latter being enamored, wanted her to slip
away from the other for the trip to Malta where he was engaged, was wounded
by the said chevalier.
[Translated from English?]

*The same to the same*
The duke of Elboeuf and the count of Termes are in the country to fight, and
the King has sent after them.

The subject of the quarrel between the duke of Elbouef and the younger
marquis de Terme, who married the niece of sir Aubert, [tax] farmer of the
Gabelles, was a young person who the one and the other saw, and who the duke had the
marquis asked and told to see no more; which not having left doing, the duke
caused an uproar against this marquis, who to make him answer for this sent
a challenge by the chevalier de Flamarens who, not having carefully taken his
time, the challenge was talked about, and being come to the ears of the
King, H. M. sent the marquis de Termes and the chevalier de Flamarens to the
Bastille, forbidding anyone speak to him of this for a year.

(Several notes after this from Colbert regard permissions for various people
to visit the prisoners.)


The 11th, the marquis de Termes left the Bastille, where he was imprisoned
for a year, for some quarrel he had had with M. the duke d'Elboeuf; he is
preparing to to go to Germany with the children of M. the duke de Lesdiguières,
who must leave the 19th, who have sent letters of exchange for 20,000 crowns
to Strasbourg, to complete their suite.

The chevalier de Flamarens also left the Bastille with the marquis de
Termes, and similarly goes to Hungary.

A rumor is abroad that M. the count de Crussol has killed, in Germany, the
count de Sault.

Note the brief (and inaccurate) mention here of another duel, which had a
very different outcome for all concerned - see the details after the present

"Monsieur, to Charles II
At Paris, this December 10, 1664

The King my brother, having known that Your Majesty was to ask that de
Noirmoutiers and de Chalis be pardoned, has declared that he will not grant it,
not wanting in any manner to violate his edict on duels, to which he says he is
committed; this is why I have prevented milord Garet from speaking to him on
your behalf, not wishing you to commit yourself in something which will not
succeed. If M. the duke of Yorck [sic] had come to Dunkirk, that would have
been different, and I think that would have succeeded; but I am afraid that at
present it is not a propos, which is why I have prevented milord from
speaking of it, knowing how resolved is the King, my brother. I remain as obliged
to Your Majesty as if the thing had succeeded, since you have done everything
necessary for that and it is because of myself that it has not been spoken
of; but, as you know, a thing that is good at one moment is not at another.
Your Majesty must be certain that I will never employ him in things of which he
might repent, since I have for him a particular respect and esteem. I have
asked milord Garet to provide an exact account to Your Majesty.

[NOTE: Ravaillon's note on foreign kings and duelists, quoted above, appears

The Hague, May 20, 1666

When Messieurs de la Frette are here, I will do everything in my power to
help them. M. de Wit will recommend them as his relations, and assuredly they
will be treated as well as one can be with these people, who being all
sailors and low-born, have little consideration for people of quality. I am
speaking of Ruyter and other officers of the navy.

As soon as I had spoken of this to sir de Wit, he offered to do everything
necessary to distinguish these Messieurs from others, which is to obtain
orders from the admiralty to the admiral, and to the vice-admirals to treat them
well. You must be persuaded, Monsieur, that after your recommendation I will
treat Messieurs de la Frette no differently than my own children, and that I
will treat them with the same affection in all our encounters.

Another letter from d'Estrades to de Lionne discusses further developments.
De Lionne's first response (June 25, 1666) expresses his gratitude, and his
dilemma: Madame de la Frette does not want her sons to expose themselves to
further danger by going to sea, but he does not want to advise them to stop "on
so fine a road". His solution? Not to answer the La Frette's letter, but to
ask d'Estrades to show them this one. (This is another example, as in
Monsieur's letter to the English king, of messages being forwarded in an indirect

His second response, from Fontainebleau, July 9, is a bit more definitive:

"I thank you for everything you do me the favor of sending me, and which is
obliging on the subject of MM. de la Frette. As for the new perils to which
they expose themselves in boarding the fleet, that is true; but there is
nobody of good family here who has not solicited the King for the permission to go
on his vessels, and at least, it is by their own pure desire, without any of
them having on their arms a business like that of my brave relatives.

*The same to the same*
Fontainebleau, July 16, 1666

I ask you now to discourage Messieurs de la Frette from going to embark on
the fleet of Messieurs of the States [of Holland]. I have come around to your
opinion, and I would be sorry to see them expose themselves again, without
much hope of gaining from it the advantage they promise themselves."

Ravaisson's note to this says that, although the la Frettes did not return
to France for a long time, they volunteered in the French armies when the King
was not present and quotes Turenne's praise of them after one battle.

The next letter, dated 1678, is from de Flamarens to the king of England,
asking that his case be discussed in the current treaty negotiations. Ravaisson
notes that he had some claim to the protection of Charles II for, among
other things, having introduced the sarabande in England(!). A second note says
that he had stayed (illegally) in France.

The next letter, apparently a kind of safety net for the first, is to Sir J.
Williamson, the English negotiator, and proposes alternate strategies in
case his letter to the English king seem too forward. Flamarens ends with the
reasons he should be pardoned:

"In the first place the French nobility has been sufficiently turned from
fighting duels, by the example which the supplicant has given by the penitence
of roughly 16 years of exile.

In second place that it is only strictly 2 years of pardon that is being
asked, since at the end of 20 years a limit applies to all crimes, except
lèse-majesté in the first degree, which criminals have always enjoyed.

In third place that it is H. brittanic M. who asks the thing, and on the
extraordinary occasion of a major and general peace.

It may be that de Flamarens was at least partially successful; one of the
documents that follow (all from 1683) mentions an applicable article in the
peace treaty. But his troubles were certainly not over:

At Paris, January 23, 1683.

M. the count de Flamarens who was exiled from the court and who had stayed
out of the kingdom, for twenty years for having fought a duel, was arrested in
one of his lands in Guyenne near Bordeaux, and put in the Trompette castle.
His whole family is upset, because it is feared, and with reason, that he be
put to death, his trial being done and the King having several times refused
to pardon him.

This January 23, 1683.

Monsieur..., you will find enclosed the memoir on the facts about which it
will be necessary to interrogate M. de Flamarens, H. H. considering that
despite what is specified in the article 24 of the treaty of Nijmegen, he must be
interrogated on these facts.

At Paris, this January 24, 1683.

M. the count of Flamarens is under arrest, at Bordeaux, in the Trompette
castle; twenty years ago he fought a duel with MM. de la Frette; since then, the
King has pretended not to see them in their land where nothing was said to
them. Unfortunately for this count Flamarens, he had some quarrels with troops
passing on his lands, and by his impudence he provided a reason to reawake
the old affair, he might well lose his head for it."

Two other administrative notes from Colbert follow. But the end of the
affair is given in a note by Ravaillon:

"M. de Flamarens took refuge in England. John Evelyn was careful to tell us
in his diary that they dined together, October 17, 1684, at the house of the
Great Chamberlain of England.

The marquis d'Amilly and the marquis de la Frette, his brother, returned to
Paris; the King pretended not to know. M. de la Frette died in 1686; the duke
de Chaulnes, his relation, publicly wore mourning for him in public and at
court. Louis XIV, shocked, said he found it quite strange that they had lived
in Paris, and the next day at high noon they went to arrest M. d'Amilly, but
he had been warned the night before and escaped.

The marquis went to Spain, where the King gave him a pension of 2,000 crowns
and the golden key, that is he made him chamberlain. He was buried at the
King's expense, in 1706."
Ravaisson, "Archives de la Bastille" (Tome 3 - 1661-1664, 401-414)


This case was mentioned - if inaccurately - above. In fact, no one seems to
have been killed here, which may be why the consequences were so much less
serious. For one party at least, the tale had a happy ending.

Order of entry: January 6, 1664



At Paris, December 30 1663/January 9, 1664
[NOTE: This division in a date is extremely rare - does it mean this note,
itself very short, was started on one day and finished on the next?]

Monsieur, it is the count de Crussol who was put in the Bastille with the
count de Sault, it is for having given reason to think they wanted to fight a
duel out of jealousy from the love they each have for the daughter of madame
de Montausier, whom it is thought the first may marry.


The sir de Besmaus, commanding the Bastille castle, will not permit one of
the friends of sirs count de Sault and de Crussol to visit them and confer
with them.
Done at Paris, the 4 of January 1664


I ask M. de Besmaus to let messieurs the counts de Crussol and de Sault
leave the Bastille.
Done at Paris, this January 6, 1664.

March 14, 1664

On Saint-Joseph's day will be held the marriage of the count de Crussol with
mademoiselle de Montausier, only daughter and very rich.


This is a rare example of people being ordered to report to the Bastille
from far off, though the rarity of the fact is probably more a question of
circumstance than any general principle. The general treatment of these prisoners
seems very mild, and is probably more typical of how duellists were treated
in the 18th century in France.

Note that M. de Montgeorges commanded the citadel of Nice, which fact did
not prevent the king from having him confined.

[Orders of entry of July 18, 1710. Counter-signed Voysin [sic]]

Marly, July 16, 1710

It has come to the King's attention from several directions that you have
had an affair with M. de Marcilly and that you fought three against three; H.
M. wants the truth to be made clear and he orders me to tell you that his
intention is that you must go to the B. and that you take there with you MM. de
Chateauvieux and de Chigny. You will leave Nice the day after the arrival of M.
Dumontel, whom the marshal de Berwick sends to command in the citadel of
Nice in your absence.

Marly, July 19, 1710

The King having ordered M. de Montgeorges, field marshal in his armies, to
leave Nice immediately with M. de Chateauvieux and de Chigny to go all three
to the B. castle, and to M. de Macilly, brigadier and colonel of a regiment of
infantry that is in Flanders, to leave also with the maor of his regiment to
also go to the B., I send you H. M./s orders to have them received and
detained until further orders from H. M.

January 23, 1710

The intention of H. M. is not that when MM. de Montgeorges, Chateauvieux and
de Chigny arrive at the B. as well as M. de Marcilly and a major of his
regiment, that they have any communication between them until further orders, but
he finds it well that they each keep one of their servants, on condition
that they also have no communication between them."
(Tome 12-1709-1772, 36)


Duels go so far back in French history that it might be surprising to know
they were not inherited from classical cultures:

"Duels were not known among the Peoples whom we regard as our Masters. No
example has been seen among the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, nor in the
civilized Southern Countries; it is in the Northern Countries that one finds
their origin.

Hordes of Barbarians come from Northern countries, having subjugated the
Gauls, Spain, brought their customs there. These Peoples, most often, took
justice into their own hands. If they did not find a quicker way to deliver it,
than fighting, they imagined that he who came out victorious from combat was the
one in the right. The ignorance of these peoples made them regard the
outcome of these combats, as a Judgement of God: they were often used to purge
oneself of an accusation and even to decide a point of law. Saint Louis entirely
forbid the custom of Duels; but the evil was too old and too tenacious to be
so promptly uprooted."
Denisart, "Collection de Décisions Nouvelles" (Tome 1, 542-543)

Rousseau cited this fact in his fierce condemnation of the practice:

"Beware of confounding the sacred name of honor with this ferocious
prejudice which puts all the virtues at the tip of a sword, & serves only to make
brave scoundrels.

In what does this prejudice consist? In the most outlandish & the most
barbarous opinion that ever entered the human spirit; that is, that all the duties
of society are replaced by courage; that a man is no longer sneaky,
thieving, slandering, that he is civil, human, polite, when he knows how to fight;
that the lie becomes truth, that theft becomes legitimate, perfidy honest,
infidelity praiseworthy, so long as he defends all that steel in hand; that an
insult is always well repaired by a sword blow; & that one is never in the
wrong with a man, so long as one kills him. There is, I confess, another sort of
affair where kindess is mixed with cruelty, & where people are only killed by
chance; it is that where one fights until first blood. Until first blood!
Good Lord! And what do you want to do with this blood, ferocious beast! Do you
want to drink it?

Did the most valiant men of antiquity ever dream of avenging their personal
insults by individual combats? Did Caesar send a challenge to Cato, or Pompei
to Caesar, for so many reciprocal affronts, & was the greatest Captain of
Greece dishonored for letting himself be threatened by a stick? Other times,
other customs, I know; but were there not good ones among them, & would not one
dare to ask if the customs of a time are those demanded by solid honor? No,
this honor is not a variable point, it does not depend upon prejudice, it can
neither pass or be reborn, it has its eternal spring in the heart of the just
man & in the inalterable rule of his duties. If the most enlightened
peoples, the bravest, the most virtuous on earth have never known the duel, I say
that it is not an institution of honor, but a terrible & barbarous fashion,
worthy of its fierce origin. It remains to be seen if, when it concerns his
life or that of another, the honest man follows fashion, & if there is not more
courage in confronting it than in following it?....

The righteous man, whose whole life is without stain, & who has never given
any sign of cowardice, would refuse to soil his hand with a homicide & would
only be more honored for it. Always ready to serve his country, to protect
the weak, to fulfill his most dangerous duties, & to defend, in every just &
honest encounter, what is most dear to him at the cost of his blood, he puts in
his proceedings this unshakeable firmness that one never has without real
courage. In the security of his conscience, he holds his head high, he neither
flees nor seeks out his enemy....

The men so stormy & so prompt to provoke others are, for the most part,
very dishonest people, who, out of fear that the contempt had for them be openly
shown, try to cover with a few affairs of honor the infamy of their whole

So and so makes an effort & comes forward once to have the right to hide for
the rest of his life. Real courage is more constant & less hurried; it is
always what it must be, it has no need to be either excited or restrained: the
worthy man carries it everywhere with him; in combat against the enemy, in
the circle in favor of those absent & of the truth; in his bed against attacks
of pain & of death. The force of the soul which inspires him is customary in
all times; it always puts virtue above events, & does not consist in
fighting, but in fearing nothing."
"Les Pensees de J.J. Rousseau, Citoyen de Geneve", Amsterdam, 1764 (106-109)

Is it necessary to point out that duels far out-lasted the Old Regime and
its codes of honor and nobility? And not only in France. Dickens describes a
tragic duel in "Nicholas Nickleby" and even the 1945 film "The Children of
Paradise" shows a character (in a slightly earlier era) being mocked for refusing
a challenge.

-- Women duelists

Mentions of women fighting duels are extremely rare, and not untouched by

"People speak, in Paris, of two Ladies of the Court, who fought a *duel*
with pistol shots. The King said in laughing that he had only forbidden it for
men, & not for women. GUY PATIN. Henriètte Sylvie de Moliere, in men's
clothes, was one of the combattants. She was attacked by another woman, also dressed
as a man, who, taking her for her rival, drew her sword, saying in rage, you
must have my life with Monsieur so and so, whom she named, or let the one &
the other remain mine. 'This was what gave rise to the rumor in the Court at
this time, that two disguised Ladies fought a *duel* over a lover. It was
true, & only the circumstances were wrong.' *Vie de Henriette-Sylvie de
Moliere, tome 7 des oeuvr [sic], de Madame de Villedieu*, pag. 82, 85. Madame du
Noyer, in her Letters, notes the circumstances of a *duel* between a Lady of
Beaucaire, & a girl of good family, who fought with swords in a garden, who
wounded each other, & would perhaps have killed each other, if people had not run
to separate them. It was a *duel* in due form, which had been preceded by a
formal written challenge [*cartel*], of which the copy is given. These are
facts of which there are not many examples. It is not extraordinary for women to
be the cause of many individual combats; but that they fight themselves in a
*duel*, is rarely seen."
Dictionnaire universel françois et latin (Dictionary of Trevoux) (T3,

The memoirs of Henriette-Sylvie de Moliere are now considered fiction,
though possibly autobiographical, at nineteen, Mme. de Villedieu herself may have
(disguised as a man) challenged her fiance to a duel when he was slow to
commit. In his defense, he had another wife, and ultimately died in a duel
himself, after challenging a man who raised this inconvenient fact in regard to his
second marriage. ("Biographie Universelle" (XLIII, 442).

The King's Jesuitical response quoted above has also been cited in regard to
a more verifiable figure, the opera singer and swordswoman Mme. Maupin, who
is probably the only woman in documented history to have fought a duel over
another woman:

"Mlle. Maupin was, excepting her sex, the very image of the swashbuckling
romantic cavalier: tall, dark and handsome, one of the finest swordswomen or
swordsmen of her day....

She is said to have been "born with masculine inclinations" as well as
having been educated in a very masculine way. Certainly, she often dressed as a
man and when she did so could be mistaken for one. She also seemed to have at
least as much an eye for members of her own sex as for men. Her skill with the
sword, either in exhibition or duels fought in earnest, seems to have been

La Maupin was born Julie d'Aubigny (Julie) in 1670 and died in 1707. Her
father was Gaston d'Aubigny(d'Aubigny), the secretary of the Comte d'Armagnac.
.. [he] seems to have thought that training with rapier and foil was the only
way that one could be safe upon the streets of Paris, and determined to see
his child safe, regardless of her sex. "

Her most famous duel is variously described, generally following the version
given by Jessica Amanda Salmonson in her introduction to *Amazons II*
(though some accounts say she killed the men, and her confrontation with the king
may have come well after the ball itself):

"Attending one of King Louis's fabulous balls, she proceeded once more to
act the role of cavalier and to monopolize the attentions of a certain beauty.
After several dances which won the whispers and speculations of all the
guests, La Maupin suggested a secret rendezvous and there upon the dance floor
kissed the woman passionately. Three of the woman's male suitors immediately
surrounded the couple. "At your service, gentlemen," said la Maupin, agreeing to
the duel. In the darkness outside, she proceeded to injure and disarm her
three opponents. On returning to the ball, La Maupin was approached by Louis,
who said, "You are the jade La Maupin? I have heard of your handiwork! Need I
remind you of my decree against duels in Paris?" The next day she awaited
arrest, but Louis had been amused by the incident and, while speculating that his
law governed only men, and La Maupin was free to duel at will, she was given
the opportunity to flee to Brussels until the dust cleared from the air. "
quoted on _
( ... html#Fetis)
(The book does not seem to be available under this name on Amazon, but the
following work by the same autho probably also includes references to Maupin:

"The Encyclopedia of Amazons: Women Warriors from Antiquity to the Modern
( ... n/dp/15577

If she sounds like a subject for a novel, Théophile Gautier thought so too;
his "Mademoiselle de Maupin" (_
( ) was considered his most scandalous work.


The "Mémoires Secrets" frequently mentioned duels, but probably only a
selection of those which actually occured. Often some particularity stands out in
these tales: a duelist betrayed by his second; a man who raised his own
prestige by challenging his 'better' to a duel; a complacent husband who
nonetheless ended by killing his rival (and friend); a magistrate is killed
(shockingly) by another magistrate in a duel over a "girl"; an old accusation of
cowardice ends up drawing the visting king of Sweden into a tragic event.

"March 4, 1779. The magistrates indignant at seeing monsieur de Gamache come
confront justice right in its sanctuary, in showing there all the dressing
of his wound, result of a typical duel, held before witnesses, and the talk of
all of Paris, had him told to withdraw and the king's prosecutor of Chatelet
has been ordered to file a complaint."
Bachaumont, Memoirs Secrets (Tome 13, 299)

"December 10 [1779]. M. d le Cardonnie complained that his second did not
behave properly in the duel they had: that after having broken his sword, this
traitor came at him with his own without defense to stab him; but that he had
luckily avoided the blow & grabbed the blade by the side, & so turned it
that he also broke it; that despairing for having not been able to commit his
murder, his adversary resorted to fist blows & all the resources of brutatliy,
& that he did not cease this disgraceful struggle until he saw people coming.
It is above all because of these complaints that the affair has been brought
before the tribunal of the marshals of France."
(Tome 14, 302-303)

"December 24, 1779. Nothing certain can yet be said on the duel by the
prince de Condé with M. d'Agou, that is on the manner in which it started. It is
only known that madame de Courtebonne, attached to madame the duchess de
Bourbon, of whom M. d'Agou was very enamored, & after loved by the prince was the
cause of it; that the first had made outrageous remarks about this lady, &
claimed to have reason to make them: that H. H. was displeased with them and
franly showed his displeasure to this officer. But, what were these terms? Did
they merit his demanding satisfaction from his master, to whom he had just
given his resignation as captain of the guards? This is what is impossible to
decide. It is only to be presumed that one does not proceed to an action of
this consequence, of which the results can be quite fatal, without clear
prejudice to one's honor, and without the violent impulse of a blind jealousy.

Nothing more certain is known on the action itself; it is agreed only that
he had as a witness his brother, officer of the bodyguards who, with more
sang-froid than the combatant, would not have accepted his role if he did not
consider that it concerned the honor of his family.

It is agreed further that despite the prince's wound, the adversary of H. H.
& his brother, not only do not judge [the matter] satisfied at this moment,
but upon the request of the prince, upon the observation of M. d'Autichamp on
the side of his highness, assuring that the laws of honor do not ask more,
remained undecided some time, & had the same thing repeated to them twice. In
general, without entering into a discussion of the facts, all the higher
nobility is delighted with M. d'Agou's action, which thus puts him on a par with
princes of the blood, & will make the latter more circumspect.

To the contrary, there is a great upset among the princes, the ministers and
their supporters, concerned that inferiors not be able to demand
satisfaction from their chiefs for their rude remarks or other complaints they might
have against them. It is a matter of importance now being discussed at
Versailles, & about which nothing has been decided. The aggressor has provisionally
taken flight."
(Tome 14, 323-324)

"February 26, 1780. People speak of a duel between the duke de Fronsac, & M.
the count of Coigny, concering a quarrel that arose between them Friday at a
ball of the prince of Guemené's. It is said that the cause was trivial; it
is claimed that this was some bad joke about the marriage of the marshal de
Richelieu. Whatever the truth, the results have been no more important, & the
only result was two light sword blows received by the count de Coigny."
(Tome 15, 57)

"19 August [1780]. It is only recently that light has been shed on the way
in which M. Marquet, councilor in Parlement of the first inquiries, died; it
was in a way which should not be that of the death of a magistrate; he was
killed in a duel by one of his colleagues, M. de Cotte; & the cause was not less
extraordinary, it concerned a girl.

It is said that the father of this last works to have him locked up, less to
spare him the results of this business, [which is] dying down, than for
disorderly conduct and other dishonoring facts, like false letters of exchange:
it is said that his second, an officer of the guards, was guilty of various low
actions & deserves the same punishment. Luckily he still has two sons,
perhaps better sorts."
(Tome 15, 269-270)

"December 23, 1781. The combat of the viscount de Vaudreuil against M. de la
Meth, occurred with the greatest stir; it took place in broad daylight in
the bois de Boulogne, in the presence of several witnesses chosen by one & the
other, of a large group of valets & of many passersby. This lord, displeased
with M. de Chabot, one of his witnesses, went to fight him at the border. The
publicity given this duel & to several others before revolts the
philosophers, seeing with sorrow that they have not yet uprooted all prejudices."
(Tome 18, 210)

"November 21 [1783]. It seems certain that M. the duke de Caylus whose death
the gazette de France announced, a while ago, was killed by the marquis de
Seignelay. He was the lover of the latter's wife, who was not unaware of it,
who nonetheless regarded him as a friend, & treated him as such. For reasons of
appearance and economy then, & not by jealousy, the marquis proposed to the
marquise that they spend some years in their lands; she refused. M. de
Seignelay knowing the influence of the duke de Caylus on his wife, resorted to him
to ask him to decide his half to agree to this arrangement; what is more, not
to disturb theirs, he proposed to him to come as often as he liked, the duke
told him he could not do what he wanted, that to the contrary it was he who
had dissuaded his wife from going to be buried so for her whole life. From
there, remarks & a duel in which the duke has precisely been the victim."
(Tome 23, 284-285)

"December 10 [1783]. Much is said of a duel between M. de Chabannes & M. de
Lescure, a very typical duel, since there were witnesses chosen by one side &
the other. The first is said to be seriously wounded. It seems that gambling
was the cause; but all the details are not yet clear on this story."
(Tome 24, 71)

"June 16 [1784]. The King of Sweden's chamberlain was killed yesterday in a
duel by M. the count de *la Mark*. It follows a quarrel arisen between them
at the opera ball; but the underlying cause is very old. It is said that this
chamberlain had served in France in the regiment of *la Mark*; that when there
was a question during the last war of crossing the seas this officer
refused; that this made his colonel accuse him of cowardice; he took the first
opportunity to demand satisfaction for this.

M. de la Mark is said to be seriously wounded.

This catastrophe took place according to all the rules & in the presence of
witnesses. It is believed that the count of *Haga* [the king of Sweden] was
informed this morning at the palace [of justice] where he went to hear M.
*Seguier* plead. He went out a moment, and it is presumed that he had just been
given the fatal news.


June 17. The king of Sweden's chamberlain killed was of French origin &
Lyonnaise, he was called *Duperron*. It appears that the count de *la Mark* had
made remarks which were repeated to him, for which he could not fail to ask
satisfaction. He warned his master & asked his permission. The count of *Haga*
responded to him, that if he had come to France as the king of Sweden, he
would have handled the business before the king himself, & knew what he would
have to do; but only being there as the count of *Haga*, he had nothing to say
about it, and it was not under his authority. It is clear that he was no less
troubled by the proceedings of M. de *la Mark* who, out of regard for the
sovereign, should have abstained from the remarks which provoked the combat."
(Tome 26, 69-71)

"December 18 [1773]. A duel that took place last Monday today excites the
attention of Paris, as much by the circumstances as by the difficulty of
knowing more of its origin & details. It is known in general that the count de
*Rouault Gamache* was wounded to death on the battlefield, taken to a neighboring
surgeon who wanted to do nothing for him, & that he died there, without
wanting to name his adversary. As for the combat, the two rivals arriving, each
at the end of the rue des Prouvaires, had their carriages put sideways, & so
formed an unreachable arena. A wound was found on the left of the body, which
shows that the victor was left-handed, or had changed his steel from one hand
to the other. Whatever the case, many different guesses about him have been
made, & it is said today that it is a M. *le Prêtre*, officer, chevalier de
Saint-Louis, son of *le prêtre*, ordinary treasurer of war. It seems that the
latter paid too much court to the wife of M. de *Gamache* his friend, but
that jealousy exploded in so lively a manner, that the other was forced to
defend himself. What is more, the king himself seems to desire that the affair go
no further, if he has declared that *Gamache* died of congestion."
(Tome 27, 132-133)

"October 10 [1785]. It has been a long time since anyone has spoken of a
duel as memorable as that which just took place between two regimental officers
of the Soissonnais and another. The first two were messieurs *de
Saint-Mesme*, related to the colonel of this name, & M. *Barras*, relative of the
officer-general of the marine of this name. The last was M. *Dumesnil Durand*. It is
not known if this last is the one known for a particular system of strategy.
This last played the owl [played alone] at backgammon against the two
others; a quarrel arose, it became so serious that they first fought with swords, &
upon the regiment of the first two not finding the quarrel sufficiently
settled, they agreed to have a more formal fight, with pistols; the agreements
reached, they took witnesses & went to Luxembourg. M. *Dumesnil Durand*
continued to play the owl in this duel, as in the game. First he killed M. *de
Saint-Mesme*; the second steps forward, he wounds him in the shoulder; M. *de
Barras* only becomes more passionate, he shoots his pistol shot and breaks the
thigh of M. *Dumesnil Durand*, who falls defenseless. These ferocious
combattants, since the judges of the point of honor had decided that death alone could
could cleanse or extinguish the quarrel, had decided that whomever the
misfortune of arms had thrown to the ground would be finished off; M. *de Barras*
approaches M. *Dumesnil*, tells him he is master of his life, but that he
leaves it to him; the witnesses decide the quarrel entirely resolved by this
fine action, which makes it impossible for M. *Dumesnil Durand* to fight again
against so generous a victor. They are made to embrace, and they return to the
lands of France.

It is said that the King is very unhappy about this duel."
(Tome 30, 21-22)

Jim Chevallier
North Hollywood, CA

Wed Mar 04, 2009 8:35 pm
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Joined: Sun Mar 01, 2009 1:54 am
Posts: 27
Location: central new jersey
Post Re: dueling
Thank you, Rosalie. And thank you, Jim, for your well-documented information! :)

Thu Mar 05, 2009 1:19 am
User avatar

Joined: Sun Jan 13, 2008 12:36 pm
Posts: 903
Location: italy
Post Re: dueling
Thanks :) , Jim!

Vera incessu patuit dea

Sat Mar 07, 2009 8:32 pm
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