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 Duels and fencing

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Caro
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PostSubject: Duels and fencing   Thu 05 Sep 2013, 02:02

A while ago I mentioned the history of fencing and duels and have since come across some more little oddities about it. I associate duels with the Regency period of Georgette Heyer’s novel and some of the wilder young men around that time. But The Origins of English Surnames by P.H. Reaney which I have had for ages (published first in 1967 so I suppose some of the research may have been re-thought since then).

The names he talked of with links to fighting and fencing included Handless, Stelfot, Yrenfot, Onhond which have not lived on, but others are Champion, Pettifer,Buckler, Scrimgeour, Juster, Jewster, and possibly Player.

Champion has the modern meaning of being someone’s champion/supporter, rather than being a winner at some activity. "One who does battle for another in a wager of battle". In the ordeal by battle in criminal cases in medieval times people took the field themselves, but if it was a dispute about land ownership, the parties were represented by a champion, "in theory their free tenants, but in practice, hired men...very well paid." Sometimes these people worked for the aristocracy or high church people, sometimes for lesser people. They were supposed to be actual witnesses to an action but this wasn’t always the case. In 1220 Elias Pugin was produced as champion over a stolen horse, swearing that he sold it to the defendant, but this was disputed and he was called a "hired champion of fertile imagination" and condemned to lose a foot and fist. Which is where names like Onhand and Stelfot and Yrenfot came from. Pettifer (from pied de fer) is the French version of this which became an English surname with numerous variations.

There were great risks in being a champion, though the rewards could be high. Defaulting from the event was not uncommon but defaulters often didn’t pay the final instalment, there being "Sed mortuus est" in the records, and people often were killed in the combat or hanged after defeat.

The Assize of Arms of 1181 defined the weapons every free Englishman was bound to possess. But fencing and tournaments have always been illegal. Fencing schools were forbidden in the City of London. "As fools who delight in mischief do learn to fence with buckler and thereby are encouraged in their follies, it is provided that none shall keep school for nor teach the art of fence under pain of imprisonment for forty days." Fencing-masters were classed with stage-players, bearwards, gipsies and other undesirables. Authorities turned a blind eye and there was an unofficial fencers’ guild. And fencing-masters are shown to be common in surnames like Scrimshaw and Skirmer and Joester.

It is well known that jousting and tournaments were popular first in France and then in England, with rough tournaments eventually becoming chivalrous things, the story of romances. Disabling your opponent in any way possible was the aim of the early fencing tournaments.


Duels as a means of settling disputes were quite common until the end of the 18th century at least, and if novels can be believed were often used when honour was at stake – an accusation of cheating at cards, the wrong word used about a woman, etc. People would be whisked off to France to avoid facing a formidable opponent. Wikipedia tells me the last fatal duel in England was in 1845 between two military combatants; in America there was a fatal duel in 1887 at Fort Worth, Texas.

Sadly a suggestion that George W Bush and Saddam Hussein fight a duel rather than wage a war was declined.

In a historical part of our newspaper not long ago there was a piece about duels in early Wellington (Wellington wasn’t settled until 1850, so relatively recently). There was one duel between Dr Featherston and Captain William Wakefield, whose honesty had been questioned publicly. Featherston fired and missed and Wakefield shot into the air, saying he couldn’t shoot a man with seven daughters. I think they walked home together afterwards. A rather mean joke was played on one young man, a school teacher, who took part in a duel over a woman. There was much red splattering on the other man’s body and the schoolteacher hid in the bush and was eventually told his victim had died. He was smuggled to Sydney and then to England and years later met the man he had "murdered". He had been the butt of a joke and his pistol had been loaded with red currant jelly. I can’t help wondering about the veracity of this story, but don’t know how to check it.

Are there any interesting true stories of duelling you’re familiar with? Or knowledge of the history of them to a greater degree. Any reason why they have disappeared – just a greater police presence? more attention to the correct ways of ensuring justice? too easy to be caught and punished? a change in cultural attitudes?


Why won't this let me have it all the same size, even when I use the font change icon and try several times? Argggg. You'll have to get your magnifying glasses out.


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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Thu 05 Sep 2013, 07:41

Caro wrote:


Fencing schools were forbidden in the City of London. "As fools who delight in mischief do learn to fence with buckler and thereby are encouraged in their follies, it is provided that none shall keep school for nor teach the art of fence under pain of imprisonment for forty days."

Nothing to do with fencing per se, but it's interesting that the punishment was 40 days in prison - when was that I wonder? Prior to the 19th century a prison sentence was very rare as a punishment. Prison was where one was held pending trial or when awaiting punishment, whether corporal or capital. The only common prisons were debtors' prisons where you were held indefinitely, unable to work, while you tried desparately to get friends, relatives or business colleagues to pay the creditors or one's judicial fine. Which was another reason why fines were generally limited to fairly small sums and any serious crimes were punished soon after sentencing by the confiscation of goods or property, the stocks, the pillory, whipping, branding, mutilation or execution. Although brutal I would have thought the loss of one's sword hand would have been a more effective punishment for those caught teaching fencing ... hence again I suppose those names 'Handless' and 'Onhond' for famous fencing masters.
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Thu 05 Sep 2013, 08:17

I thought this, the final duel between the valiant Scot/Celt (Liam Neeson) and the beastly-horrid Englishman (a brilliant Tim Roth) was superb. It's from the 1995 film of Rob Roy. I know nothing about fighting and swords, but it all looks pretty authentic. (?)

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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Thu 05 Sep 2013, 08:38

As to why duelling died out I think in western Europe a lot has to do with the fact that duels were most common amongst the nobility and the military. This was certainly so in Prussia/Germany. Hence duelling was increasingly frowned upon by the government and higher ranks as causing excessive waste of highly trained army officers in which the state had made considerable financial investment, as well as causing problems of leadership and discipline.

That said I see that the last known duel in France was fought as recently as 1967 when Gaston Defferre insulted* René Ribière in the French parliament and was subsequently challenged to a duel fought with swords. René Ribière lost the duel having been wounded twice, although his wounds were relatively minor.


* I wonder what M. Defferre said, that M. Ribière took such objection too that he felt compelled to challenge his fellow MP to duel.

EDIT : Got it!

It was during an impassioned debate on April 20 1967 in the Chambre of Deputies. Deffere, then mayor of Marseille and president of the Socialist Group, shouted out to Ribière, a Gaullist, who was holding forth at considerable length,  "Taisez-vous, abruti" - "Shut up you moron!". Shortly after, in an ante room to the Chamber,  Ribière accosted Deffere and insisted he publicly apologise. Deffere refused, so Ribière, in front of witnesses promptly challenged him to a duel, "par le fer", - by iron, ie with swords ... because he thought Deffere might be a good shot with a pistol and also a duel with pistols could well be tragically final for one of them and he wasn't prepared to go that far in defence of his honour.

The duel took place the following day in the grounds of a private residence in Neuilly-sur-Seine, and was refereed by the Gaullist deputy, Jean de Lipkowski:




Last edited by Meles meles on Thu 05 Sep 2013, 11:43; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Thu 05 Sep 2013, 10:51

Duels do always sound rather funny, not to say silly when they are for such seemingly trivial reasons, when their outcome is not fatal.

I replied to your first post, MM, ages ago and thought I had posted it, but came back and it said a new post had come and did I want to respond, but I managed to wipe that.  At any rate I said, more long-windedly that I feel like now, that it surprised me too since I thought imprisonment was a more modern punishment.  He has footnotes, but that quotation isn't referenced.  It would appear to be from the 13th century perhaps.  Not I think later than the end of the 14th anyway.
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Thu 05 Sep 2013, 12:01

Indeed Caro, those two middle-aged French deputies playing at Errol Flynn just make themselves look ridiculous. But the French do seem to have gone to rather extreme and bizarre lengths in defence of their honneur. I've found these two (via wiki):

In 1808, two Frenchmen are said to have fought in balloons over Paris, each attempting to shoot and puncture the other's balloon; one duellist is said to have been shot down and killed with his second (which seems rather unfair on the poor second).

In 1843, two other Frenchmen are said to have fought a duel by means of throwing billiard balls at each other.

(NB the phrase "are said to", so you might like to take all those with more than a pinch of salt).

...... And whoever said the Germans have no sense of humour? Again from wiki:

In 1865 Otto von Bismark was reported to have challenged Rudolf Virchow to a duel (Virchov was a German medical doctor and an outspoken champion on public health issues, who angered Bismark by openly criticising his excessive military budget). Dr Virchow, being entitled to choose the weapons, chose two pork sausages, one infected with the roundworm Trinchinella - the two would each choose and eat a sausage. Bismarck reportedly declined.

But I bet Richard III wouldn't have hesitated to accept, either pour l'honneur, or just for simple companionship. Wink

"I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;
And if I die, no soul shall pity me."

Richard III act 5, sc. 3

..... Just remember Richard, one is never truely alone when one has worms! They'll loyally stay with you for many years and they will most certainly miss you when you're gone.  pale
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Thu 05 Sep 2013, 13:54

I'm a bit dubious about his surname attributions too. While some modern-day Champion families might like to trace their ancestry back to the "champion" appointed by a person of rank to compete on their behalf in trials by combat, I would reckon the vast majority would be more readily traced back to those who arrived in England with the Normans and whose name was derived from the Compiegne region in France. The surname Campion, a closer rendition of the name that shares the same roots, is the prevalent version found in Ireland and the north of England today.

"Player" also has a ring of optimistic guesswork about it. I would have guessed it to be linked to musicianship myself, or at least to participants whose prowess on the plaistow might have earned them the nickname that later became their real name.
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Thu 05 Sep 2013, 22:03

I shouldn't have put "Player" in probably - he only a brief speculative mention of that.  "John Cotton admitted that he had taught some of the ringleaders in a riot against the Lombards 'to pleye atte sword', which suggests a possible, specific meaning for the modern surname Player." 

Champion he derives from central OFr champiun and Campion from ONFr "campiun" 'a combatant in the campus or arena', 'one who "does battle" for another in a wager of battle', 'a champion'.  His comments after this about champions date to 1294, so long after the Norman takeover. (Anyway all English surnames are after that.) He does talk later about multiple origins and has a section on toponymics where he places Champain, Champney, Champness and Champniss.  They are 'less frequent than names like Norman, Bretton, Cawes, and others.
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Wed 18 Sep 2013, 09:59

Heap big moons ago I started (but didn't finish) a part-time degree in French.  I do remember a tutor telling us that Racine and Corneille and their contemporaries were not allowed to write fight scenes in their plays by French law at the time - all fisticuffs had to take place off stage.  The reason was that too many of the young nobility (potential officer class) had been dying in duels.  I had a boyfriend once (I did, I really did, I once had a boyfriend, honest Injun) who had been a regular soldier and he reckoned that the British officer class were educated on the  playing fields of Eaton (I honestly don't know if that is true or not - my ex wasn't a former officer, he had been a regular soldier and long before I knew him).  Having said that there was one lad from my "normal" primary school who went on to go to Sandhurst.  I've lost contact so don't know how he got on.
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Wed 18 Sep 2013, 10:21

A difference between the French and the English mind-sets of the time? At the same time as Racine & Co, English audiences were eagerly lapping up entertainments involving roaming gangs of sword-wielding thugs in the streets of Verona slicing lumps out of each other in full view of the audience, and holding the product up as the epitome of drama in the tragedian and romantic traditions. In fact they still do.
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Wed 18 Sep 2013, 10:43

Fair point, Nordmann.  Confession time, the first time I read a (part) Shakespearean play voluntarily  ["Titus Andronicus"] after borrowing it on library loan at the age of 14 was because I heard a radio feature saying that the last time it had been staged 15 people in the audience had fainted.  I've changed over the years - I found the TV series "The Sopranos" too violent for my personal taste despite being quite well acted.  People seem to hold equally strong views on the Bard of Avon as on Ms PG - either they love or loathe him.  I admit that I personally am partial to the Bard though as I have stated before, I don't take his history plays as fact - just as what it was sensible to write to please the then sovereign.
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Wed 18 Sep 2013, 10:51

Shakespeare wrote some sublime material - but he also knew when a good no-holds-barred sword fight should be injected into things to jolly everything along.

(Just before I went to send this I noticed that I had written "word fight" instead of "sword fight". Actually he was good at those too)
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Sun 22 Sep 2013, 22:40

Apparently the British took to pistol duelling much more readily than the French.  Pistols were thought to be much fairer than swords.  Everything was set up to be equal - pistols had to be identical (which is why they came in pairs), the opponents were placed at the extreme end of an accurate shot etc.  They were not permitted to aim, only point the gun - many sets of duelling pistols came with additional guns (typically small box-locks) which the seconds could apparently use if necessary if they spotted their first's opponent cheating!  By contrast, sword-duels almost inevitably ended in victory to the better swordsman.

One of the best known fencing schools was that of Dominic Angelo; he was Italian-born but adopted England as his home as a young man, marrying a local girl, and established a 'school of arms' in Soho in the mid-18th century.  There he taught swordsmanship to many notables from across Europe, including Johann Christian Bach and the future George III.  Later he passed on the school to his sons, and moved to become fencing-master at Eton College, a post he still held when he died aged 94!  Angelo was one of the key figures in transforming swordsmanship from a practical skill to a sport, and is held to be one of the fathers of modern fencing.

Incidentally, although like so many obscure ancient laws I imagine it's been superseded by more recent legislation, apparently the right to trial by combat has never been actively removed from the statute books in Jersey.  However, it hasn't been invoked since the reign of Henry VII.  The Seigneur of St Ouen, Phillippe de Carteret, was falsely accused of treason by the Captain (governor) of the Isles, one Matthew Baker, for his own nefarious purposes.  The duel was stopped, however, by the last minute arrival of a letter from Henry.  Despite Baker closing the ports, Phillippe's wife Margaret (nee Harliston) had escaped and made a mad dash to England, where her friend, the Bishop of Winchester, managed to secure her an audience with the King.  Even though the Harlistons had been staunch Yorkists who had defiantly held out in the Channel Islands even after Richard III's death, Henry was persuaded her husband was innocent and sent orders that Phillippe be acquitted and released.  Baker was summoned to England and deprived of his post.
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Mon 23 Sep 2013, 00:02

Good to see you here, AN. This post fits in quite well with the ongoing wealth of info we have enjoye don the Princes thread - during which Henry V11 - or rather his mother, have not fared too well - an interesting tale. And somewhat surprising that the York v Lancs saga had strong following in distant Jersey.
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Sat 28 Sep 2013, 19:20

I've been looking at a report study  of arrangements made for a duel Fighting  between two English borderers Fighting , shortly before the Union of the Crowns. They agreed to go up to Canonbie, on the far side of the 'debatable land', to fight - ie as far away from English jurisdiction as it was possible to go without coming under Scottish jurisdiction. The agreed weapons and armour were a 45" bastard sword and two daggers each, and leather jacks, plus helms and plate armour for the limbs. Besides the contrast with poncey courtiers tongue  fighting with rapiers, I was struck by the fact that the participants' arms and legs were to be more heavily armoured than the vital organs of their torsos. I assume that the body parts with the heavier armour were those most likely to be struck by someone swinging a sword... Rolling Eyes
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Sat 28 Sep 2013, 20:38

Possibly that depends how far this duel was due to go.  To the death?  A mortal blow to the torso would be okay, but a serious wound to a limb would affect your opponent's capabilities, which wouldn't make for a fair fight.

Presumably the dagger was a back-up in this case.  They might be used in conjunction with a rapier or broadsword, but I think even the hardiest Reiver would struggle wielding a bastard sword single-handed!
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Fri 11 Oct 2013, 14:20

Tony Scott based his 1977 film The Duellists on a short story, The Point of Honor, by Joseph Conrad.
Conrad in turn had based his story on a real incident between two Hussar officers of Napoleon's army, Pierre Dupont and Francois Fournier-Sarloveze.

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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Wed 23 Apr 2014, 12:30

The last fatal duel to take place in England;

http://history.inportsmouth.co.uk/events/duel.htm

although described as a Captain, Seton was never promoted beyond Cornet.


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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Wed 23 Apr 2014, 17:09

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_fencing

Can these be classed as duels - they are certainly fencing.
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Thu 24 Apr 2014, 10:06

I would say they are definitely duels, as they were intended to cause wounds.

This is a report of an unusual duel which took place in Paris in 1808;

http://blog.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/2012/08/24/the-first-duel-fought-in-hot-air-balloons-paris-1808/
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PostSubject: Re: Duels and fencing   Fri 06 May 2016, 14:17

The case of the female duellist/singer La Maupin

La Maupin
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