Monday, May 19, 2014

Pistols or Swords?

Trial by Combat. Wager by battle. Duelling. This one on one practice of conflict resolution has been around for centuries.

Roman Gladiators would fight for the honor of their masters.
Knights would duel on horseback and with swords to honour their King, Queen or noble house. It was a form of entertainment but also a battle of wits and skill.

Later around the 1700s, duelling became fashionable and was fought over more trivial matters. They were still matters of honour and were serious events despite what might have been the original slight.

As you can see the sword was the weapon of hand to hand combat. From the heavier broad sword, the longer Rapier, short sword and the deadly Saber.

 All were weapons that could wound and kill depending on the combatants and the seriousness of their quarrel. Some duels were to the death while others were to first blood only.

Around the 1770s there was a brief transition whereby both the pistol and the sword were used in a duel. Swords soon fell out of favour and the pistol became the weapon of choice by the 1800s. Duelling with swords became more of a recreational sport amongst the aristocrats.

There were only a very few master craftsmen who made duelling pistols (Wogdon and Barton being two). These men took pride in their creations and presented them in a set, usually in a beautiful inlaid box. These pistols could be highly decorated or austere but they had one thing in common - they were deadly.

French Duelling pistol set.
A pistol duellist would stand side-on (presenting the smallest target), pointing his pistol at the ground. On signal he would raise his arm in a single movement and fire. These instructions varied. Some dropped a handkerchief as can be seen in the above painting, while others stood back to back took paces, turned and fired. In every instance it is hoped that the quick action would be less accurate giving the opponents less time to aim and more chance to miss, therefore giving each a fighting chance (pun intended).

Set of Duelling pistols with all the trimmings.
Watch this video if you want to learn more about the: History of the Duelling Pistol.

I have a duel in my current work in progress, currently called The Collector of Hearts. The duel is the catalyst for my hero's journey. Everything he does and every decision, right or wrong, is the effect of what happened that fateful day. 

There are many variations on the rules of duelling depending on time period, country and choice of weapon. They are all very interesting. 

There are many great stories of duels between notable men but I only have space for one. In 1761 Colonel Grey was killed and Major Egerton wounded after Grey bumped into Egerton while leaving a performance at the theatre. Egerton had called Grey 'a stupid booby', punches were thrown and a duel was quickly organised. Many such incidences occurred with at least six recorded in 1793 and 1796. 

Women loved duelists, perhaps they were the bad boys of the time or just dangerous to know and exciting to be with.

I hope you have enjoyed this short history.

Here are some links if you want to know more:
Wikipedia -Duel
Watch the 1977 The Duellist movie


Jennifer Ensor said...

Thanks for this post, Cassandra :) Some very useful and interesting information. And I don't think it's just Regency women who have a tendre for duelling bad boys... I must confess to having one too ;)

Georgia Carter Mathers said...

Thanks Cassandra. It was a lovely post. I like the sword more than the pistol though, maybe too many old movies :)

Alison Stuart said...

Fantastic post, Cassandra. Bookmarked for research!

Cassandra Samuels said...

Great Alison. I could have spent 7 blogs on all the info I have but I was surprised at how different the rules were depending on the time period and country.

Allison Butler said...

Thanks for the fabulous post, Cassandra! Love the title of your WIP:)

Cassandra Samuels said...

Thanks Georgia. The sword did require more skill and would have been much more entertaining to watch.

Cassandra Samuels said...

Thank for making a comment Allison. Thank you. I hope my Editor will like it too.:-)

Cassandra Samuels said...

The sword does require more skill doesn't it Georgia? And it does tend to be a more athletic entertainment which is why gentlemen were still taught to fence even after they no longer carried them around.

Cassandra Samuels said...

Thanks for dropping by Jen. Ha ha not that there are many duelling men going about these days, plenty of bad boys though.

Suzi Love said...

Great post, Cassandra.

Cassandra Samuels said...

Thanks Suzi. Much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

girls. I would love to be a duelling bad boy. swords duels are so much more refined and personal. love to duel for a lady.

Alison Stuart said...

Terrific post, Cassandra. Nothing I like more than a man with a sword... . Thinking about it I have managed a duel in several of my published books and in my current WIP, the hero gets into huge trouble for duelling because Charles II outlawed it.

Cassandra Samuels said...

Thanks Alison. It seems most preferred to not worry about laws when it came to duelling. And even if it was outlawed, if the combatants were peers, they often went in front of the House of Lords to be charged and if it was a matter of honour, got off.

Anonymous said...

Swords were definitely better for a man to fight a duel at dawn for the honour of his lady. It must have been so romantic to live in those times where the lady, who was wrapped in her hooded cloak against the cold, pre-dawn air, would hold her beau's cloak while he crossed swords with the man who had insulted her, and after tending to his wounds, would wrap her wounded champion in his cloak to keep him warm while taking him to her doctor!