Sunday, 1 November 2009

"You lie!": fighting words!

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I'm not going to get into politics here, but simply point out some facts. In the past, the main cause for calling a duel was ...

Wrong: it wasn't over a lady (much as we'd like to think so). Historically, the main cause for a duel was if someone called you a liar.
In the seventeenth century, "liar" was a fighting word.

Apparently this happened often, for dueling killed off a shocking number of the aristocratic male youth during the 17th century. It was often outlawed — punishable by death in 1651 in France by Louis XIV, for example — but that didn't stop the boys. In France alone, over a 21-year period, 10,000 gentlemen died fighting for their honor. (One had to be a member of the aristocracy to qualify for the honor of fighting for your honor.)

In the early 17th century, the weapon of choice was the rapier, a long, heavy sword (heavier than modern cavalry sabres). Mid-century, blades got shorter and lighter, and with a sharper point. This favored the thrust, rather than the cut, which changed the dueling style. To protect the fingers, the cup hilt was created. A fight was often resolved with the use of a secondary weapon: a dagger.

(The advent of the pistol, of course, changed everything. No longer was the duel up close and personal — no longer could you see your adversary's eyes. Also, sword dueling allowed for fewer fatalities. You could ward off a thrust, but the only way to protect yourself from a man holding a gun was to shoot him.)

La Maupin (Julie d'Aubigny), a French cross-dressing opera singer, was a famous hot-tempered dueler. Her lover, a fencing master, taught her how to wield a sword. Apparently she was a good student. One night, after insulting a lady at a ball, she was told to leave by the lady's male friends. She agreed, but only if the men would go outside and fight. They did, and — according to legend — she killed them all and returned to the ball.




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An excellent book on dueling is Gentlemen's Blood; A History of Dueling, from Swords at Dawn to Pistols at Dusk by Barbara Holland.

For a good website on the history of dueling: click here.

For an informative website on La Maupin: click here.

3 comments:

Alison Stuart said...

Loved this blog, Sandra!

Sandra Gulland said...

Thank you, Alison!

DrRoy said...

Greetings, Sandra, and thanks for yours. As I have been gathering information about duels, I can say don't think pistol duelling might not be 'upclose and personal': Richard Thornhill and Cholmley Deering shot at each other so close that their pistol muzzles were almost touching. Deering, going for the head, nevertheless missed. This was obviously extreme, two men determined to kill one another - 1711, I think it was. Well done to get a picture of Mme. Maupin. The majority of the 19th century duels between women I have found seem to be French. I will be posting more anon.