Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
By Charles Mackay
Charles Mackay, Scottish poet, journalist, and editor was best known in his day for his verses, some of which were set to music. His book, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions, was first published in 1841 (London: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, Publisher in Ordinary to Her Majesty), with a promise of additional material “should these be favorably received.” Apparently the work was indeed favorably received, resulting in a substantially revised, two-volume second edition being published in 1852 (London, Office of the National Illustrated Library, 227 Strand). The book has been reprinted often since.We present the second edition (1852) here. The two-volume set did not number the chapters. Volume I covered the present Chapters 1-8; Volume II began with “The Crusades.”Minor editorial modifications are: removing periods after the roman numerals designating kings and modifying some short abbreviations such as 2d to 2nd. Occasional typos are corrected, and a few corrections are made for consistency. Periods after subtitles are dropped.Lauren Landsburg
Editor, Library of Economics and Liberty
First Pub. Date
London: Office of the National Illustrated Library
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
- Ch.1, Money Mania--The Mississippi Scheme
- Ch.2, The South-Sea Bubble
- Ch.3, The Tulipomania
- Ch.4, The Alchymists, (file a.)
- Ch.5, Modern Prophecies
- Ch.6, Fortune-Telling
- Ch.7, The Magnetisers
- Ch.8, Hair and Beard
- Ch.9, The Crusades
- Ch.10, The Witch Mania
- Ch.11, The Slow Poisoners
- Ch.12, Haunted Houses
- Ch.13, Popular Follies of Great Cities
- Ch.14, Popular Admiration of Great Thieves
- Ch.15, Duels and Ordeals
- Ch.16, Relics
Duels and Ordeals
There was an ancient sage philosopher,
Who swore the world, as he could prove,
Was mad of fighting.—
Most writers, in accounting for the origin of duelling, derive it from the warlike habits of those barbarous nations who overran Europe in the early centuries of the Christian era, and who knew no mode so effectual for settling their differences as the point of the sword. In fact, duelling, taken in its primitive and broadest sense, means nothing more than combatting, and is the universal resort of all wild animals, including man, to gain or defend their possessions, or avenge their insults. Two dogs who tear each other for a bone, or two bantams fighting on a dunghill for the love of some beautiful hen, or two fools on Wimbledon Common, shooting at each other to satisfy the laws of offended honour, stand on the same footing in this respect, and are, each and all, mere duellists. As civilization advanced, the best informed men naturally grew ashamed of such a mode of adjusting disputes, and the promulgation of some sort of laws for obtaining redress for injuries was the consequence. Still there were many cases in which the allegations of an accuser could not be rebutted by any positive proof on the part of the accused; and in all these, which must have been exceedingly numerous in the early stages of European society, the combat was resorted to. From its decision there was no appeal. God was supposed to nerve the arm of the combatant whose cause was just, and to grant him the victory over his opponent. As Montesquieu well remarks,
114* this belief was not unnatural among a people just emerging from barbarism. Their manners being wholly warlike, the man deficient in courage, the prime virtue of his fellows, was not unreasonably suspected of other vices besides cowardice, which is generally found to be co-existent with treachery. He, therefore, who showed himself most valiant in the encounter, was absolved by public opinion from any crime with which he might be charged. As a necessary consequence, society would have been reduced to its original elements, if the men of thought, as distinguished from the men of action, had not devised some means for taming the unruly passions of their fellows. With this view, governments commenced by restricting within the narrowest possible limits the cases in which it was lawful to prove or deny guilt by the single combat. By the law of Gondebaldus, King of the Burgundians, passed in the year 502, the proof by combat was allowed in all legal proceedings, in lieu of swearing. In the time of Charlemagne, the Burgundian practice had spread over the empire of the Francs, and not only the suitors for justice, but the witnesses, and even the judges, were obliged to defend their cause, their evidence, or their decision, at the point of the sword. Louis the Debonnaire, his successor, endeavoured to remedy the growing evil, by permitting the duel only in appeals of felony, in civil cases, or issue joined in a writ of right, and in cases of the court of chivalry, or attacks upon a man’s knighthood. None were exempt from these trials, but women, the sick and the maimed, and persons under fifteen or above sixty years of age. Ecclesiastics were allowed to produce champions in their stead. This practice, in the course of time, extended to all trials of civil and criminal cases, which had to be decided by battle.
The clergy, whose dominion was an intellectual one, never approved of a system of jurisprudence which tended so much to bring all things under the rule of the strongest arm. From the first they set their faces against duelling, and endeavoured, as far as the prejudices of their age would allow them, to curb the warlike spirit, so alien from the principles of religion. In the Council of Valentia, and afterwards in the Council of Trent, they excommunicated all persons engaged in duelling, and not only them, but even the assistants and spectators, declaring the custom to be hellish and detestable, and introduced by the Devil for the destruction both of body and soul. They added, also, that princes who connived at duels, should be deprived of all temporal power, jurisdiction, and dominion over the places where they had permitted them to be fought. It will be seen hereafter that this clause only encouraged the practice which it was intended to prevent.
But it was the blasphemous error of these early ages to expect that the Almighty, whenever he was called upon, would work a miracle in favour of a person unjustly accused. The priesthood, in condemning the duel, did not condemn the principle on which it was founded. They still encouraged the popular belief of Divine interference in all the disputes or differences that might arise among nations or individuals. It was the very same principle that regulated the ordeals, which, with all their influence, they supported against the duel. By the former, the power of deciding the guilt or innocence was vested wholly in their hands, while, by the latter, they enjoyed no power or privilege at all. It is not to be wondered at, that for this reason, if for no other, they should have endeavoured to settle all differences by the peaceful mode. While that prevailed, they were as they wished to be, the first party in the state; but while the strong arm of individual prowess was allowed to be the judge in all doubtful cases, their power and influence became secondary to those of nobility.
Thus, it was not the mere hatred of bloodshed which induced them to launch the thunderbolts excommunication against the combatants; it a desire to retain the power, which, to do them justice, they were, in those times, the persons best qualified to wield. The germs of knowledge and civilization lay within the bounds of their order; for they were the representatives of the intellectual, as the nobility were of the physical power of man. To centralize this power in the Church, and make it the judge of the last resort in all appeals, both in civil and criminal cases, they instituted five modes of trial, the management of which lay wholly in their hands. These were the oath upon the Evangelists; the ordeal of the cross, and the fire ordeal, for persons in the higher ranks; the water ordeal, for the humbler classes; and, lastly, the
Corsned, or bread and cheese ordeal, for members of their own body.
The oath upon the Evangelists was taken in the following manner: the accused who was received to this proof, says Paul Hay, Count du Chastelet, in his
Memoirs of Bertrand du Guesclin, swore upon a copy of the New Testament, and on the relics of the holy martyrs, or on their tombs, that he was innocent of the crime imputed to him. He was also obliged to find twelve persons, of acknowledged probity, who should take oath at the same time, that they believed him innocent. This mode of trial led to very great abuses, especially in cases of disputed inheritance, where the hardest swearer was certain of the victory. This abuse was one of the principal causes which led to the preference given to the trial by battle. It is not all surprising that a feudal baron, or captain of the early ages, should have preferred the chances of a fair fight with his opponent, to a mode by which firm perjury would always be successful.
The trial by, or judgment of, the cross, which Charlemagne begged his sons to have recourse to, in case of disputes arising between them, was performed thus:—When a person accused of any crime had declared his innocence upon oath, and appealed to the cross for its judgment in his favour, he was brought into the church, before the altar. The priests previously prepared two sticks exactly like one another, upon one of which was carved a figure of the cross. They were both wrapped up with great care and many ceremonies, in a quantity of fine wool, and laid upon the altar, or on the relics of the saints. A solemn prayer was then offered up to God, that he would be pleased to discover, by the judgment of his holy cross, whether the accused person were innocent or guilty. A priest then approached the altar, and took up one of the sticks, and the assistants unswathed it reverently. If it was marked with the cross, the accused person was innocent; if unmarked, he was guilty. It would be unjust to assert, that the judgments thus delivered were, in all cases, erroneous; and it would be absurd to believe that they were left altogether to chance. Many true judgments were doubtless given, and, in all probability, most conscientiously; for we cannot but believe that the priests endeavoured beforehand to convince themselves by secret inquiry and a strict examination of the circumstances, whether the appellant were innocent or guilty, and that they took up the crossed or uncrossed stick accordingly. Although, to all other observers, the sticks, as enfolded in the wool, might appear exactly similar, those who enwrapped them could, without any difficulty, distinguish the one from the other.
By the fire-ordeal the power of deciding was just as unequivocally left in their hands. It was generally believed that fire would not burn the innocent, and the clergy, of course, took care that the innocent, or such as it was their pleasure or interest to declare so, should be so warned before undergoing the ordeal, as to preserve themselves without any difficulty from the fire. One mode of ordeal was to place red-hot ploughshares on the ground at certain distances, and then, blindfolding the accused person, make him walk barefooted over them. If he stepped regularly in the vacant spaces, avoiding the fire, he was adjudged innocent; if he burned himself, he was declared guilty. As none but the clergy interfered with the arrangement of the ploughshares, they could always calculate beforehand the result of the ordeal. To find a person guilty, they had only to place them at irregular distances, and the accused was sure to tread upon one of them. When Emma, the wife of King Ethelred, and mother of Edward the Confessor, was accused of a guilty familiarity with Alwyn, Bishop of Winchester, she cleared her character in this manner. The reputation, not only of their order, but of a queen, being at stake, a verdict of guilty was not to be apprehended from any ploughshares which priests had the heating of. This ordeal was called the
Judicium Dei, and sometimes the
Vulgaris Purgatio, and might also be tried by several other methods. One was to hold in the hand, unhurt, a piece of red-hot iron, of the weight of one, two, or three pounds. When we read not only that men with hard hands, but women of softer and more delicate skin, could do this with impunity, we must be convinced that the hands were previously rubbed with some preservative, or that the apparently hot iron was merely cold iron painted red. Another mode was to plunge the naked arm into a caldron of boiling water. The priests then enveloped it in several folds of linen and flannel, and kept the patient confined within the church, and under their exclusive care, for three days. If, at the end of that time, the arm appeared without a scar, the innocence of the accused person was firmly established.
As regards the water-ordeal, the same trouble was not taken. It was a trial only for the poor and humble, and, whether they sank or swam, was thought of very little consequence. Like the witches of more modern times, the accused were thrown into a pond or river; if they sank, and were drowned, their surviving friends had the consolation of knowing that they were innocent; if they swam, they were guilty. In either case society was rid of them.
But of all the ordeals, that which the clergy reserved for themselves was the one least likely to cause any member of their corps to be declared guilty. The most culpable monster in existence came off clear when tried by this method. It was called the
Corsned, and was thus performed. A piece of barley bread and a piece of cheese were laid upon the altar, and the accused priest, in his full canonicals, and surrounded by all the pompous adjuncts of Roman ceremony, pronounced certain conjurations, and prayed with great fervency for several minutes. The burden of his prayer was, that if he were guilty of the crime laid to his charge, God would send his angel Gabriel to stop his throat, that he might not be able to swallow the bread and cheese. There is no instance upon record of a priest having been choked in this manner.
When, under Pope Gregory VII, it was debated whether the Gregorian chant should be introduced into Castile, instead of the Musarabic, given by St. Isidore, of Seville, to the churches of that kingdom, very much ill feeling was excited. The churches refused to receive the novelty, and it was proposed that the affair should be decided by a battle between two champions, one chosen from each side. The clergy would not consent to a mode of settlement which they considered impious, but had no objection to try the merits of each chant by the fire ordeal. A great fire was accordingly made, and a book of the Gregorian and one of the Musarabic chant were thrown into it, that the flames might decide which was most agreeable to God by refusing to burn it. Cardinal Baronius, who says he was an eye-witness of the miracle, relates, that the book of the Gregorian chant was no sooner laid upon the fire, than it leaped out uninjured, visibly, and with a great noise. Every one present thought that the saints had decided in favour of Pope Gregory. After a slight interval, the fire was extinguished; but, wonderful to relate! the other book of St. Isidore was found covered with ashes, but not injured in the slightest degree. The flames had not even warmed it. Upon this it was resolved, that both were alike agreeable to God, and that they should be used by turns in all the churches of Seville.
If the ordeals had been confined to questions like this, the laity would have had little or no objection to them; but when they were introduced as decisive in all the disputes that might arise between man and man, the opposition of all those whose prime virtue was personal bravery, was necessarily excited. In fact, the nobility, from a very early period, began to look with jealous eyes upon them. They were not slow to perceive their true purport, which was no other than to make the Church the last court of appeal in all cases, both civil and criminal: and not only did the nobility prefer the ancient mode of single combat from this cause, in itself a sufficient one, but they clung to it because an acquittal gained by those displays of courage and address which the battle afforded, was more creditable in the eyes of their compeers, than one which it required but little or none of either to accomplish. To these causes may be added another, which was, perhaps, more potent than either, in raising the credit of the judicial combat at the expense of the ordeal. The noble institution of chivalry was beginning to take root, and, notwithstanding the clamours of the clergy, war was made the sole business of life, and the only elegant pursuit of the aristocracy. The fine spirit of honour was introduced, any attack upon which was only to be avenged in the lists, within sight of applauding crowds, whose verdict of approbation was far more gratifying than the cold and formal acquittal of the ordeal. Lothaire, the son of Louis I, abolished that by fire and the trial of the cross within his dominions; but in England they were allowed so late as the time of Henry III, in the early part of whose reign they were prohibited by an order of council. In the mean time, the Crusades had brought the institution of chivalry to the full height of perfection. The chivalric spirit soon achieved the downfall of the ordeal system, and established the judicial combat on a basis too firm to be shaken. It is true that with the fall of chivalry, as an institution, fell the tournament, and the encounter in the lists; but the duel, their offspring, has survived to this day, defying the efforts of sages and philosophers to eradicate it. Among all the errors bequeathed to us by a barbarous age, it has proved the most pertinacious. It has put variance between men’s reason and their honour; put the man of sense on a level with the fool, and made thousands who condemn it submit to it, or practise it.
Those who are curious to see the manner in which these combats were regulated, may consult the learned Montesquieu, where they will find a copious summary of the code of ancient duelling.
118* Truly does he remark, in speaking of the clearness and excellence of the arrangements, that, as there were many wise matters which were conducted in a very foolish manner, so there were many foolish matters conducted very wisely. No greater exemplification of it could be given, than the wise and religious rules of the absurd and blasphemous trial by battle.
In the ages that intervened between the Crusades and the new era that was opened out by the invention of gunpowder and printing, a more rational system of legislation took root. The inhabitants of cities, engaged in the pursuits of trade and industry, were content to acquiesce in the decisions of their judges and magistrates whenever any differences arose among them. Unlike the class above them, their habits and manners did not lead them to seek the battle-field on every slight occasion. A dispute as to the price of a sack of corn, a bale of broad-cloth, or a cow, could be more satisfactorily adjusted before the mayor or bailiff of their district. Even the martial knights and nobles, quarrelsome as they were, began to see that the trial by battle would lose its dignity and splendour if too frequently resorted to. Governments also shared this opinion, and on several occasions restricted the cases in which it was legal to proceed to this extremity. In France, before the time of Louis IX, duels were permitted only in cases of
Lèse Majesty, Rape, Incendiarism, Assassination, and Burglary. Louis IX, by taking off all restriction, made them legal in civil eases. This was not found to work well, and, in 1303, Philip the Fair judged it necessary to confine them, in criminal matters, to state offences, rape, and incendiarism; and in civil cases, to questions of disputed inheritance. Knighthood was allowed to be the best judge of its own honour, and might defend or avenge it as often as occasion arose.
Among the earliest duels upon record, is a very singular one that took place in the reign of Louis II (A.D. 879). Ingelgerius, Count of Gastinois, was one morning discovered by his Countess dead in bed at her side. Gontran, a relation of the Count, accused the Countess of having murdered her husband, to whom, he asserted, she had long been unfaithful, and challenged her to produce a champion to do battle in her behalf, that he might establish her guilt by killing him.
119* All the friends and relatives of the Countess believed in her innocence; but Gontran was so stout and bold and renowned a warrior, that no one dared to meet him, for which, as Brantôme quaintly says, “Mauvais et poltrons parens estaient.” The unhappy Countess began to despair, when a champion suddenly appeared in the person of Ingelgerius, Count of Anjou, a boy of sixteen years of age, who had been held by the Countess on the baptismal font, and received her husband’s name. He tenderly loved his godmother, and offered to do battle in her cause against any and every opponent. The King endeavoured to persuade the generous boy from his enterprise, urging the great strength, tried skill, and invincible courage of the challenger; but he persisted in his resolution, to the great sorrow of all the court, who said it was a cruel thing to permit so brave and beautiful a child to rush to such butchery and death.
When the lists were prepared, the Countess duly acknowledged her champion, and the combatants commenced the onset. Gontran rode so fiercely at his antagonist, and hit him on the shield with such impetuosity, that he lost his own balance and rolled to the ground. The young Count, as Gontran fell, passed his lance through his body, and then dismounting, cut off his head, which, Brantome says, “he presented to the King, who received it most graciously, and was very joyful, as much so as if any one had made him a present of a city.” The innocence of the Countess was then proclaimed with great rejoicings; and she kissed her godson, and wept over his neck with joy, in the presence of all the assembly.
When the Earl of Essex was accused, by Robert de Montfort, before King Henry II, in 1162, of having traitorously suffered the royal standard of England to fall from his hands in a skirmish with the Welsh, at Coleshill, five years previously, the latter offered to prove the truth of the charge by single combat. The Earl of Essex accepted the challenge, and the lists were prepared near Reading. An immense concourse of persons assembled to witness the battle. Essex at first fought stoutly, but, losing his temper and self-command, he gave an advantage to his opponent, which soon decided the struggle. He was unhorsed, and so severely wounded, that all present thought he was dead. At the solicitation of his relatives, the monks of the Abbey of Reading were allowed to remove the body for interment, and Montfort was declared the victor. Essex, however, was not dead, but stunned only, and, under the care of the monks, recovered in a few weeks from his bodily injuries. The wounds of his mind were not so easily healed. Though a loyal and brave subject, the whole realm believed him a traitor and a coward because he had been vanquished. He could not brook to return to the world deprived of the good opinion of his fellows; he, therefore, made himself a monk, and passed the remainder of his days within the walls of the Abbey.
Du Chastelet relates a singular duel that was proposed in Spain.
120* A Christian gentleman of Seville sent a challenge to a Moorish cavalier, offering to prove against him, with whatever weapons he might choose, that the religion of Jesus Christ was holy and divine, and that of Mahomet impious and damnable. The Spanish prelates did not choose that Christianity should be com promised within their jurisdiction by the result of any such combat, and they commanded the knight, under pain of excommunication, to withdraw the challenge.
The same author relates, that under Otho I a question arose among jurisconsults, viz. whether grandchildren, who had lost their father, should share equally with their uncles in the property of their grandfather, at the death of the latter. The difficulty of this question was found so insurmountable, that none of the lawyers of that day could resolve it. It was at last decreed, that it should be decided by single combat. Two champions were accordingly chosen; one for, and the other against, the claims of the little ones. After a long struggle, the champion of the uncles was unhorsed and slain; and it was, therefore, decided, that the right of the grandchildren was established, and that they should enjoy the same portion of their grandfather’s possessions that their father would have done had he been alive.
Upon pretexts, just as frivolous as these, duels continued to be fought in most of the countries of Europe during the whole of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. A memorable instance of the slightness of the pretext on which a man could be forced to fight a duel to the death, occurs in the
Memoirs of the brave Constable, Du Guesclin. The advantage he had obtained, in a skirmish before Rennes, against William Brembre, an English captain, so preyed on the spirits of William Troussel, the chosen friend and companion of the latter, that nothing would satisfy him but a mortal combat with the Constable. The Duke of Lancaster, to whom Troussel applied for permission to fight the great Frenchman, forbade the battle, as not warranted by the circumstances. Troussel nevertheless burned with a fierce desire to cross his weapon with Du Guesclin, and sought every occasion to pick a quarrel with him. Having so good a will for it, of course he found a way. A relative of his had been taken prisoner by the Constable, in whose hands he remained till he was able to pay his ransom. Troussel resolved to make a quarrel out of this, and despatched a messenger to Du Guesclin, demanding the release of his prisoner, and offering a bond, at a distant date, for the payment of the ransom. Du Guesclin, who had received intimation of the hostile purposes of the Englishman, sent back word, that he would not accept his bond, neither would he release his prisoner, until the full amount of his ransom was paid. As soon as this answer was received, Troussel sent a challenge to the Constable, demanding reparation for the injury he had done his honour, by refusing his bond, and offering a mortal combat, to be fought three strokes with the lance, three with the sword, and three with the dagger. Du Guesclin, although ill in bed with the ague, accepted the challenge, and gave notice to the Marshal d’Andreghem, the King’s Lieutenant-General in Lower Normandy, that he might fix the day and the place of combat. The Marshal made all necessary arrangements, upon condition that he who was beaten should pay a hundred florins of gold to feast the nobles and gentlemen who were witnesses of the encounter.
The Duke of Lancaster was very angry with his captain, and told him, that it would be a shame to his knighthood and his nation, if he forced on a combat with the brave Du Guesclin, at a time when he was enfeebled by disease and stretched on the couch of suffering. Upon these representations, Troussel, ashamed of himself, sent notice to Du Guesclin that he was willing to postpone the duel until such time as he should be perfectly recovered. Du Guesclin replied, that he could not think of postponing the combat, after all the nobility had received notice of it; that he had sufficient strength left, not only to meet, but to conquer such an opponent as he was; and that, if he did not make his appearance in the lists at the time appointed, he would publish him everywhere as a man unworthy to be called a knight, or to wear an honourable sword by his side. Troussel carried this haughty message to the Duke of Lancaster, who immediately gave permission for the battle.
On the day appointed, the two combatants appeared in the lists, in the presence of several thousand spectators. Du Guesclin was attended by the flower of the French nobility, including the Marshal de Beaumanoir, Olivier de Mauny, Bertrand de Saint Pern, and the Viscount de la Bellière, while the Englishman appeared with no more than the customary retinue of two seconds, two squires, two coutilliers, or daggermen, and two trumpeters. The first onset was unfavourable to the Constable: he received so heavy a blow on his shield-arm, that he fell forward to the left, upon his horse’s neck, and, being weakened by his fever, was nearly thrown to the ground. All his friends thought he could never recover himself, and began to deplore his ill fortune; but Du Guesclin collected his energies for a decisive effort, and, at the second charge, aimed a blow at the shoulder of his enemy, which felled him to the earth, mortally wounded. He then sprang from his horse, sword in hand, with the intention of cutting off the head of his fallen foe, when the Marshal D’Andreghem threw a golden wand into the arena, as a signal that hostilities should cease. Du Guesclin was proclaimed the victor, amid the joyous acclamations of the crowd, and retiring, left the field to the meaner combatants, who were afterwards to make sport for the people. Four English and as many French squires fought for some time with pointless lances, when the French, gaining the advantage, the sports were declared at an end.
In the time of Charles VI, about the beginning of the fifteenth century, a famous duel was ordered by the Parliament of Paris. The Sieur de Carrouges being absent in the Holy Land, his lady was violated by the Sieur Legris. Carrouges, on his return, challenged Legris to mortal combat, for the twofold crime of violation and slander, inasmuch as he had denied his guilt, by asserting that the lady was a willing party. The lady’s asseverations of innocence were held to be no evidence by the Parliament, and the duel was commanded with all the ceremonies. “On the day appointed,” says Brantome,
121* “the lady came to witness the spectacle in her chariot; but the King made her descend, judging her unworthy, because she was criminal in his eyes till her innocence was proved, and caused her to stand upon a scaffold to await the mercy of God and this judgment by the battle. After a short struggle, the Sieur de Carrouges overthrew his enemy, and made him confess both the rape and the slander. He was then taken to the gallows and hanged in the presence of the multitude; while the innocence of the lady was proclaimed by the heralds, and recognized by her husband, the King, and all the spectators.”
Numerous battles, of a similar description, constantly took place, until the unfortunate issue of one encounter of the kind led the French King, Henry II, to declare solemnly, that he would never again permit any such encounter, whether it related to a civil or criminal case, or the honour of a gentleman.
This memorable combat was fought in the year 1557. Francois de Vivonne, Lord of La Chataigneraie, and Guy de Chabot, Lord of Jarnac, had been friends from their early youth, and were noted at the court of Francis I for the gallantry of their bearing and the magnificence of their retinue. Chataigneraie, who knew that his friend’s means were not very ample, asked him one day, in confidence, how it was that he contrived to be so well provided? Jarnac replied, that his father had married a young and beautiful woman, who, loving the son far better than the sire, supplied him with as much money as he desired. La Chataigneraie betrayed the base secret to the Dauphin, the Dauphin to the King, the King to his courtiers, and the courtiers to all their acquaintance. In a short time it reached the ears of the old Lord de Jarnac, who immediately sent for his son, and demanded to know in what manner the report had originated, and whether he had been vile enough not only to carry on such a connexion, but to boast of it? De Jarnac indignantly denied that he had ever said so, or given reason to the world to say so, and requested his father to accompany him to court, and confront him with his accuser, that he might see the manner in which he would confound him. They went accordingly, and the younger De Jarnac, entering a room where the Dauphin, La Chataigneraie, and several courtiers were present, exclaimed aloud, “That whoever had asserted, that he maintained a criminal connexion with his mother-in-law, was a liar and a coward!” Every eye was turned to the Dauphin and La Chataigneraie, when the latter stood forward, and asserted, that De Jarnac had himself avowed that such was the fact, and he would extort from his lips another confession of it. A case like this could not be met or rebutted by any legal proof, and the royal council ordered that it should be decided by single combat. The King, however, set his face against the duel
122* and forbade them both, under pain of his high displeasure, to proceed any further in the matter. But Francis died in the following year, and the Dauphin, now Henry II, who was himself compromised, resolved that the combat should take place.
The lists were prepared in the court-yard of the chateau of St. Germain-en-Laye, and the 10th of July 1547 was appointed for the encounter. The cartels of the combatants, which are preserved in the
Memoires de Castelnau, were as follow:
Cartel of Francois de Vivonne, Lord of La Chataigneraie.
“Having learned that Guy Chabot de Jarnac, being lately at Compeigne, asserted, that whoever had said that he boasted of having criminal intercourse with his mother-in-law, was wicked and a wretch,—I, Sire, with your good-will and pleasure, do answer, that he has wickedly lied, and will lie as many times as he denies having said that which I affirm he did say; for I repeat, that he told me several times, and boasted of it, that he had slept with his mother-in-law.
“Francois de Vivonne.”
To this cartel De Jarnac replied :—
“With your good will and permission, I say, that Francois de Vivonne has lied in the imputation which he has cast upon me, and of which I spoke to you at Compeigne. I, therefore, entreat you, Sire, most humbly, that you be pleased to grant us a fair field, that we may fight this battle to the death.
The preparations were conducted on a scale of the greatest magnificence, the King having intimated his intention of being present. La Chataigneraie made sure of the victory, and invited the King and a hundred and fifty of the principal personages of the court to sup with him in the evening, after the battle, in a splendid tent, which he had prepared at the extremity of the lists. De Jarnac was not so confident, though perhaps more desperate. At noon, on the day appointed, the combatants met, and each took the customary oath, that he bore no charms or amulets about him, or made use of any magic, to aid him against his antagonist. They then attacked each other, sword in hand. La Chataigneraie was a strong, robust man, and over confident; De Jarnac was nimble, supple, and prepared for the worst. The combat lasted for some time doubtful, until De Jarnac, overpowered by the heavy blows of his opponent, covered his head with his shield, and, stooping down, endeavoured to make amends by his agility for his deficiency of strength. In this crouching posture he aimed two blows at the left thigh of La Chataigneraie, who had left it uncovered, that the motion of his leg might not be impeded. Each blow was successful, and, amid the astonishment of all the spectators, and to the great regret of the King, La Chataigneraie rolled over upon the sand. He seized his dagger, and made a last effort to strike De Jarnac; but he was unable to support himself, and fell powerless into the arms of the assistants. The officers now interfered, and De Jarnac being declared the victor, fell down upon his knees, uncovered his head, and, clasping his hands together, exclaimed:—”O Domine, non sum dignus!” La Chataigneraie was so mortified by the result of the encounter, that he resolutely refused to have his wounds dressed. He tore off the bandages which the surgeons applied, and expired two days afterwards. Ever since that time, any sly and unforeseen attack has been called by the French a coup de Jarnac. Henry was so grieved at the loss of his favourite, that he made the solemn oath already alluded to, that he would never again, so long as he lived, permit a due. Some writers have asserted, and among others, Mezeraie, that he issued a royal edict forbidding them. This has been doubted by others, and, as there appears no registry of the edict in any of the courts, it seems most probable that it was never issued. This opinion is strengthened by the fact, that two years afterwards, the council ordered another duel to be fought, with similar forms, but with less magnificence, on account of the inferior rank of the combatants. It is not anywhere stated, that Henry interfered to prevent it, notwithstanding his solemn oath; but that, on the contrary, he encouraged it, and appointed the Marshal de la Marque to see that it was conducted according to the rules of chivalry. The disputants were Fendille and D’Aguerre, two gentlemen of the household, who, quarrelling in the King’s chamber, had proceeded from words to blows. The council, being informed of the matter, decreed that it could only be decided in the lists. Marshal de la Marque, with the King’s permission, appointed the city of Sedan as the place of combat. Fendille, who was a bad swordsman, was anxious to avoid an encounter with D’Aguerre, who was one of the most expert men of the age; but the council authoritatively commanded that he should fight, or be degraded from all his honours. D’Aguerre appeared in the field attended by Francois de Vendome, Count de Chartres, while Fendille was accompanied by the Duke de Nevers. Fendille appears to have been not only an inexpert swordsman, but a thorough coward; one who, like Cowley, might have heaped curses on the man,
“(Death’s factor sure), who brought
Dire swords into this peaceful world.”
On the very first encounter he was thrown from his horse, and, confessing on the ground all that his victor required of him, slunk away ignominiously from the arena.
One is tempted to look upon the death of Henry II as a judgment upon him for his perjury in the matter of duelling. In a grand tournament instituted on the occasion of the marriage of his daughter, he broke several lances in encounters with some of the bravest knights of the time. Ambitious of still further renown, he would not rest satisfied until he had also engaged the young Count de Montgomeri. He received a wound in the eye from the lance of this antagonist, and died from its effects shortly afterwards, in the forty-first year of his age.
In the succeeding reigns of Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III, the practice of duelling increased to an alarming extent. Duels were not rare in the other countries of Europe at the same period; but in France they were so frequent, that historians, in speaking of that age, designate it as “l’epoque de la fureur des duels.” The Parliament of Paris endeavoured, as far as in its power lay, to discourage the practice. By a decree dated the 26th of June 1559, it declared all persons who should be present at duels, or aiding and abetting in them, to be rebels to the King, transgressors of the law, and disturbers of the public peace.
When Henry III was assassinated at St. Cloud, in 1589, a young gentleman, named L’isle Marivaut, who had been much beloved by him, took his death so much to heart, that he resolved not to survive him. Not thinking suicide an honourable death, and wishing, as he said, to die gloriously in revenging his King and master, he publicly expressed his readiness to fight anybody to the death who should assert that Henry’s assassination was not a great misfortune to the community. Another youth, of a fiery temper and tried courage, named Marolles, took him at his word, and the day and place of the combat were forthwith appointed. When the hour had come, and all were ready, Marolles turned to his second, and asked whether his opponent had a casque or helmet only, or whether he wore a
sallade, or headpiece. Being answered a helmet only, he said gaily, “So much the better; for, sir, my second, you shall repute me the wickedest man in all the world, if I do not thrust my lance right through the the middle of his head and kill him.” Truth to say, he did so at the very first onset, and the unhappy L’isle Marivaut expired without a groan. Brantome, who relates this story, adds, that the victor might have done as he pleased with the body, cut off the head, dragged it out of the camp, or exposed it upon an ass, but that, being a wise and very courteous gentleman, he left it to the relatives of the deceased to be honourably buried, contenting himself with the glory of his triumph, by which he gained no little renown and honour among the ladies of Paris.
On the accession of Henry IV that monarch pretended to set his face against duelling; but such was the influence of early education and the prejudices of society upon him, that he never could find it in his heart to punish a man for this offence. He thought it tended to foster a warlike spirit among his people. When the chivalrous Créqui demanded his permission to fight Don Philippe de Savoire, he is reported to have said, “Go, and if I were not a King, I would be your second.” It is no wonder that when such were known to be the King’s disposition, his edicts attracted but small attention. A calculation was made by M. de Lomenie, in the year 1607, that since the accession of Henry, in 1589, no less than four thousand French gentlemen had lost their lives in these conflicts, which, for the eighteen years, would have been at the rate of four or five in a week, or eighteen per month! Sully, who reports this fact in his
Memoirs, does not throw the slightest doubt upon its exactness, and adds, that it was chiefly owing to the facility and ill-advised good-nature of his royal master that the bad example had so empoisoned the court, the city, and the whole country. This wise minister devoted much of his time and attention to the subject; for the rage, he says, was such as to cause him a thousand pangs, and the King also. There was hardly a man moving in what was called good society, who had not been engaged in a duel either as principal or second; and if there were such a man, his chief desire was to free himself from the imputation of non-duelling, by picking a quarrel with somebody. Sully constantly wrote letters to the King, in which he prayed him to renew the edicts against this barbarous custom, to aggravate the punishment against offenders, and never, in any instance, to grant a pardon, even to a person who had wounded another in a duel, much less to any one who had taken away life. He also advised, that some sort of tribunal, or court of honour, should be established, to take cognizance of injurious and slanderous language, and of all such matters as usually led to duels; and that the justice to be administered by this court should be sufficiently prompt and severe to appease the complainant, and make the offender repent of his aggression.
Henry, being so warmly pressed by his friend and minister, called together an extraordinary council in the gallery of the palace of Fontainebleau, to take the matter into consideration. When all the members were assembled, his Majesty requested that some person conversant with the subject would make a report to him on the origin, progress, and different forms of the duel. Sully complacently remarks, that none of the counsllors gave the King any great reason to felicitate them on their erudition. In fact, they all remained silent. Sully held his peace with the rest; but he looked so knowing, that the King turned towards him, and said:˜” Great master! by your face I conjecture that you know more of this matter than you would have us believe. I pray you, and indeed I command, that you tell us what you think and what you know.” The coy minister refused, as he says, out of mere politeness to his more ignorant colleagues; but, being again pressed by the King, he entered into a history of duelling both in ancient and modern times. He has not preserved this history in his
Memoirs; and, as none of the ministers or counsellors present thought proper to do so, the world is deprived of a discourse which was, no doubt, a learned and remarkable one. The result was, that a royal edict was issued, which Sully lost no time in transmitting to the most distant provinces, with a distinct notification to all parties concerned that the King was in earnest, and would exert the full rigour of the law in punishment of the offenders. Sully himself does not inform us what were the provisions of the new law; but Father Matthias has been more explicit, and from him we learn, that the Marshals of France were created judges of a court of chivalry, for the hearing of all causes wherein the honour of a noble or gentleman was concerned, and that such as resorted to duelling should be punished by death and confiscation of property, and that the seconds and assistants should lose their rank, dignity, or offices, and be banished from the court of their sovereign.
But so strong a hold had the education and prejudice of his age upon the mind of the King, that though his reason condemned, his sympathies approved the duel. Notwithstanding this threatened severity, the number of duels did not diminish, and the wise Sully had still to lament the prevalence of an evil which menaced society with utter disorganization. In the succeeding reign the practice prevailed, if possible, to a still greater extent, until the Cardinal de Richelieu, better able to grapple with it than Sully had been, made some severe examples in the very highest classes. Lord Herbert, the English ambassador at the court of Louis XIII repeats, in his letters, an observation that had been previously made in the reign of Henry IV, that it was rare to find a Frenchman moving in good society who had not killed his man in a duel. The Abbé Millot says of this period, that the duel madness made the most terrible ravages. Men had actually a frenzy for combatting. Caprice and vanity, as well as the excitement of passion, imposed the necessity of fighting. Friends were obliged to enter into the quarrels of their friends, or be themselves called out for their refusal, and revenge became hereditary in many families. It was reckoned that in twenty years eight thousand letters of pardon had been issued to persons who had killed others in single combat.
Other writers confirm this statement. Amelot de Houssaye, in his
Memoirs, says, upon this subject, that duels were so common in the first years of the reign of Louis XIII, that the ordinary conversation of persons when they met in the morning was,
Do you know who fought yesterday? and after dinner,
Do you know who fought this morning? The most infamous duellist at that period was De Bouteville. It was not at all necessary to quarrel with this assassin to be forced to fight a duel with him. When he heard that any one was very brave, he would go to him, and say,
People tell me that you are brave; you and I must fight together! Every morning the most notorious bravos and duellists used to assemble at his house, to take a breakfast of bread and wine, and practise fencing. M. de Valencay, who was afterwards elevated to the rank of a cardinal, ranked very high in the estimation of De Bouteville and his gang. Hardly a day passed but what he was engaged in some duel or other, either as principal or second; and he once challenged De Bouteville himself, his best friend, because De Bouteville had fought a duel without inviting him to become his second. This quarrel was only appeased on the promise of De Bouteville that, in his next encounter, he would not fail to avail himself of his services. For that purpose he went out the same day, and picked a quarrel with the Marquis des Portes. M. de Valencay, according to agreement, had the pleasure of serving as his second, and of running through the body M. de Cavois, the second of the Marquis des Portes, a man who had never done him any injury, and whom he afterwards acknowledged he had never seen before.
Cardinal Richelieu devoted much attention to this lamentable state of public morals, and seems to have concurred with his great predecessor, Sully, that nothing but the most rigorous severity could put a stop to the evil. The subject indeed was painfully forced upon him by his enemies. The Marquis de Themines, to whom Richelieu, then Bishop of Lucon, had given offence by some representations he had made to Mary of Medicis, determined, since he could not challenge an ecclesiastic, to challenge his brother. An opportunity was soon found. Themines, accosting the Marquis de Richelieu, complained, in an insulting tone, that the Bishop of Lucon had broken his faith. The Marquis resented both the manner and matter of his speech, and readily accepted a challenge. They met in the Rue d’Angouleme, and the unfortunate Richelieu was stabbed to the heart, and instantly expired. From that moment the Bishop became the steady foe of the practice of duelling. Reason and the impulse of brotherly love alike combined to make him detest it, and when his power in France was firmly established, he set vigorously about repressing it. In his
Testament Politique, he has collected his thoughts upon the subject, in the chapter entitled “Des moyens d’arrêter les Duels.” In spite of the edicts that he published, the members of the nobility persisted in fighting upon the most trivial and absurd pretences. At last Richelieu made a terrible example. The infamous De Bouteville challenged and fought the Marquis de Beuoron; and, although the duel itself was not fatal to either, its consequences were fatal to both. High as they were, Richelieu resolved that the law should reach them, and they were both tried, found guilty, and beheaded. Thus did society get rid of one of the most bloodthirsty scoundrels that ever polluted it.
In 1642 two noblemen fought a duel, in which they were both killed. The officers of justice had notice of the breach of the law, and arrived at the scene of combat before the friends of the parties had time to remove the bodies. In conformity with the Cardinal’s severe code upon the subject, the bodies were ignominiously stripped, and hanged upon a gallows, with their heads downwards, for several hours, within sight of all the people.
125* This severity sobered the frenzy of the nation for a time; but it was soon forgotten. Men’s minds were too deeply imbued with a false notion of honour to be brought to a right way of thinking: by such examples, however striking, Richelieu was unable to persuade them to walk in the right path, though he could punish them for choosing the wrong one. He had, with all his acuteness, miscalculated the spirit of duelling. It was not death that a duellist feared: it was shame, and the contempt of his fellows. As Addison remarked more than eighty years afterwards, “Death was not sufficient to deter men who made it their glory to despise it; but if every one who fought a duel were to stand in the pillory, it would quickly diminish the number of those imaginary men of honour, and put an end to so absurd a practice.” Richelieu never thought of this.
Sully says, that in his time the Germans were also much addicted to duelling. There were three places where it was legal to fight; Witzburg, in Franconia, and Uspach and Halle, in Swabia. Thither, of course, vast numbers repaired, and murdered each other under sanction of the law. At an earlier period, in Germany, it was held highly disgraceful to refuse to fight. Any one who surrendered to his adversary for a simple wound that did not disable him, was reputed infamous, and could neither cut his beard, bear arms, mount on horseback, or hold any Office in the state. He who fell in a duel was buried with great pomp and splendour.
In the year 1652, just after Louis XIV had attained his majority, a desperate duel was fought between the Dukes de Beaufort and De Nemours, each attended by four gentlemen. Although brothers-in-law, they had long been enemies, and their constant dissensions had introduced much disorganization among the troops which they severally commanded. Each had long sought an opportunity for combat, which at last arose on a misunderstanding relative to the places they were to occupy at the council board. They fought with pistols, and, at the first discharge, the Duke de Nemours was shot through the body, and almost instantly expired. Upon this the Marquis de Villars, who seconded Nemours, challenged Héricourt, the second of the Duke de Beaufort, a man whom he had never before seen; and the challenge being accepted, they fought even more desperately than their principals. This combat, being with swords, lasted longer than the first, and was more exciting to the six remaining gentlemen who stayed to witness it. The result was fatal to Héricourt, who fell pierced to the heart by the sword of De Villars. Anything more savage than this can hardly be imagined. Voltaire says such duels were frequent, and the compiler of the
Dictionnaire d’Anecdotes informs us, that the number of seconds was not fixed. As many as ten, or twelve, or twenty, were not unfrequent, and they often fought together after their principals were disabled. The highest mark of friendship one man could manifest towards another, was to choose him for his second; and many gentlemen were so desirous of serving in this capacity, that they endeavoured to raise every slight misunderstanding into a quarrel, that they might have the pleasure of being engaged in it. The Count de Bussy Rabutin relates an instance of this in his
Memoirs. He says, that as he was one evening coming out of the theatre, a gentleman, named Bruc, whom he had not before known, stopped him very politely, and, drawing him aside, asked him if it was true that the Count de Thianges had called him (Bruc) a drunkard? Bussy replied, that he really did not know, for he saw the Count very seldom. “Oh! he is your uncle!” replied Bruc; “and, as I cannot have satisfaction from him, because he lives so far off in the country, I apply to you.” “I see what you are at,” replied Bussy, “and, since you wish to put me in my uncle’s place, I answer, that whoever asserted that he called you a drunkard, told a lie !” “My brother said so,” replied Bruc, “and he is a child.” “Horsewhip him, then, for his falsehood,” returned De Bussy. “I will not have my brother called a liar,” returned Bruc, determined to quarrel with him; “so draw, and defend yourself!” They both drew their swords in the public street, but were separated by the spectators. They agreed, however, to fight on a future occasion, and with all regular forms of the duello. A few days afterwards, a gentleman, whom De Bussy had never before seen, and whom he did not know, even by name, called upon him, and asked if he might have the privilege of serving as his second. He added, that he neither knew him nor Bruc, except by reputation, but, having made up his mind to be second to one of them, he had decided upon accompanying De Bussy as the braver man of the two. De Bussy thanked him very sincerely for his politeness, but begged to be excused, as he had already engaged four seconds to accompany him, and he was afraid that if he took any more, the affair would become a battle instead of a duel.
When such quarrels as these were looked upon as mere matters of course, the state of society must have been indeed awful. Louis XIV very early saw the evil, and as early determined to remedy it. It was not, however, till the year 1679, when he instituted the “Chambre Ardente,” for the trial of the slow poisoners and pretenders to sorcery, that he published any edict against duelling. In that year his famous edict was promulgated, in which he reiterated and confirmed the severe enactments of his predecessors, Henry IV and Louis XIII, and expressed his determination never to pardon any offender. By this celebrated ordinance a supreme court of honour was established, composed of the Marshals of France. They were bound, on taking the office, to give to every one who brought a well-founded complaint before them, such reparation as would satisfy the justice of the case. Should any gentleman against whom complaint was made refuse to obey the mandate of the court of honour, he might be punished by fine and imprisonment; and when that was not possible, by reason of his absenting himself from the kingdom, his estates might be confiscated till his return.
Every man who sent a challenge, be the cause of offence what it might, was deprived of all redress from the court of honour—suspended three years from the exercise of any office in the state—was further imprisoned for two years, and sentenced to pay a fine of half his yearly income.
He who accepted a challenge, was subject to the same punishment. Any servant, or other person, who knowingly became the bearer of a challenge, was, if found guilty, sentenced to stand in the pillory and be publicly whipped for the first offence, and for the second, sent for three years to the galleys.
Any person who actually fought, was to be held guilty of murder, even though death did not ensue, and was to be punished accordingly. Persons in the higher ranks of life were to be beheaded, and those of the middle class hanged upon a gallows, and their bodies refused Christian burial.
At the same time that Louis published this severe edict, he exacted a promise from his principal nobility that they would never engage in a duel on any pretence whatever. He never swerved from his resolution to pursue all duellists with the utmost rigour, and many were executed in various parts of the country. A slight abatement of the evil was the consequence, and in the course of a few years one duel was not fought where twelve had been fought previously. A medal was struck to commemorate the circumstance, by the express command of the King. So much had he this object at heart, that, in his will, he particularly recommended to his successor the care of his edict against duelling, and warned him against any ill-judged lenity to those who disobeyed it.
A singular law formerly existed in Malta with regard to duelling. By this law it was permitted, but only upon condition that the parties should fight in one particular street. If they presumed to settle their quarrel elsewhere, they were held guilty of murder, and punished accordingly. What was also very singular, they were bound, under heavy penalties, to put up their swords when requested to do so by a priest, a knight, or a woman. It does not appear, however, that the ladies or the knights exercised this mild and beneficent privilege to any great extent; the former were too often themselves the cause of duels, and the latter sympathised too much in the wounded honour of the combatants to attempt to separate them. The priests alone were the great peacemakers. Brydone says, that a cross was always painted on the wall opposite to the spot where a knight had been killed, and that in the “street of duels” he counted about twenty of them.
In England the private duel was also practised to a scandalous extent, towards the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth centuries. The judicial combat now began to be more rare, but several instances of it are mentioned in history. One was instituted in the reign of Elizabeth, and another so late as the time of Charles I. Sir Henry Spelman gives an account of that which took place in Elizabeth’s reign, which is curious, perhaps the more so when we consider that it was perfectly legal, and that similar combats remained so till the year 1819. A proceeding having been instituted in the Court of Common Pleas for the recovery of certain manorial rights in the county of Kent, the defendant offered to prove by single combat his right to retain possession. The plaintiff accepted the challenge, and the Court having no power to stay the proceedings, agreed to the champions who were to fight in lieu of the principals. The Queen commanded the parties to compromise; but it being represented to Her Majesty that they were justified by law in the course they were pursuing, she allowed them to proceed. On the day appointed, the Justices of the Common Pleas, and all the council engaged in the cause, appeared as umpires of the combat, at a place in Tothill-fields, where the lists had been prepared. The champions were ready for the encounter, and the plaintiff and defendant were publicly called to come forward and acknowledge them. The defendant answered to his name, and recognised his champion with the due formalities, but the plaintiff did not appear. Without his presence and authority the combat could not take place; and his absence being considered an abandonment of his claim, he was declared to be nonsuited, and barred for ever from renewing his suit before any other tribunal whatever.
The Queen appears to have disapproved personally of this mode of settling a disputed claim, but her judges and legal advisers made no attempt to alter the barbarous law. The practice of private duelling excited more indignation, from its being of every-day occurrence. In the time of James I the English were so infected with the French madness, that Bacon, when he was Attorney-general, lent the aid of his powerful eloquence to effect a reformation of the evil. Informations were exhibited in the Star Chamber against two persons, named Priest and Wright, for being engaged, as principal and second, in a duel, on which occasion he delivered a charge that was so highly approved of by the Lords of the Council, that they ordered it to be printed and circulated over the country, as a thing “very meet and worthy to be remembered and made known unto the world.” He began by considering the nature and greatness of the mischief of duelling. “It troubleth peace˜it disfurnisheth war˜it bringeth calamity upon private men, peril upon the state, and contempt upon the law. Touching the causes of it,” he observed, “that the first motive of it, no doubt, is a false and erroneous imagination of honour and credit; but then, the seed of this mischief being such, it is nourished by vain discourses and green and unripe conceits. Hereunto may be added, that men have almost lost the true notion and understanding of fortitude and valour. For fortitude distinguisheth of the grounds of quarrel whether they be just; and not only so, but whether they be worthy, and setteth a better price upon men’s lives than to bestow them idly. Nay, it is weakness and disesteem of a man’s self to put a man’s life upon such liedger performances. A man’s life is not to be trifled with: it is to be offered up and sacrificed to honourable services, public merits, good causes, and noble adventures. It is in expense of blood as it is in expense of money. It is no liberality to make a profusion of money upon every vain occasion, neither is it fortitude to make effusion of blood, except the cause of it be worth.”
The most remarkable event connected with duelling in this reign was that between Lord Sanquir, a Scotch nobleman, and one Turner, a fencing-master. In a trial of skill between them, his lordship’s eye was accidentally thrust out by the point of Turner’s sword. Turner expressed great regret at the circumstance, and Lord Sanquir bore his loss with as much philosophy as he was master of, and forgave his antagonist. Three years afterwards, Lord Sanquir was at Paris, where he was a constant visitor at the court of Henry IV. One day, in the course of conversation, the affable monarch inquired how he had lost his eye. Sanquir, who prided himself on being the most expert swordsman of the age, blushed as he replied that it was inflicted by the sword of a fencing-master. Henry, forgetting his assumed character of an antiduellist, carelessly, and as a mere matter of course, inquired whether the man lived? Nothing more was said, but the query sank deep into the proud heart of the Scotch baron, who returned shortly afterwards to England, burning for revenge. His first intent was to challenge the fencing-master to single combat, but, on further consideration, he deemed it inconsistent with his dignity to meet him as an equal in fair and open fight. He therefore hired two bravos, who set upon the fencing-master, and murdered him in his own house at Whitefriars. The assassins were taken and executed, and a reward of one thousand pounds offered for the apprehension of their employer. Lord Sanquir concealed himself for several days, and then surrendered to take his trial, in the hope (happily false) that Justice would belie her name, and be lenient to a murderer because he was a nobleman, who, on a false point of honour, had thought fit to take revenge into his own hands. The most powerful intercessions were employed in his favour, but James, to his credit, was deaf to them all. Bacon, in his character of Attorney-general, prosecuted the prisoner to conviction; and he died the felon’s death, on the 29th of June, 1612, on a gibbet erected in front of the gate of Westminster Hall.
With regard to the public duel, or trial by battle, demanded under the sanction of the law, to terminate a quarrel which the ordinary course of justice could with difficulty decide, Bacon was equally opposed to it, and thought that in no case should it be granted. He suggested that there should be declared a constant and settled resolution in the state to abolish it altogether; that care should be taken that the evil be no more cockered, nor the humour of it fed, but that all persons found guilty should be rigorously punished by the Star Chamber, and these of eminent quality banished from the court.
In the succeeding reign, when Donald Mackay, the first Lord Reay, accused David Ramsay of treason, in being concerned with the Marquis of Hamilton in a design upon the crown of Scotland, he was challenged by the latter to make good his assertion by single combat.
128* It had been at first the intention of the government to try the case by the common law, but Ramsay thought he would stand a better chance of escape by recurring to the old and almost exploded custom, but which was still the right of every man in appeals of treason. Lord Reay readily accepted the challenge, and both were confined in the Tower until they found security that they would appear on a certain day, appointed by the court, to determine the question. The management of the affair was delegated to the Marischal Court of Westminster, and the Earl of Lindsay was created Lord Constable of England for the purpose. Shortly before the day appointed, Ramsay confessed in substance all that Lord Reay had laid to his charge, upon which Charles I put a stop to the proceedings.
But in England, about this period, sterner disputes arose among men than those mere individual matters which generate duels. The men of the Commonwealth encouraged no practice of the kind, and the subdued aristocracy carried their habits and prejudices elsewhere, and fought their duels at foreign courts. Cromwell’s Parliament, however,—although the evil at that time was not so crying,—published an order, in 1654, for the prevention of duels, and the punishment of all con cerned in them. Charles II, on his restoration, also issued a proclamation upon the subject. In his reign an infamous duel was fought—infamous, not only from its own circumstances, but from the lenity that was shown to the principal offenders.
The worthless Duke of Buckingham, having debauched the Countess of Shrewsbury, was challenged by her husband to mortal combat, in January 1668. Charles II endeavoured to prevent the duel, not from any regard to public morality, but from fear for the life of his favourite. He gave commands to the Duke of Albemarle to confine Buckingham to his house, or take some other measures to prevent him flora fighting. Albemarle neglected the order, thinking that the King himself might prevent the combat by some surer means. The meeting took place at Barn Elms, the injured Shrewsbury being attended by Sir John Talbot, his relative, and Lord Bernard Howard, son of the Earl of Arundel. Buckingham was accompanied by two of his dependants, Captain Holmes and Sir John Jenkins. According to the barbarous custom of the age, not only the principals, but the seconds, engaged each other. Jenkins was pierced to the heart, and left dead upon the field, and Sir John Talbot severely wounded in both arms. Buckingham himself escaping with slight wounds, ran his unfortunate antagonist through the body, and then left the field with the wretched woman, the cause of all the mischief, who, in the dress of a page, awaited the issue of the conflict in a neighbouring wood, holding her paramour’s horse to avoid suspicion. Great influence was exerted to save the guilty parties from punishment, and the master, as base as the favourite, made little difficulty in granting a free pardon to all concerned. In a royal proclamation issued shortly afterwards, Charles II formally pardoned the murderers, but declared his intention never to extend, in future, any mercy to such offenders. It would be hard after this to say who was the most infamous, the King, the favourite, or the courtezan.
In the reign of Queen Anne, repeated complaints were made of the prevalence of duelling. Addison, Swift, Steele, and other writers, employed their powerful pens in reprobation of it. Steele especially, in the
Guardian, exposed its impiety and absurdity, and endeavoured, both by argument and by ridicule, to bring his countrymen to a right way of thinking.
129* His comedy of
The Conscious Lovers contains an admirable exposure of the abuse of the word honour, which led men into an error so lamentable. Swift, writing upon the subject, remarked that he could see no harm in rogues and fools shooting each other. Addison and Steele took higher ground, and the latter, in the
Guardian, summed up nearly all that could be said upon the subject in the following impressive words:˜”A Christian and a gentleman are made inconsistent appellations of the same person. You are not to expect eternal life if you do not forgive injuries, and your mortal life is rendered uncomfortable if you are not ready to commit a murder in resentment of an affront; for good sense, as well as religion, is so utterly banished the world that men glory in their very passions, and pursue trifles with the utmost vengeance, so little do they know that to forgive is the most arduous pitch human nature can arrive at. A coward has often fought˜a coward has often conquered, but a coward never forgave.” Steele also published a pamphlet, in which he gave a detailed account of the edict of Louis XIV, and the measures taken by that monarch to cure his subjects of their murderous folly.
On the 8th of May, 1711, Sir Cholmely Deering, M.P. for the county of Kent, was slain in a duel by Mr. Richard Thornhill, also a member of the House of Commons. Three days afterwards, Sir Peter King brought the subject under the notice of the Legislature, and after dwelling at considerable length on the alarming increase of the practice, obtained leave to bring in a bill for the prevention and punishment of duelling. It was read a first time that day, and ordered for a second reading in the ensuing week.
About the same time the attention of the Upper House of Parliament was also drawn to the subject in the most painful manner. Two of its most noted members would have fought, had it not been that Queen Anne received notice of their intention, and exacted a pledge that they would desist; while a few months afterwards, two other of its members lost their lives in one of the most remarkable duels upon record. The first affair, which happily terminated without a meeting, was between the Duke of Marlborough and the Earl Pawlet. The latter, and fatal encounter, was between the Duke of Hamilton and Lord Mohun.
The first arose out of a debate in the Lords upon the conduct of the Duke of Ormond, in refusing to hazard a general engagement with the enemy, in which Earl Pawlet remarked that nobody could doubt the courage of the Duke of Ormond. “He was not like a certain general, who led troops to the slaughter, to cause great numbers of officers to be knocked on the head in a battle, or against stone walls, in order to fill his pockets by disposing of their commissions.” Every one felt that the remark was aimed at the Duke of Marlborough, but he remained silent, though evidently suffering in mind. Soon after the House broke up, the Earl Pawlet received a visit from Lord Mohun, who told him that the Duke of Marlborough was anxious to come to an explanation with him relative to some expressions he had made use of in that day’s debate, and therefore prayed him to “go and take a little air in the country.” Earl Pawlet did not affect to misunderstand the hint, but asked him in plain terms whether he brought a challenge from the Duke. Lord Mohun said his message needed no explanation, and that he (Lord Mohun) would accompany the Duke of Marlborough. He then took his leave, and Earl Pawlet returned home and told his lady that he was going out to fight a duel with the Duke of Marlborough. His lady, alarmed for her lord’s safety, gave notice of his intention to the Earl of Dartmouth, who immediately, in the Queen’s name, sent to the Duke of Marlborough, and commanded him not to stir abroad. He also caused Earl Pawlet’s house to be guarded by two sentinels; and having taken these precautions, informed the Queen of the whole affair. Her Majesty sent at once for the Duke, expressed her abhorrence of the custom of duelling, and required his word of honour that he would proceed no further. The Duke pledged his word accordingly, and the affair terminated.
The lamentable duel between the Duke of Hamilton and Lord Mohun took place in November 1712, and sprang from the following circumstances. A lawsuit had been pending for eleven years between these two noblemen, and they looked upon each other in consequence with a certain degree of coldness. They met together on the 13th of November in the chambers of Mr. Orlebar, a Master in Chancery, when, in the course of conversation, the Duke of Hamilton reflected upon the conduct of one of the witnesses in the cause, saying that he was a person who had neither truth nor justice in him. Lord Mohun, somewhat nettled at this remark, applied to a witness favourable to his side, made answer hastily, that Mr. Whiteworth, the person alluded to, had quite as much truth and justice in him as the Duke of Hamilton. The Duke made no reply, and no one present imagined that he took offence at what was said; and when he went out, of the room, he made a low and courteous salute to the Lord Mohun. In the evening, General Macartney called twice upon the Duke with a challenge from Lord Mohun, and failing in seeing him, sought him a third time at a tavern, where he found him, and delivered his message. The Duke accepted the challenge, and the day after the morrow, which was Sunday, the 15th of November, at seven in the morning, was appointed for the meeting.
At that hour they assembled in Hyde Park, the Duke being attended by his relative, Colonel Hamilton, and the Lord Mohun by General Macartney. They jumped over a ditch into a place called the Nursery, and prepared for the combat. The Duke of Hamilton, turning to General Macartney, said,
Sir, you are the cause of this, let the event be what it will. Lord Mohun did not wish that the seconds should engage, but the Duke insisted that
Macartney should have a share in the dance. All being ready, the two principals took up their positions, and fought with swords so desperately that, after a short time, they both fell down, mortally wounded. The Lord Mohun expired upon the spot, and the Duke of Hamilton in the arms of his servants as they were carrying him to his coach.
This unhappy termination caused the greatest excitement, not only in the metropolis, but all over the country. The Tories, grieved at the loss of the Duke of Hamilton, charged the fatal combat on the Whig party, whose leader, the Duke of Marlborough, had so recently set the example of political duels. They. called Lord Mohun the bully of the Whig faction, (he had already killed three men in duels, and been twice tried for murder), and asserted openly, that the quarrel was concocted between him and General Macartney to rob the country of the services of the Duke of Hamilton by murdering him. It was also asserted, that the wound of which the Duke died was not inflicted by Lord Mohun, but by Macartney; and every means was used to propagate this belief. Colonel Hamilton, against whom and Macartney the coroner’s jury had returned a verdict of wilful murder, surrendered a few days afterwards, and was examined before a privy council sitting at the house of Lord Dartmouth. He then deposed, that seeing Lord Mohun fall, and the Duke upon him, he ran to the Duke’s assistance, and that he might with the more ease help him, he flung down both their swords, and, as he was raising the Duke up,
he saw Macartney, make a push at him. Upon this deposition a royal proclamation was immediately issued, offering a reward of 500 pounds for the apprehension of Macartney, to which the Duchess of Hamilton afterwards added a reward of 300 pounds.
Upon the further examination of Colonel Hamilton, it was found that reliance could not be placed on all his statements, and that he contradicted himself in several important particulars. He was arraigned at the Old Bailey for the murder of Lord Mohun, the whole political circles of London being in a fever of excitement for the result. All the Tory party prayed for his acquittal, and a Tory mob surrounded the doors and all the avenues leading to the court of justice for many hours before the trial began. The examination of witnesses lasted seven hours. The criminal still persisted in accusing General Macartney of the murder of the Duke of Hamilton, but, in other respects, say the newspapers of the day, prevaricated foully. He was found guilty of manslaughter. This favourable verdict was received with universal applause, “not only from the court and all the gentlemen present, but the common people showed a mighty satisfaction, which they testified by loud and repeated huzzas.”
As the popular delirium subsided, and men began to reason coolly upon the subject, they disbelieved the assertions of Colonel Hamilton, that Macartney had stabbed the Duke, although it was universally admitted that he had been much too busy and presuming. Hamilton was shunned by all his former companions, and his life rendered so irksome to him, that he sold out of the Guards, and retired to private life, in which he died heart-broken four years afterwards.
General Macartney surrendered about the same time, and was tried for murder in the Court of King’s Bench. He was, however, found guilty of manslaughter only.
At the opening of the session of Parliament of 1713, the Queen made pointed allusion in her speech to the frequency of duelling, and recommended to the Legislature to devise some speedy and effectual remedy for it. A bill to that effect was brought forward, but thrown out on the second reading, to the very great regret of all the sensible portion of the community.
A famous duel was fought in 1765 between Lord Byron and Mr. Chaworth. The dispute arose at a club-dinner, and was relative to which of the two had the largest quantity of game on his estates. Infuriated by wine and passion, they retired instantly into an adjoining room, and fought with swords across a table, by the feeble glimmer of a tallow-candle. Mr. Chaworth, who was the more expert swordsman of the two, received a mortal wound, and shortly afterwards expired. Lord Byron was brought to trial for the murder before the House of Lords; and it appearing clearly, that the duel was not premeditated, but fought at once, and in the heat of passion, he was found guilty of manslaughter only, and ordered to be discharged upon payment of his fees. This was a very bad example for the country, and duelling of course fell into no disrepute after such a verdict.
In France, more severity was exercised. In the year 1769, the Parliament of Grenoble took cognizance of the delinquency of the Sieur Duchelas, one of its members, who challenged and killed in a duel a captain of the Flemish legion. The servant of Duchelas officiated as second, and was arraigned with his master for the murder of the captain. They were both found guilty. Duchelas was broken alive on the wheel, and the servant condemned to the galleys for life.
A barbarous and fiercely-contested duel was fought in November 1778, between two foreign adventurers, at Bath, named Count Rice and the Vicomte du Barri. Some dispute arose relative to a gambling transaction, in the course of which Du Barri contradicted an assertion of the other, by saying, “That is not true!” Count Rice immediately asked him if he knew the very disagreeable meaning of the words he had employed. Du Barri said he was perfectly well aware of their meaning, and that Rice might interpret them just as he pleased. A challenge was immediately given and accepted. Seconds were sent for, who, arriving with but little delay, the whole party, though it was not long after midnight, proceeded to a place called Claverton Down, where they remained with a surgeon until daylight. They then prepared for the encounter, each being armed with two pistols and a sword. The ground having been marked out by the seconds, Du Barri fired first, and wounded his opponent in the thigh. Count Rice then levelled his pistol, and shot Du Barri mortally in the breast. So angry were the combatants, that they refused to desist; both stepped back a few paces, and then rushing forward, discharged their second pistols at each other. Neither shot took effect, and both throwing away their pistols, prepared to finish the sanguinary struggle by the sword. They took their places, and were advancing towards each other, when the Vicomte du Barri suddenly staggered, grew pale, and, falling to the ground, exclaimed, ”
Je vous demande ma vie. His opponent had but just time to answer, that he granted it, when the unfortunate Du Barri turned upon the grass, and expired with a heavy groan. The survivor of this savage conflict was then removed to his lodgings, where he lay for some weeks in a dangerous state. The coroner’s jury, in the mean while, sat upon the body of Du Barri, and disgraced themselves by returning a verdict of manslaughter only. Count Rice, upon his recovery, was indicted for the murder notwithstanding this verdict. On his trial he entered into a long defence of his conduct, pleading the fairness of the duel, and its unpremeditated nature; and, at the same time, expressing his deep regret for the unfortunate death of Du Barri, with whom for many years he had been bound in ties of the strictest friendship. These considerations appear to have weighed with the jury, and this fierce duellist was again found guilty of manslaughter only, and escaped with a merely nominal punishment.
A duel, less remarkable from its circumstances, but more so from the rank of the parties, took place in 1789. The combatants on this occasion were the Duke of York and Colonel Lenox, the nephew and heir of the Duke of Richmond. The cause of offence was given by the Duke of York, who had said, in presence of several officers of the Guards, that words had been used to Colonel Lenox at Daubigny’s to which no gentleman ought to have submitted. Colonel Lenox went up to the Duke on parade, and asked him publicly whether he had made such an assertion. The Duke of York, without answering his question, coldly ordered him to his post. When parade was over, he took an opportunity of saying publicly in the orderly room before Colonel Lenox, that he desired no protection from his rank as a prince and his station as commanding officer; adding that, when he was off duty, he wore a plain brown coat like a private gentleman, and was ready as such to give satisfaction. Colonel Lenox desired nothing better than satisfaction; that is to say, to run the chance of shooting the Duke through the body, or being himself shot. He accordingly challenged his Royal Highness, and they met on Wimbledon Common. Colonel Lenox fired first, and the ball whizzed past the head of his opponent, so near to it as to graze his projecting curl. The Duke refused to return the fire, and the seconds interfering, the affair terminated.
Colonel Lenox was very shortly afterwards engaged in another duel arising out of this. A Mr. Swift wrote a pamphlet in reference to the dispute between him and the Duke of York, at some expressions in which he took so much offence, as to imagine that nothing but a shot at the writer could atone for them. They met on the Uxbridge Road, but no damage was done to either party.
The Irish were for a long time renowned for their love of duelling. The slightest offence which it is possible to imagine that one man could offer to another, was sufficient to provoke a challenge. Sir Jonah Barrington relates, in his
Memoirs, that, previous to the Union, during the time of a disputed election in Dublin, it was no unusual thing for three-and-twenty duels to be fought in a day. Even in times of less excitement, they were so common as to be deemed unworthy of note by the regular chroniclers of events, except in cases where one or both of the combatants were killed.
In those days, in Ireland, it was not only the man of the military, but of every profession, who had to work his way to eminence with the sword or the pistol. Each political party had its regular corps of bullies, or fire-eaters, as they were called, who qualified themselves for being the pests of society by spending all their spare time in firing at targets. They boasted that they could hit an opponent in any part of his body they pleased, and made up their minds before the encounter began whether they should kill him, disable, or disfigure him for life—lay him on a bed of suffering for a twelve-month, or merely graze a limb.
The evil had reached an alarming height, when, in the year 1808, an opportunity was afforded to King George III of showing in a striking manner his detestation of the practice, and of setting an example to the Irish that such murders were not to be committed with impunity. A dispute arose, in the month of June 1807, between Major Campbell and Captain Boyd, officers of the 21st regiment, stationed in Ireland, about the proper manner of giving the word of command on parade. Hot words ensued on this slight occasion, and the result was a challenge from Campbell to Boyd. They retired into the mess-room shortly afterwards, and each stationed himself at a corner, the distance obliquely being but seven paces. Here, without friends or seconds being present, they fired at each other, and Captain Boyd fell mortally wounded between the fourth and fifth ribs. A surgeon who came in shortly, found him sitting in a chair, vomiting and suffering great agony. He was led into another room, Major Campbell following, in great distress and perturbation of mind. Boyd survived but eighteen hours; and just before his death, said, in reply to a question from his opponent, that the duel was not fair, and added, “You hurried me, Campbell—you’re a bad man.”—”Good God!” replied Campbell, “will you mention before these gentlemen, was not everything fair? Did you not say that you were ready?” Boyd answered faintly, “Oh, no! you know I wanted you to wait and have friends.” On being again asked whether all was fair, the dying man faintly murmured “Yes:” but in a minute after, he said, “You’re a bad man!” Campbell was now in great agitation, and wringing his hands convulsively, he exclaimed, “Oh, Boyd! you are the happiest man of the two! Do you forgive me?” Boyd replied, “I forgive you—I feel for you, as I know you do for me.” He shortly afterwards expired, and Major Campbell made his escape from Ireland, and lived for some months with his family under an assumed name, in the neighbourhood of Chelsea. He was, however, apprehended, and brought to trial at Armagh, in August 1808. He said while in prison, that, if found guilty of murder, he should suffer as an example to duellists in Ireland; but he endeavoured to buoy himself up, with the hope that the jury would only convict him of manslaughter. It was proved in evidence upon the trial, that the duel was not fought immediately after the offence was given, but that Major Campbell went home and drank tea with his family, before he sought Boyd for the fatal encounter. The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against him, but recommended him to mercy on the ground that the duel had been a fair one. He was condemned to die on the Monday following, but was afterwards respited for a few days longer. In the mean time the greatest exertions were made in his behalf. His unfortunate wife went upon her knees before the Prince of Wales, to move him to use his influence with the King, in favour of her unhappy husband. Everything a fond wife and a courageous woman could do, she tried, to gain the royal clemency; but George III was inflexible, in consequence of the representations of the Irish Viceroy that an example was necessary. The law was therefore allowed to take its course, and the victim of a false spirit of honour died the death of a felon.
The most inveterate duellists of the present day are the students in the Universities of Germany. They fight on the most frivolous pretences, and settle with swords and pistols the schoolboy disputes which in other countries are arranged by the more harmless medium of the fisticuffs. It was at one time the custom among these savage youths to prefer the sword combat, for the facility it gave them of cutting off the noses of their opponents. To disfigure them in this manner was an object of ambition, and the German duellists reckoned the number of these disgusting trophies which they had borne away, with as much satisfaction as a successful general the provinces he had reduced or the cities he had taken.
But it would be wearisome to enter into the minute detail of all the duels of modern times. If an examination were made into the general causes which produced them, it would be found that in every case they had been either of the most trivial or the most unworthy nature. Parliamentary duels were at one time very common, and amongst the names of those who have soiled a great reputation by conforming to the practice, may be mentioned those of Warren Hastings, Sir Philip Francis, Wilkes, Pitt, Fox, Grattan, Curran, Tierney, and Canning. So difficult is it even for the superior mind to free itself from the trammels with which foolish opinion has enswathed it—not one of these celebrated persons who did not in his secret soul condemn the folly to which he lent himself. The bonds of reason, though iron-strong, are easily burst through; but those of folly, though lithe and frail as the rushes by a stream, defy the stoutest heart to snap them asunder. Colonel Thomas, an officer of the Guards, who was killed in a duel, added the following clause to his will the night before he died:—”In the first place, I commit my soul to Almighty God, in hope of his mercy and pardon for the irreligious step I now (in compliance with the unwarrantable customs of this wicked world) put myself under the necessity of taking.” How many have been in the same state of mind as this wise, foolish man! He knew his error, and abhorred it, but could not resist it, for fear of the opinion of the prejudiced and unthinking. No other could have blamed him for refusing to fight a duel.
The list of duels that have sprung from the most degrading causes might be stretched out to an almost indefinite extent. Sterne’s father fought a duel about a goose; and the great Raleigh about a tavern-bill.
131* Scores of duels (many of them fatal) have been fought from disputes at cards, or a place at a theatre, while hundreds of challenges, given and accepted over-night, in a fit of drunkenness, have been fought out the next morning to the death of one or both of the antagonists.
Two of the most notorious duels of modern times had their origin in causes no more worthy than the quarrel of a dog and the favour of a prostitute: that between Macnamara and Montgomery arising from the former; and that between Best and Lord Camelford, from the latter. The dog of Montgomery attacked a dog belonging to Macnamara, and each master interfering in behalf of his own animal, high words ensued. The result was the giving and accepting a challenge to mortal combat. The parties met on the following day, when Montgomery was shot dead, and his antagonist severely wounded. This affair created a great sensation at the time, and Heaviside, the surgeon who attended at the fatal field to render his assistance, if necessary, was arrested as an accessory to the murder, and committed to Newgate.
In the duel between Best and Lord Camelford, two pistols were used which were considered to be the best in England. One of them was thought slightly superior to the other, and it was agreed that the belligerents should toss up a piece of money to decide the choice of weapons. Best gained it, and, at the first discharge, Lord Camelford fell, mortally wounded. But little sympathy was expressed for his fate; he was a confirmed duellist, had been engaged in many meetings of the kind, and the blood of more than one fellow-creature lay at his door. As he had sowed, so did he reap; and the violent man met an appropriate death.
It now only remains to notice the means that have been taken to stay the prevalence of this madness of false honour in the various countries of the civilized world. The efforts of the governments of France and England have already been mentioned, and their want of success is but too well known. The same efforts have been attended with the same results elsewhere. In despotic countries, where the will of the monarch has been strongly expressed and vigorously supported, a diminution of the evil has for a while resulted, but only to be increased again, when death relaxed the iron grasp, and a successor appeared of less decided opinions upon the subject. This was the case in Prussia under the great Frederick, of whose aversion to duelling a popular anecdote is recorded. It is stated of him that he permitted duelling in his army, but only upon the condition that the combatants should fight in presence of a whole battalion of infantry, drawn up on purpose, to see fair play. The latter received strict orders, when one of the belligerents fell, to shoot the other immediately. It is added, that the known determination of the King effectually put a stop to the practice.
The Emperor Joseph II of Austria was as firm as Frederick, although the measures he adopted were not so singular. The following letter explains his views on the subject:
To GENERAL * * * * *
“You will immediately arrest the Count of K. and Captain W. The Count is young, passionate, and influenced by wrong notions of birth and a false spirit of honour. Captain W. is an old soldier, who will adjust every dispute with the sword and pistol, and who has received the challenge of the young Count with unbecoming warmth.
“I will suffer no duelling in my army. I despise the principles of those who attempt to justify the practice, and who would run each other through the body in cold blood.
“When I have officers who bravely expose themselves to every danger in facing the enemy—who at all times exhibit courage, valour, and resolution in attack and defence, I esteem them highly. The coolness with which they meet death on such occasions is serviceable to their country, and at the same time redounds to their own honour; but should there be men amongst them who are ready to sacrifice everything to their vengeance and hatred, I despise them. I consider such a man as no better than a Roman gladiator.
“Order a court-martial to try the two officers. Investigate the subject of their dispute with that impartiality which I demand from every judge; and he that is guilty, let him be a sacrifice to his fate and the laws.
“Such a barbarous custom, which suits the age of the Tamerlanes and Bajazets, and which has often had such melancholy effects on single families, I will have suppressed and punished, even if it should deprive me of one half of my officers. There are still men who know how to unite the character of a hero with that of a good subject; and he only can be so who respects the laws.
In the United States of America the code varies considerably. In one or two of the still wild and simple States of the Far West, where no duel has yet been fought, there is no specific law upon the subject beyond that in the Decalogue, which says, “Thou shalt do no murder.” But duelling everywhere follows the steps of modern civilization, and by the time the backwoodsman is transformed into the citizen, he has imbibed the false notions of honour which are prevalent in Europe, and around him, and is ready, like his progenitors, to settle his differences with the pistol. In the majority of the States the punishment for challenging, fighting, or acting as second, is solitary imprisonment and hard labour for any period less than a year, and disqualification for serving any public office for twenty years. In Vermont the punishment is total disqualification for office, deprivation of the rights of citizenship, and a fine; in fatal cases, the same punishment as that of murderers. In Rhode Island, the combatant, though death does not ensue, is liable to be carted to the gallows, with a rope about his neck, and to sit in this trim for an hour, exposed to the peltings of the mob. He may be further imprisoned for a year, at the option of the magistrate. In Connecticut the punishment is total disqualification for office or employ, and a fine, varying from one hundred to a thousand dollars. The laws of Illinois require certain officers of the state to make oath, previous to their instalment, that they have never been, nor ever will be, concerned in a duel.
Amongst the edicts against duelling promulgated at various times in Europe, may be mentioned that of Augustus King of Poland, in 1712, which decreed the punishment of death against principals and seconds, and minor punishments against the bearers of a challenge. An edict was also published at Munich, in 1773, according to which both principals and seconds, even in duels where no one was either killed or wounded, should be hanged, and their bodies buried at the foot of the gallows.
The King of Naples issued an ordinance against duelling in 1838, in which the punishment of death is decreed against all concerned in a fatal duel. The bodies of those killed, and of those who may be executed in consequence, are to be buried in unconsecrated ground, and without any religious ceremony; nor is any monument to be erected on the spot. The punishment for duels in which either, or both, are wounded, and for those in which no damage whatever is done, varies according to the case, and consists of fine, imprisonment, loss of rank and honours, and incapacity for filling any public situation. Bearers of challenges may also be punished with fine and imprisonment.
It might be imagined that enactments so severe all over the civilized world would finally eradicate a custom, the prevalence of which every wise and good man must deplore. But the frowns of the law never yet have taught, and never will teach, men to desist from this practice, as long as it is felt that the lawgiver sympathises with it in his heart. The stern judge upon the bench may say to the unfortunate wight who has been called a liar by some unmannerly opponent, “If you challenge him, you meditate murder, and are guilty of murder !” but the same judge, divested of his robes of state, and mixing in the world with other men, would say, “If you do not challenge him, if you do not run the risk of making yourself a murderer, you will be looked upon as a mean-spirited wretch, unfit to associate with your fellows, and deserving nothing but their scorn and their contempt!” It is society, and not the duellist, who is to blame. Female influence, too, which is so powerful in leading men either to good or to evil, takes, in this case, the evil part. Mere animal bravery has, unfortunately, such charms in the female eye, that a successful duellist is but too often regarded as a sort of hero; and the man who refuses to fight, though of truer courage, is thought a poltroon, who may be trampled on. Mr. Graves, a member of the American Legislature, who, early in 1838, killed a Mr. Cilley in a duel, truly and eloquently said, on the floor of the House of Representatives, when lamenting the unfortunate issue of that encounter, that society was more to blame than he was. “Public opinion,” said the repentant orator, “is practically the paramount law of the land. Every other law, both human and divine, ceases to be observed; yea, withers and perishes in contact with it. It was this paramount law of this nation, and of this House, that forced me, under the penalty of dishonour, to subject myself to the code, which impelled me unwillingly into this tragical affair. Upon the heads of this nation, and at the doors of this House, rests the blood with which my unfortunate hands have been stained!”
As long as society is in this mood; as long as it thinks that the man who refuses to resent an insult, deserved that insult, and should be scouted accordingly, so long, it is to be feared, will duelling exist, however severe the laws may be. Men must have redress for injuries inflicted, and when those injuries are of such a nature that no tribunal will take cognizance of them, the injured will take the law into their own hands, and right themselves in the opinion of their fellows, at the hazard of their lives. Much as the sage may affect to despise the opinion of the world, there are few who would not rather expose their lives a hundred times than be condemned to live on, in society, but not of it—a by-word of reproach to all who know their history, and a mark for scorn to point his finger at.
The only practicable means for diminishing the force of a custom which is the disgrace of civilization, seems to be the establishment of a court of honour, which should take cognizance of all those delicate and almost intangible offences which yet wound so deeply. The court established by Louis XIV might be taken as a model. No man now fights a duel when a fit apology has been offered, and it should be the duty of this court to weigh dispassionately the complaint of every man injured in his honour, either by word or deed, and to force the offender to make a public apology. If he refused the apology, he would be the breaker of a second law; an offender against a high court, as well as against the man he had injured, and might be punished with fine and imprisonment, the latter to last until he saw the error of his conduct, and made the concession which the court demanded.
If, after the establishment of this tribunal, men should be found of a nature so bloodthirsty as not to be satisfied with its peaceful decisions, and should resort to the old and barbarous mode of an appeal to the pistol, some means might be found of dealing with them. To hang them as murderers would be of no avail; for to such men death would have few terrors. Shame alone would bring them to reason. Transportation, the tread-wheel, or a public whipping, would perhaps be sufficient.
Memoirs,” vol. i. c. xi.—” When a man, accused of a capital crime, chooses to undergo the ordeal trial, he is closely confined for several days; his right hand and arm are covered with thick wax-cloth, tied up and sealed, in the presence of proper officers, to prevent deceit. In the English districts the covering was always sealed with the Company’s arms, and the prisoner placed under an European guard. At the time fixed for the ordeal, a caldron of oil is placed over a fire; when it boils, a piece of money is dropped into the vessel; the prisoner’s arm is unsealed, and washed in the presence of his judges and accusers. During this part of the ceremony, the attendant Brahmins supplicate the Deity. On receiving their benediction, the accused plunges his hand into the boiling fluid, and takes out the coin. The arm is afterwards again Sealed up until the time appointed for a re-examination. The seal is then broken: if no blemish appears, the prisoner is declared innocent; if the contrary, he suffers the punishment due to his crime.” * * * On this trial the accused thus addresses the element before plunging his hand into the boiling oil:—”Thou, O fire! pervadest all things. O cause of purity! who givest evidence of virtue and of sin, declare the truth in this my hand!” If no juggling were practised, the decisions by this ordeal would be all the same way; but, as some are by this means declared guilty, and others innocent, it is clear that the Brahmins, like the Christian priests of the middle ages, practise some deception in saving those whom they wish to be thought guiltless.
History of the House and Clan of Mackay.
A dispute arose in a coffee-house between him and a young man on some trivial point, and the latter, losing his temper, impertinently spat in the face of the veteran. Sir Walter, instead of running him through the body, as many would have done, or challenging him to mortal combat, coolly took out his handkerchief, wiped his face, and said, “Young man, if I could as easily wipe from my conscience the stain of killing you, as I can this spittle from my face, you should not live another minute.” The young man immediately begged his pardon.