Duelling Through the Ages (Kindle)
Putting aside Roman gladiators and gun-slingers of the American Wild West, by the 19th century duelling had become the sole domain of nobility, military officers and gentleman, with rules added to make sure everything was conducted in a fair and professional manner. The word 'honour' became popular, because it was the reason why most men would challenge another to a duel. This book challenges that notion and asks whether it was really about honour at all, or was it more about arrogance or social standing?
Over time kings, leaders and governments passed rules, decrees, edicts and laws banning the practice, but still it continued, even when the duellists knew that the punishment for taking part in such an event could be their own death. The last known duel with swords in France took place at a private residence just outside of Paris in 1967 between two politicians, Gaston Deferre and Rene Ribiere. It was ended after Ribiere, who was due to be married the following day, was twice cut on the arm by Gaston.
The book also looks at some of the more humorous, unusual and least expected ways people found to conduct their duels, including throwing billiard balls at each other, duelling whilst sat on the backs of elephants, and two men who decided their differences should be settled half a mile up in the sky in hot air balloons.
With more efforts to bring about an end to duelling, the upper classes of British society in particular still held on to the idea of being able to defend their honour, which saw many of them turn to pugilism as a way to sate their disputes, however ridiculous they might appear today.
Stephen Wynn looks at the practice of duelling, which faded from consciousness with the turn of the 19th century into the 20th. Nowadays, disputes are settled in a more civilised manner, but it is safe to say that most 19th century novels would have such disputes settled by a duel. A fascinating social history.Books Monthly