Shadowbox: A Question of Honour

Louis Beauregard fights his fair share of duels within the pages of SHADOWBOX. The world of organised combat back in 1832 had room for such niceties, before the Queensbury Rules for contact sports came into effect.

Duell im RegenThe duel was based on a code of honour, and fought mainly to resolve differences caused by some suggested or actual slight.

Honour … remains awake in us like a last lamp in a temple that has been laid to waste.
Alfred de Vigny, Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)

A duellist didn’t have to kill his opponent in order to satisfy the “rules” of the duel. As Wikipedia explains:

At the choice of the offended party, the duel could be fought to a number of conclusions:

  • To first blood, in which case the duel would be ended as soon as one man was wounded, even if the wound was minor.
  • Until one man was so severely wounded as to be physically unable to continue the duel.
  • To the death (“à l’outrance”), in which case there would be no satisfaction until one party was mortally wounded.

For a pistol duel the parties would be placed back-to-back with loaded weapons in hand and walk a set number of paces, turn to face the opponent, and shoot. The more grave the insult, the fewer the paces agreed upon.A matched pair of engraved and gilded muzzle loading percussion lock dueling pistols. Located in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Each party would fire one shot. If neither man was hit and if the challenger stated that he was satisfied, the duel would be declared over.

If the challenger was not satisfied, the duel continued until one man was wounded or killed. To have more than three exchanges of fire was considered barbaric and, on the rare occasion that no hits were achieved, somewhat ridiculous.

It has a strange, quick jar upon the ear,
That cocking of a pistol, when you know
A moment more will bring the sight to bear
Upon your person, twelve yards off or so.
– Byron, Don Juan

Of course, within the pages of SHADOWBOX my characters are duelling in Paris. After the French Revolution, duelling in France was codified and rigorous rules were set in place to ensure those who fought in duels were properly accounted for. (The link is to French wikipedia; good luck translating it, as my schoolgirl French is not up to it).

"A Duel", by Eugene Louis Lami

“A Duel”, by Eugene Louis Lami

Alexander Dumas used the duel as a form of dramatic tension in many of his novels, especially effective in The Count of Monte Cristo, where the Count and the young Vicomte de Morcerf come to blows.

Between 1826 and 1834 more than 200 men died in France as a result of duels. One of these was Évariste Galois, a radical republican and something of a romantic figure in French mathematical history. He died in a duel at the age of 20.

So while Louis Beauregard accepts those who challenge him, the potential to be convicted of murder still hovered in the background of every encounter. And so did the potential to die.

The best memorial for a mighty man is to gain honor ere death.
Beowulf, VII.

A Pistol Duel, (c) Barbara Sobczynska

A Pistol Duel, (c) Barbara Sobczynska

Next post in the SHADOWBOX series: Crime & Punishment.

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