Long before people engaged in subtweeting online beefs, problems were resolved by way of swords and pistols. While the practice of dueling was technically regarded as illegal in many places, it was still a common way of maintaining one's honor and dignity. Of course, many of the reasons for duels were far from dignified to begin with.
For centuries all around the world, people picked up their weapons in the name of jealousy, pride, or unbridled rage. And many of those people were notable figures. Here are nine of the most famous duels in history.
Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr
While a decade ago the infamous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr might have only been muttered about among history enthusiasts, the release of a certain hit musical has turned this showdown into household knowledge.
The relationship between Hamilton and Burr had been contentious for years. Former Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton had seemingly thwarted Vice President Burr's political ambitions at every turn, and Burr's failed campaign for governor of New York in 1804 was apparently the last straw. To restore his reputation against Hamilton's scathing critique of his character, Burr challenged him to a duel to be held in Weehawken, New Jersey.
Some accounts say Hamilton had planned to fire only a symbolic shot into the air. Burr's shot pierced Hamilton's abdomen. Unlike most honor duels of the time, the incident resulted in Hamilton's death, in the very same spot where he lost his son in a duel just three years before. The nation was outraged, and public opinion only took a worse turn for Burr, effectively ruining his career.
Ben Jonson and Gabriel Spenser
Ben Jonson—a contemporary of William Shakespeare—was a talented playwright, poet, and actor. Gabriel Spenser was a notable actor himself, and in 1597, he appeared in Jonson's London satire The Isle of Dogs. The pair were arrested for their part in a play which contained scandalous material, but this seemingly had nothing to do with the argument that sparked their duel.
While it's not entirely clear what started their volatile argument on September 22nd, 1598, some claim it arose from a disagreement as to which theater troupe was Elizabethan England’s finest. Nevertheless, this silly quarrel escalated into a sword fight, which ultimately culminated in the death of Spenser. Jonson was arrested for the murder and sentenced to hang, but managed to escape the death penalty by pleading "benefit of clergy," which placed him outside of secular law by giving him clerical status.
Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro
Legendary Japanese swordsmen Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro were, for reasons not known today, bitter archrivals. On April 13th, 1612, the two of them came together on Ganryū Island to settle the score. A popular tale surrounding the event claims Musashi arrived hours late to the duel to toy with his opponent's head. When he did arrive, he came bearing a wooden sword crafted from the oar of a boat.
Though Kojiro threw himself into the fight with his signature move, "the swallow cut," Musashi quickly ended the duel with a strike to Kojiro's ribs, which punctured his lungs and proved fatal. With the affair quickly settled, Musashi left the island in the boat he'd arrived in. Later in life, Musashi became an acclaimed painter.
Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs. Elphinstone
While most duels were the product of men with petty grievances, the Petticoat Duel of 1792 saw two women behind the swords. When Mrs. Elphinstone paid a social call to Lady Almeria Braddock's home, a backhanded comment about the latter's age led to the two women meeting in London's Hyde Park for a duel. The women began with pistols, but after both missed with their shots, they took up swords. After Lady Braddock delivered a wound to Mrs. Elphinstone's arm, her uncouth guest conceded to writing a letter of apology.
Alexander Pushkin and Georges d’Anthès
Alexander Pushkin was one of the founders of modern Russian literature. In the 1830s, rumors were swirling that his wife, Natalya Nikolayevna Goncharova, was having an affair with French military officer and politician Georges d'Anthès. In order to dispel these claims—and avoid a confrontation with the scrappy writer—d'Anthès actually became Pushkin's brother-in-law on January 10th, 1837 when he married Natalya's sister.
Unfortunately for Pushkin, Natalya and d'Anthès seemed to only grow closer. 17 days after the wedding, Pushkin and d'Anthès met in a duel at the Black River in Saint Petersburg. D'Anthès fired first, catching Pushkin in the abdomen. Pushkin managed to get off a shot and wound d'Anthès in the arm, but two days later the poet died from his injury.
General François Fournier-Sarlovèze and General Pierre Dupont de l’Étang
General François Fournier-Sarlovèze and General Pierre Dupont de l’Étang were officers in the army of Napolean Bonaparte. After Dupont allegedly offended a friend of Fornier-Sarlovèze in 1794, the pair engaged in a duel. It was hardly their last. Over the course of the next 19 years, the two of them would clash in duels more than 30 times.
The pair fought so much that they actually developed their own set of rules, including an automatic initiation of a duel if they found themselves within 90 miles of each other, with no valid excuse to back out beyond military obligations. They used both swords and pistols, but it was the latter that was implemented in their final duel in 1813. Though the tension had persisted for years, it was a fairly anticlimactic end. When Dupont won this last duel, they both simply agreed the matter was finished.
Isabella de Carazzi and Diambra de Pettinella
This duel was so notable it became immortalized in Combate de Mujeres (Women Gladiators), a famous painting by Jose de Riberta. In 16th-century Naples, it seemed as though Fabio de Zeresola was the most eligible bachelor around. In a reversal of the more commonly seen practice of men fighting for a lady's favor, two young women—Isabella de Carazzi and Diambra de Pettinella—dueled for Zeresola's affection in 1552.
The women fought on horseback, beginning with exchanging lance blows. The joust was just the beginning, however, as the women moved on to fighting with maces and then swords. The accounts of the outcome across sources don't line up—some say Isabella won, while others claim she conceded defeat in a shocking twist. The truth may be lost to time.
Édouard Manet and Edmond Duranty
In February of 1870, an unfavorable review of his work sent French painter Édouard Manet into a rage. The critic, Edmond Duranty, had been a friend of Manet's for a long time—but that wouldn't quell Manet's storm. The artist found Duranty in Paris' Café Guerbois, where he promptly slapped him across the face and challenged him to a sword duel.
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On February 23rd, the men met in the forest of Saint-Germain. As famous writer Émile Zola stood as Manet's second, the two duelists exchanged a single strike. When their swords met, the force made the blades buckle. From the collision Duranty sustained a minor wound, which Manet declared enough to soothe his pride. Their friendship had been sufficiently repaired.
Andrew Jackson and Charles Dickinson
Before he became the seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson was known for being a prolific duelist. His hotheaded nature led to him facing off against multiple men. Most of the time, this was in defense of his wife, Rachel, who was often on the wrong end of rumors and ridicule. However, none of Jackon's duels are more notable than the one he engaged in with lawyer Charles Dickinson.
Dickinson publicly referred to Rachel as a bigamist, nodding to a legal error she made while divorcing her abusive first husband. To defend his wife's reputation, Jackson challenged Dickinson to a duel, and the pair met on May 30th, 1806 in Logan, Kentucky. Upon drawing their pistols, Dickinson got the first shot, grazing Jackon's breastbone and breaking some ribs. However, when Jackson fired, the hit on Dickinson was fatal. While Jackson's wound didn't result in death, it caused complications for the rest of his life.