Skip to main content

Pistols for Two, Breakfast for One – Part 1

If you read Regency romances chances are you will sooner or later be drawn into a duel, or at least an account of one. Though it was illegal, dueling was a popular way for Regency males to display their athletic prowess, respond to an insult or settle a debt of honor.

In the 18th century, duels were often fought in London’s Hyde Park. But as the city grew, Primrose Hill (and nearby Chalk Farm) to the north of London became a popular spot for these sometimes deadly encounters. Primrose Hill was a wooded area, remote from the city but still easy to reach by carriage. According to the Camden History Society, at least seven duelists died on or in the vicinity of Primrose Hill from 1790 to 1837, with 25 exchanges of gunfire recorded.

Regency bucks who aspired to duel with swords could profit by taking lessons at Henry Angelo's fencing academy on Carlisle Street in London. This watercolor depiction of a lesson at Angelo’s was painted by Thomas Rowlandson in 1787, and is titled “I shall conquer this!” The Angelo School of Arms moved to Bond Street in 1817, where it was operated by Angelo’s son. (Artwork from Wikimedia Commons.) 
Duels were fought for the slimmest of reasons. In 1803 one man died and another was severely wounded in a duel that was apparently the result of a disagreement between two dogs. Apparently Lieutenant-Colonel Montgomery and Captain Macnamara were walking their dogs in Hyde Park when one of the canines “snarled and growled” at the other. The two officers, who’d never even met previously, went to Chalk Farm to settle the matter. 

I don’t know what happened to the dogs, but the colonel was killed in the ensuing duel and the captain was seriously injured. Captain Macnamara was later tried for murder at the old Bailey but was acquitted.

Portrait of Thomas Moore by an unknown artist. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In 1806 the poet Thomas Moore took umbrage at some bad reviews of his work and challenged the editor of the Edinburgh Review, Francis Jeffrey, to a duel. The two men were arrested before the duel could take place. It may not have mattered if the duel had proceeded; contemporary accounts suggest that the dueling pistols were loaded with blank cartridges.

Moore also wanted to fight Lord Byron for Byron’s criticism of his work, but Byron went abroad and by the time he came back to England Moore’s emotions had cooled. The two poets eventually became friends.

Even the Duke of Wellington fought a duel, when he was 59 years old and the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Wellington had voted in favor of the Catholic Relief Bill, which allowed Catholics to hold seats in Parliament. The Earl of Winchilsea, a staunch Protestant, accused Wellington of an “insidious design” to infringe on the liberties of British citizens, and also slammed Wellington for the “introduction of Popery into every department of the state.”

Wellington couldn't let this attack on his integrity go unanswered, and so he challenged Winchilsea to a duel at Battersea Fields in the south of London on March 23, 1829. Wellington deloped (fired his pistol into the air) and Winchilsea did the same when it was his turn. No one was hurt and honor was satisfied. 

Come back next week for Part 2 of Pistols for Two, Breakfast for One. 

Sources for this article include: 


  1. Interesting! This is a part of history I know nothing about--until now. You tell a good story, Maureen. xo Jennifer

  2. I'm going to read the second part right now, so I can find out what happens!

    - Momma Cat


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Cato Street Conspiracy

Conspiracy and treason go hand in hand. Throughout history, conspirators have huddled in back rooms and dark corners in secret, concocting schemes that are both dangerous and illegal. So it’s no surprise that their plans often spiral out of control and end in disaster. 
A good example of a conspiracy plot gone wrong happened during the Regency. It’s been dubbed the Cato Street Conspiracy because of where the conspirators were caught. This is a tale that, according to historian J.B. Priestley (author of The Prince of Pleasure and his Regency) “begins in absurdity and ends in horror.”
The year was 1820. Though the Napoleonic Wars were over, Britain had paid a heavy price for its victory against the French. The costs of the war had strained the country’s economy. The working classes were hit hard by periods of famine, rising food prices due to the Corn Laws, and high unemployment, the latter driven by soldiers returning from the battlefields of Europe and looking for work. And of course, t…

The end of the Holy Roman Empire, or what happens when the Empire doesn't strike back

This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper
T.S. Eliot wasn't actually describing the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire when he wrote those words in his poem, “The Hollow Men.” Nonetheless, his words are an extremely apt way to describe the end of the Holy Roman Empire, which ended quietly with a stroke of a pen exactly 212 years ago in August of 1806. That’s when the last emperor decided it was his duty to abdicate, letting the ancient dominion under his protection dissolve rather than allow Napoleon to usurp the role of Holy Roman Emperor and everything that came with it. By that August the end of the empire had become inevitable. Napoleon’s victory over Russia and Austria at the Battle of Austerlitz in December of 1805 and his formation of the Confederation of the Rhine the following July (after he convinced 16 German princes to renounce their allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire and join him) were fatal blows. Throughout its thousand-year history, the Empire e…

At the drop of a hat: a history of headgear

“Cock your hat – angles are attitudes,” said Frank Sinatra. While I would never disagree with Ol’ Blue Eyes, because I believe that a hat set at a rakish angle makes a statement in any era, I’d take it a step further. Sometimes the hat itself speaks volumes, all by itself, no matter how it sits on someone's head.
Cast your mind back to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., in January of 2017. The hundreds of thousands of pink knitted or crocheted hats atop the heads of a sea of protestors made an unforgettable sight and sent a clear visual message concerning the marchers' support of human rights, along with their criticism of the newly inaugurated President Trump.
Likewise, a red mesh trucker hat emblazoned with the slogan “Make America Great Again” has become an unmistakable badge of a Trump supporter.
And hats were especially important during the French Revolution, just prior to our Regency era. During that turbulent time a poor unfortunate who wasn’t wearing a hat associated …