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.
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.
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:
- The Duel, a History by Robert Baldick
- The Regency Reference Book, by Emily Hendrickson
- British History Online, Primrose Hill and Chalk Farm
- CamdenHistory Society, Duelling on Primrose Hill, 1790-1837
- Excerpt from Infantry Sword Exercise, 1845 on Henry Angelo's School of Arms
- Newspaper account of the Duke of Wellington’s duel with the Earl of Winchilsea
- Thomas Moore, Wikipedia
- List of duels, Wikipedia
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons