Skip to main content

Pistols for Two, Breakfast for One – Part 2

"Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky's duel", illustration by Ilya Repin (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons). 
No discussion of early 19th century duels would be complete without a mention of the Burr-Hamilton duel, even though it took place across the pond in the newly-liberated American colonies. Alexander Hamilton was a close friend of George Washington and a leader among the Federalist party; Aaron Burr was the Vice President of the United States and leader of the Democrats.

The enmity between the two men went back many years, but the immediate cause of the quarrel was a letter Hamilton wrote in which he described Burr as a “dangerous man” who “ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.” Burr demanded a retraction, and when that didn't happen he challenged Hamilton to a duel.  They met at Weehawken, New Jersey, on July 11, 1804.

According to contemporary accounts, Hamilton took the first shot and fired into the air above Burr’s head. Burr fired back at Hamilton, hitting him in the stomach.  Mortally wounded, Hamilton died the next day. Though Burr was charged with murder in both New Jersey and New York he was never brought to trial. However, the duel effectively killed his political career, though he did serve out his term as vice president.

Artist's rendering of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, from a Gutenberg file of a book dated 1902 (Wikimedia Commons). 

Though duelists were typically male, more than one pair of women picked up pistols or swords to settle an argument. In 1792 Lady Almeria Braddock challenged Mrs. Elphinstone to a duel in Hyde Park. The cause of their quarrel hinged on the question of Lady Almeria’s age. In true mean girl fashion, Mrs. Elphinstone complimented Lady Almeria on how well she looked - given how old she was.

According to the account in Robert Baldick’s fine book, The Duel, a History, Mrs. Elphinstone began her taunts by using the past tense to describe her friend’s beauty. “You have a very good autumnal face even now,” she added, “but you must acknowledge the lilies and roses are somewhat faded. Forty years ago, I am told, a young fellow could hardly gaze on you with impunity.”

Lady Almeria protested that she was not yet 30, which was overdoing it a bit. Mrs. Elphinstone cited Collins, a source similar to Burke’s Peerage, for proof that Lady Almeria was born in 1732, which would have pegged her age at about 60. What else could Lady Almeria do but challenge Mrs. Elphinstone to a duel?

In what came to be known as the “petticoat duel,” the two women started by firing pistols, and Lady Almeria’s hat was the first casualty. They fought on with swords, and the duel continued until Lady Almeria nicked Mrs. Elphinstone in her arm. At the sight of her own blood Mrs. Elphinstone agreed to write an apology to Lady Almeria, and the duel ended.

The moral here is that some “facts” should be accepted without too close a scrutiny, especially when it comes to a woman’s age.

"The Duel of Women" by artist Jusepe de Ribera, 1636 (Wikimedia Commons).


  1. Great post, Maureen! Interesting and funny! I can tell that I'm going to learn a lot, and enjoy it, by reading your blog regularly. xo Jennifer

  2. You should never comment on a woman's age, lest it come back to bite you in the arse. These "ladies" should've know better!

    - Momma Cat


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

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. Francis II, the last Holy Roman Emperor 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)

Macaroni Men and Yankee Doodles

The Spirit of '76  (original title Yankee Doodle ) by Archibald Willard, painted in the late 1800s November is a month that here in the United States is defined by food, culminating in a huge Thanksgiving Day feast. It's also the month we honor our military veterans. So I'm going to focus on both food and patriotism - especially an Italian pasta product that became synonymous with a controversial English fashion and developed uniquely American associations. "The Macaroni"- 1773 During the 18th century, it was all the rage for young men of the English nobility to take a trip through Europe to soak up its art and culture. It was called the Grand Tour. In Italy, these privileged lads discovered a pasta dish far removed from their usual British fare. It was called maccaroni , and they raved about it when they got back home. The travelers became known as the Macaroni Club, though there is no evidence an actual club ever existed. But it

The Cato Street Conspiracy

The Cato Street conspirators getting arrested 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 th