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About dueling in France

About dueling in France

At the turn of the 16th century, fights to defend honor were the predominant duel form of fencing. Although duels spread through Europe like wildfire, they happened on an unprecedented scale in France. According to one historical fact, in 1526 Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire called the French King Francis I a dishonorable man. The king challenged the offending emperor to a duel. Even though nothing came out of it, the very fact raised the prestige of dueling in France to unprecedented heights. It was under Francis I that France was swept with an enormous number of duels. This is confirmed by Parisian records, according to which for several years running every second duel ended in the death of both duelists.

In his book entitled Russian Duel, Vladislav Petrov cites the following figures: in some years the total number of duels in France reached 20,000. An end had to be put to this eventually, which is when bans on dueling were imposed. The last official duel in France took place on July 10, 1547, in the presence of King Henry II. In reality, this date is believed to be a starting point for unofficial dueling fights. Death in a duel was prized very highly and commanded great respect. The folk imagery paints a poplar image of the brave hero duelist who dances the dance of death and dies with the weapon in hand and the head raised high. The famous novels by Alexandre Dumas depict a huge number of duels between the royal musketeers and the guardsmen of Cardinal Richelieu despite the fact that duels were banned in the epoch of Richelieu. Between 1608 and 1723 at least eight royal orders were issued banning duels, but all of them were in vain. An even more draconian measure was instituted in 1837. An order was issued that classified a duel as an attempt at murder, which was punished as a criminal offence. This order was designed to discourage duelists. Nonetheless, this tradition was honored to such a degree that quite often judges acquitted duelists. .


Ancient postcard depicting a duel, late 19th century, France