Duelling Stories

Duelling Stories of the Sixteenth Century: From the French of Brantôme

by George H. Powell

Pierre de Bourdeille, Seigneur de Brantôme, (c.1540 - 1614) was a French soldier who came into contact with many of the leading soldiers and courtiers of his day.

He was an inveterate gossip, endlessly fascinated by the minutiae of duelling: the challenges, the weapons, the customs and the laws. Life was cheap, and many of the anecdotes he relates tell of treachery, deceit and downright murder.

At times it's almost as if the reader has been transported from renaissance France to the Wild West of America, with young bloods trying to make a name for themselves by challenging a seasoned warrior. All the time Brantôme mulls over whether it is right to respond in this way or that:

Still, it was absurd to suppose that whenever some young sprig turned up fresh from Italy and the hands of Patenostrier, Hieronymo, Francesco, Tappe, Flaman, or the Sieur d'Aymard of Bordeaux (all excellent masters in their day), and came to Court thirsting for glory and sought a quarrel and demanded to fight you with sword alone, for example, or sword and dagger — it was absurd, we say, to suppose you were bound to oblige him in every particular.

Many a thoughtful and respectable gallant would reply, "No, I'll fight you on horseback with a pistol or with a lance," and so on, so as to avoid the other's superiority in fencing.

Of course if the quarrel was itself originated by a bit of sharp practice, why then you might bring into the lists any engine of destruction you could get there.

Many of the prominent men in sixteenth century France appear in these anecdotes as aggressor, victim, or — very occasionally — peacemaker.

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