King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
The Duke of Wellington

Open Fire!

Duelling pistolDuelling pistolA crowd of onlookers had by this time begun to gather nearby and the combatants were handed their pistols, which they cocked and placed by their sides.

Hardinge addressed the duellists: 'Then, gentlemen, I shall ask you if you are ready and give word fire, without any farther signal or preparation'. Moments later he called out:

'Gentlemen are you ready, fire!'

Wellington raised his pistol and fired on the command.

Accounts differ as to whether Wellington came close to killing his rival. The Duke declared that he deliberately shot wide when Winchilsea remained motionless; other contemporary reports, perhaps more sympathetic to Winchilsea and anxious to prevent Wellington claiming the moral high ground, claimed that the ball tore through the Earl's lapel and that he had aimed to kill.

Whether an intentional delay on the part of the Duke or the result of his being a notoriously poor shot, Winchilsea remained standing with his arm by his side.

Quite deliberately, he then raised it vertically and discharged the pistol harmlessly above his own head - a gesture of submission known in the duelling world as delopement.

A witness describes how the Earl wore a pensive expression on his face and was 'steady and fearless' in receiving the Duke's fire without moving, but having fired his pistol he smiled, 'as if to say, 'Now you see I am not quite so bad as you thought me''.

What is almost certain is that Winchilsea and Falmouth had both agreed on their course of action beforehand, a fact evidenced by their prior drafting of a written apology that Falmouth now presented to Wellington and Hardinge.

Round two?

Winchelsea's apology to WellingtonWinchelsea's apology to WellingtonThe Duke listened attentively to the contents of the statement, which evidently did not go far enough as he interjected to tell the men bluntly: 'This won't do. It is no apology'.

Falmouth and his charge hurried to reassure their opposite numbers of their sincerity but to no avail. Hardinge then turned to Falmouth and threatened to resume the duel.

The threat had the desired effect. Perhaps not wishing to push their luck, Winchilsea and Falmouth quickly consented to the changes demanded by the Duke. The alterations were witnessed and signed by Dr Hume, as can be seen here in a copy of the actual document.

A grateful and relieved Falmouth stuttered his own apology at which point Wellington interrupted, raised his hands and declared, 'My Lord Falmouth, I have nothing to do with these matters'. Touching the brim of his hat, he bade farewell with the words 'Good morning my Lords', mounted his horse and rode off.

Some accounts describe the two men heading away together for lunch at Brooks's, but this seems to have been a romantic embellishment to the story. In actual fact, Wellington rode directly to Windsor, presumably to relate his account of the proceedings to an excited King George IV.

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