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

Duelling History

Battersea FieldsBattersea FieldsDuelling had a long history emerging in England out of the tradition of trial by combat and the notion that God's providence would select the victor in any contest based on the innocence of their cause.

The modern concept of a duel as a matter of honour, however, only began to become established in the 14th and 15th centuries with the popularity of a romantic and chivalric sensibility among the aristocracy.

During Tudor times the law tried to regulate duelling with little success and it flourished after 1600 with the introduction from France of the more recognisably modern concept of the private duel between two individuals governed by a set of informal social rules.

Perhaps the most bizarre confrontation dating from this period was the duel between the courtier and dwarf, Jeffery Hudson, and a young army officer, a Mr Crofts, who is alleged to have insulted the short-tempered Hudson.

When the officer arrived at the duelling ground with a water pistol as a mock weapon, the enraged Hudson demanded proper reparation on horseback with pistols, whereupon he promptly shot Crofts dead with a single shot through the heart.

The heyday of the duel (c. 1660-1837)

The heyday of the duel was the 18th and early 19th centuries. During the reign of George III, for example, over 172 duels were recorded, accounting for 69 deaths and 96 seriously wounded.

Duelling pistolsDuelling pistolsDuels were by this period governed by a set of informal rules: the so-called Irish code of 1777 that set out a table of 26 insults that any self respecting gentleman should not allow to pass and which outlined the responsibilities of the second.

Favourite duelling grounds near London included Hampstead Heath, Chalk Farm and the common land that extended south of the Thames over modern Battersea, Putney and Wimbledon. The windmill there was a popular landmark beneath which duellists often agreed to meet.

These locations were convenient for their proximity to the city, yet also sufficiently remote to avoid interruption and in the event of a fatality, attractively close to potential getaway routes on the roads out of London.

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