King's College London
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The Duke of Wellington

Political Duels

The Red HouseThe Red HouseThe duel between Wellington and Winchilsea was not the first to involve senior political figures, or even a Prime Minister.

William Pitt, for example, confronted George Tierney, the MP for Southwark, at Putney in 1798.

Charles James Fox fought a Mr Adam at Hyde Park in 1779. It was suggested by his second that the corpulent Whig leader should present a sideways aspect to minimise the chances of being hit. Fox refused, spluttering 'Why man, I'm as thick one way as the other!'

Interestingly, when the second son of George III, the Duke of York, fought a duel on Wimbledon Common in 1789, his opponent's second was none other than the then Earl of Winchilsea.

The end of duelling (1830s and 1840s)

The connections with Wellington and King's College were also apparent in the duel between the French men, Louis Napoleon and his cousin, Count Leon, on Wimbledon Common in 1840.

Louis Napoleon, the future Napoleon III of France and Bonaparte's nephew, had been banished in 1836 following a failed coup. His son, the Prince Imperial, was later to be a student of King's following the family's exile in the wake of their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871.

On this occasion, the duellists were arrested following a tip off to police and after a prolonged and farcical argument about which weapons to use.

Duelling began to go out of favour with Queen Victoria's accession, increasingly viewed as anachronistic and rather absurd.

Evangelicals like William Wilberforce inveighed against its unchristian aspects and called for its suppression. It was prohibited in the British Army in 1844 and the final duel involving an Englishman is recorded in 1862.

Duels remained popular elsewhere, though, especially in the United States and France. When two Frenchmen quarrelled over an opera singer, a one Mademoiselle Tirevit, they settled their score by blasting away at each other with blunderbusses from two hot air balloons suspended over the Tuileries in Paris until one envelope was breached and the basket fell to the earth, killing the occupants.

Another famous duel in France involved the two combatants hurling billiard balls until one was killed.

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