The most unusual duel in history

The most unusual duel in history took place in Paris, in 1808, when two gentlemen, Monsieur de Grandpre and Monsieur le Pique, discovered by accident that they were enjoying the favours of the same lady, a certain Mademoiselle Tirevit. The gentlemen concluded, via their seconds, that the universe wasn't big enough for the both of them. There was nothing for it but that they must fight a duel.

Here they diverged from the standard script. It was agreed by all that the duel be fought from identical hot air balloons, and that the weapon of choice should be a blunderbuss.

One would have thought that in the ensuing month, during which identical balloons were constructed, that cooler heads might have prevailed, but apparently there were none. The balloons were duly delivered and the principals, their seconds and "an immense concourse of spectators" met in le Jardin des Tuileries on the 22nd of June.  If you've ever visited Paris, you've probably walked across where this happened.

I can understand M. de Grandpre and M. le Pique getting into their balloon baskets, but I must question the mental stability of their seconds, who clambered in after their principals, in order to share their fate.  The ropes were cut simultaneously and the two balloons rose into the air, to an estimated  height of half a mile.  The balloons at this stage were separated by about 80 yards.

M. le Pique had the honour of firing first.  He brought up his blunderbuss, aimed carefully at the balloon above M. de Grandpre's head, and fired.

He missed completely.

M. le Pique's second cannot have been pleased at this turn of events. But there was no backing out now.

De Grandpre raised his blunderbuss.  He fired, grievously wounding le Pique's balloon, which plummeted to the earth.  Le Pique and his second were killed on impact.  ("Dashed to pieces" in the original account.)

Honour satisfied, de Grandpre continued his journey until he landed some seven leagues distant. History does not record the outcome of the relationship between de Grandpre and Mademoiselle.

If you think I'm making this up, it's all recorded in The Book Of Days, by Robert Chalmers, published 1863, page 809 of volume 1.


Sarah W said...

I know balloons were all the rage (pun intended) in France at the time, but this takes le g√Ęteau.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Unfortunately for le Pique, this story made my day. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction!

Lexi said...

Like most car crashes, this debacle was caused by a total failure of imagination on the part of the people involved.

(Thinks: does this make writers safer drivers?)

Anonymous said...

I may laugh for an entire week about this and will randomly tell this account to stangers all day at work!

Perhaps it wasn't that they didn't calm down in the month following, but rather, honor forced them to continue down that crazy, hilarious path.

One final question: How do you miss a hot air balloon?

Sarah said...

There's an old movie, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines that has a balloon and blunderbuss duel. I never would have guessed that scene had a historical precedent. Love it!

Gary Corby said...

Sarah, that movie scene almost certainly was copied from the real thing, incredible as it may seem!

Suki-joshi: Yes. Maybe a gust of wind? I'd love to know what the second said after le Pique missed.

JES said...

Great story!

And just when one thinks this says all there is to say about it, someone comes along and commemorates it on a T-shirt... (I have no affiliation with that site; have just been snooping around for more about the story, thanks to you! (And to The Shark, for sharing it at her blog.))

JES said...

P.S. Fwiw, found a pretty much contemporary account of the story here (starts near the bottom of the page, numbered 22), at Google Books.

Still nothing further about Mlle. Tirevit, however. Damn.

Sara said...

LOL. This is fantastic. I just had to google image search for "blunderbuss" (wondering if I'm the only one) and I can't wait to share with my hubby. Thanks!

Gary Corby said...

Thanks for that earlier account, JES. That's brilliant!

I'm afraid the image on the T-shirt is slightly wrong. A blunderbuss was like a hand held cannon, sort of a shotgun for cannon balls, not a pistol, and le Pique went down with his ship. I love the idea though. You may have a great new business here.

Jen said...

That is pure awesome.

But yea, you have to wonder why the seconds went aboard. Surely the whole set-up does away with the need for seconds.