illustration of two fencers in a French Salon, 1820.

Duelling and Fencing

Duelling was a way for ‘gentlemen’ to settle their quarrels. The duel of honour was fought in cold blood between gentlemen, one perhaps seeking ‘satisfaction’ from the other in response to an insult to his ‘good name’.


At first personal combats were fought with a sword and buckler. Swords were worn as part of a gentleman’s everyday dress. The rapier – a longer, narrower pointed sword – was introduced after 1500. Consequently, a new style of sword combat developed, which emphasised the use of the point not the blade.


By around 1780 the pistol displaced the sword in the duel and many gentlemen owned a cased set of specialised duelling pistols. The duellist had to be able to aim and fire quickly and accurately, usually at a distance of not less than 15 metres (50 feet).

Duelling of any form has long been romanticised; the reality was often, short, bloody, brutal and deadly.

18th century duelling interpretation

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18th century duelling - link to YouTube video

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Did you know?

Palmerston's Follies

Fort Nelson is one of the ‘Palmerston Forts’, commissioned in the 1860s by Lord Palmerston, who feared a French attack. By the time they were completed, however, any threat from France disappeared. The forts gained the nickname ‘Palmerston’s follies’.