During the medieval times till the early 19th century, most men and women in Europe, USA and few other parts of the world did not run to judges to resolve disputes. Rather, they took it upon themselves, to settle the lingering issue through duels.
Duels often occurred with the help of guns or swords, depending on the weapon of choice from both parties. While there have been thousands of incidents of duels across the world, only few are still talked about and are remembered by historians.
Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr (1804)
On July 11, 1804, a standoff between Alexander Hamilton, a leading Federalist and former secretary of the treasury, and Aaron Burr, who was then serving as vice president under Thomas Jefferson, led to a duel between the two who had detested each other. Burr wanted to resolve the reputational crisis he faced due to Hamilton who had campaigned against him during his failed 1804 attempt to become governor of New York.
The enemies met at the dueling grounds near Weehawken, New Jersey. Although it is said that Hamilton did not want to kill Burr, he missed his opponent but was promptly shot in the stomach; Hamilton died the next afternoon. The nation was outraged by Hamilton’s death. Public opinion turned against Burr, who was charged with murder and later arrested for treason in an unrelated incident. After being acquitted on a technicality, he fled to Europe before returning to private life in New York.
Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs. Elphinstone (1792)
A certain Mrs Elphinstone expected no more than a cup of tea when she paid a social call to Lady Almeria Braddock’s home in London in 1792. A casual comment by Mrs Elphinstone about her age enraged Mrs Braddock, who challenged her guest to a duel in Hyde Park. According to reports, Mrs Elphinstone fired her pistol first, knocking Lady Braddock’s hat to the ground. The women then took up swords, and Lady Braddock got her revenge by wounding her opponent in the arm. The ‘Petticoat Duel,’ as it came to be known, ended without further incident when Mrs Elphinstone agreed to write a letter of apology.
Andrew Jackson and Charles Dickinson (1806)
More than two decades before he became the seventh president of the US, Andrew Jackson faced off against Charles Dickinson, a lawyer regarded as one of the best shots in the area, in Logan, Kentucky, after the latter had called Jackson’s wife a ‘bigamist’, referring to a legal error in her 1791 divorce from her first husband. On May 30, 1806, the two men met with pistols in hand, standing 24 feet apart in accordance with dueling custom. After the signal, Dickinson fired first, grazing Jackson’s breastbone and breaking some of his ribs. Jackson, a former Tennessee militia leader, maintained his stance and fired back, fatally wounding his opponent.
Isabella de Carazzi and Diambra de Pettinella (1552)
At a time when many duels were fought between men for a disputed lady’s favor, two young women—Isabella de Carazzi and Diambra de Pettinella—competed for Fabio de Zeresola’s affection in a public swordfight. In 1636, the Spanish artist Jose de Riberta immortalised the story in his famous painting ‘Duelo de Mujeres’ (‘Duel of Women’) although the results of the duel is still unknown.
Alexander Pushkin and Georges d’Anthès (1837)
In the 1830s, George d’Anthès aggressively pursued Russian poet Alexander Pushkin’s beautiful wife Natalya in Saint Petersburg, earning verbal threats from the famous—and notoriously pugnacious—writer in return. On January 10, 1837, the Frenchman wed Natalya’s sister Ekaterina, perhaps to dispel rumours of an affair and quell Pushkin’s wrath. Nevertheless, on January 27 the newly minted brothers-in-law met in a duel. D’Anthès escaped with a gash on his arm, but Pushkin took a bullet to the stomach and died two days later.
Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro (1612)
Considered the preeminent Japanese swordsmen of their time, archrivals Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro met on the remote shores of Ganryū Island to settle their differences once and for all. According to legend, Musashi showed up several hours late to psych out his opponent, bearing a giant wooden sword he had fashioned from the oar of a boat. Kojiro attacked the tardy samurai with his signature ‘swallow cut’ move, but before his blade was lowered Musashi dealt him a fatal blow. Pursued by furious Kojiro supporters who considered his delayed arrival unfair, Musashi hopped back into his boat and rowed to safety. Later in life, Musashi would become an acclaimed painter.