The Duel: Fencing Hobby of the French

The French passion for duel springs up in literature and movies. The most famous scenes are from Alexandre Dumas’s “The Three Musketeers” and the iron mask story from the novel “Ten Years Later”. The choice of weapon is the most French of them all — the sword.

Fencing Match

Picture: Match between St. Georges and La chevalière D’Eon (1787).

The duel was born from antiquity — Athena and Rome were known to have had fencing schools. In the middle ages, those who excellent in fencing skills were considered as one of the great virtues of a knight. The form of combat became known through it’s splendor in Italy, Spain and France. Especially interested were military personal and the young nobility. Also the bourgeoisie were known to become excited about dueling. Threatened honor and defamation were in question, to which compensation sought upon. The basic rule was, that the first to become wounded was the looser. However these fights could be very violent at times and even end up in death.

However the practice became annoyingly common. So the popes tried to stop duel fighting all together. The reason why the catholic church became against it, was because according to the rules of the church it was forbidden to burry the victims on their land. Pope Clement VIII declared the ban of duel fighting in 1592 which is historically significant because the declaration became part of the Catholic canon law. However it had little effect as duel fighting continue in secret from publicity and was silently approved.

As centuries passed, the sword kept it’s status until the 18th hundreds when novel literature started talking about pistols. Duel situations were created almost as a play, so that each detail was done correctly. Fighters even had their own second attendants.

The French, mainly Italian based fencing tradition has stayed as a noble and popular form of sport, which is also recognized in the olympics. In French fencing the intellectual and mental challenge is being focused on. The psychological center of duel fighting is finding one’s bravery, acknowledging it and the opportunity to show to others. Through these battles one could prove themselves to be a man of honor. This is how the historian professor Michel Chalon from the University of Montpellier defines the mental aspect.

So modern day fencing could be thought of as a brain sport!


Watch fencing related filmography:

  • The Three Musketeers (Les trois mousquetaires)
  • Man in the Iron Mask (Homme au masque de fer).

1 comment

Comments are closed.