Weird History
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14 Of The Most Remarkable Duels From History

Updated September 29, 2021 1.7k votes 254 voters 14.4k views14 items

List RulesVote up the incredible historical duels that caught you off guard.

Duels have been around for centuries. From judicial confrontations during the Middle Ages to honor-based face-offs between gentlemen through the modern era, duels have involved elaborate rituals and rules, various weapons, and some pretty interesting back stories. 

The one between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in 1804 famously resulted in death, but not all duels prove fatal. Very often, satisfaction comes long before someone actually gets killed. Many duels never fully came to fruition - they were more about the threats and preparations that went into them than the actual exchange.

Then there were face-offs that are, perhaps, better known for some of their unique circumstances; the all-female duel between Princess Pauline von Metternich and Countess Anastasia Kielmannsegg in 1892 was remarkable for several reasons. Take a look and vote up the historical duels that stand out - maybe even catching you a little off guard.

  • Photo: Nikolay Repik / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    Otto von Bismarck Was Challenged To A Sausage Duel In 1865

    When Otto von Bismarck and his political rival, Rudolf Virchow, were preparing to duel in 1865, the latter had the choice of weapons. As the story goes, Virchow chose sausages.

    A researcher, physician, and social scientist, Virchow became known for his cell theory, stating in 1855, "Omnis cellula e cellula" ("every cell stems from another cell"). As he explored the relationship between cells, disease, and public health, he became increasingly active politically. He went on to serve in the German Reichstag from 1880 to 1893. Even before that, Virchow was active in forming the German Progressive Party and was an outspoken critic of Bismarck's excessive military budget, calling for money to be shifted to meet the needs of the public instead. 

    Bismarck, also called the "Iron Chancellor," espoused the policy of "Blood and Iron" - advocating for the use of both through speeches and majority resolutions in politics and diplomacy. After a cholera outbreak ravaged Germany in 1863, Virchow criticized Bismarck's inaction over public cleanliness - specifically in slaughterhouses.

    As a result, in 1865, Virchow is said to have chosen sausages for his weapon of choice - with his own being cooked and Bismarck's full of parasite larvae. Each man was expected to eat his "weapon." Once Bismarck heard the conditions, he withdrew from the duel. 

    Fascinating face-off?
  • Photo: Anthony van Dyck / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Jeffrey Hudson, The Dueling Dwarf At The Court Of King Charles I, Triumphed On Horseback

    Jeffrey Hudson was an entertainer in the service of Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I of England. At 7 years old, Hudson emerged from a pie - he was only about 18 inches tall at the time - and, from there, he eventually became one of the queen's closest confidants and has been referred to as the "Queen's Dwarf." 

    As a performer, Hudson - who had a form of proportional dwarfism - took part in an array of activities, including dueling. According to sources, he dueled a turkey on one occasion, but it was his face-off with William Crofts (captain of the queen's life guard) that stands out the most. After Crofts taunted and ridiculed Hudson severely, the latter challenged the former to a duel.

    Crofts reportedly showed up with a "squirt" - a water gun of sorts - but the two men were soon given actual weapons. According to historical record, they were equipped with pistols "and then mounted on horseback, and given the signal to gallop toward each other and fire, which they both did, Crofts falling from his saddle dead, with a bullet-hole in his heart."

    According to other sources, Crofts was shot in the head, but either way, he didn't survive. 

    Fascinating face-off?
  • Photo: Yoshifusa Utagawa / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Miyamoto Musashi Brought A Wooden Sword To Duel Sasaki Kojiro

    When Miyamoto Musashi met Sasaki Kojiro in 1612, the two highly skilled duelists were soon slated to face off. It's not entirely clear why they entered into a rivalry of sorts - it may have been political; it may have been about honor - but on April 13, they met on the island of Ganryujima in Japan.

    Their duel was an event that drew crowds, complete with food and drink, but Musashi arrived late. He reportedly stalled intentionally, carving a wooden sword from a paddle on the boat he needed to get to the island.

    When Musashi finally arrived, Kojiro taunted him from the water's edge, yelling, "Did you get scared?" According to accounts, Kojiro charged at Musashi "with the intention of cutting his head down the middle... [he] cut the knot of Musashi's headband, and it fell to the ground."

    In that same moment, Musashi struck Kojiro down - using only a wooden sword. He then hit Kojiro again in the ribs and killed him before bowing to the duel referees and leaving the island aboard the same boat he'd arrived in.

    Fascinating face-off?
  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    General François Fournier-Sarlovèze And General Pierre Dupont de l’Étang Dueled More Than 30 Times In 19 Years

    General François Fournier-Sarlovèze and General Pierre Dupont de l’Étang were both officers in Napoleon Bonaparte's army. Reportedly, their longstanding dislike of each other began when Dupont offended one of Fornier-Sarlovèze's associates in 1794. As a result, the latter challenged the former to a duel.

    They didn't end their grievance for nearly 20 years. Over those years, they developed their own set of rules. Their code duello included four articles:

    Article 1: Should Mr. Dupont and Mr. Fornier find themselves within ninety miles from one another, they would meet halfway with swords in hands.

    Article 2: Should one of the two contracting parts be impeded by his service, the one free to move should cross the entire distance to reconcile the service duties and rules to this treaty.

    Article 3: Military obligations aside, no excuse will be considered valid.

    Article 4: As this treaty was established in good faith, the conditions set hereby cannot be departed from.

    The men dueled using swords and pistols, with the final meeting involving the latter. In 1813, Dupont won the duel and the two agreed to end the matter for good. 

    Fascinating face-off?