An Article on Duels (4 of 6)

Benvenuto tutti.

This time I have a few more dueling accounts where armor was involved. These are just a few accounts of many and, as was mentioned last time, armor seems to have been almost a requirement in duels earlier in the 16th Century in Italy. While it may seem irrelevant to those of you who are more interested in other countries and later time periods, it should be kept in mind that Italy was pretty much the birthplace of the Duel for Honor and the Renaissance ideals concerning the Honor that was being fought for in such duels. Italians wrote profusely on the philosophy of Honor and were considered by many in other countries to be the definitive resource on the subject and the Italian ideals were often imitated and reiterated throughout Europe.

But enough of my rambling, let’s get on with the duels. These accounts are all by Seigneur de Brantome (Pierre de Bourdeille) (d. 1614) in his *uvres completes, Vol. IV published posthumously in Paris in 1873, as translated and related by Frederick R. Bryson, Ph. D in “The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel: A Study in Renaissance Social History”, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1938.

A duel in Ferrara was witnessed by Duchess Lucrezia Borgia early in the 16th century (sometime between 1505 and 1512, to be as exact as possible) between two captains, Azevado and Sainte-Croix. It was fought in the courtyard of the ducal palace and permission for the duel was granted by Gaston de Foix, duke of Nemours (d.1512) acting as a representative for the King of France. Duke de Foix judged this battle and the famous knight Bayard, whom you may remember from our last installment, was a marshal for this duel. Azevado came to the field fully armed, since he was the challenger and did not know what weapons to expect. However, Sainte-Croix had brought to Azevado two swords, two daggers and two helmets from which to choose. There was to be no other armor used in the duel.

Both gentlemen knelt to pray and when this was done their seconds searched them for any magic charms or hidden weapons. When these left the combatants to the field, the herald “made the accustomed proclamation prohibiting them (the spectators) from coughing, spitting, or otherwise acting in such a way as might attract the attention of the combatants.”

Sainte-Croix elected to ditch his dagger for this bout, but Azevado kept both his sword and dagger. During the battle Sainte-Croix received a blow to the thigh which cut to the bone and he sank to the ground because he was so weak from blood loss. Azevado asked him to surrender, but Sainte-Croix sat up and made no reply. Azevado refused to strike a man who was helpless so he bade Sainte-Croix to rise. His opponent did so and took only two steps forward before falling down face first. Azevado again waited for a yield as he poised his sword to cut off his opponent’s head. Duchess Lucrezia stepped in and begged the judge, De Foix, to stop the combat. De Foix, however, stated that despite his respect of the Duchess, he could not break the laws of the duel by doing so. The words of surrender were offered, however, by Sainte-Croix’s second.

Azevado was then escorted to De Foix’s lodging to the sound of trumpets and he was shown great honor. Sainte-Croix, however, was able to take away with him his arms, as Azevado had not done so, as was his right. When Azevado sent for them, however, Sainte-Croix refused to give them up. The judge notified Sainte-Croix that if he did refuse to return the arms to Azevado that De Foix himself would ensure that he would have to return to the field, have the stitches from his wound removed and that the fight would continue with Sainte-Croix in the same condition in which the fight had ended. Suffice to say that Sainte-Croix decided to surrender his arms after a threat from the judge like that.

Another duel was fought in Rome in 1559 with sword and dagger and morion and armpieces. The opponents had previously been good friends but had come to odds. When one of them had been stabbed in the thigh and lost his dagger, the other proclaimed that he would not treat his opponent as an enemy, but as his old comrade-in-arms. The seconds agreed to stop the fight and the men again became good friends.

Another interesting duel occurred in Rome shortly thereafter between two Corsican soldiers. They fought with sword and wore armor consisting of a chainmail vest and a morion, which had affixed to the front of it a short dagger. The reason for the dagger is that the challenged, having choice of weapons, was the weaker man and felt the dagger would help to prevent grappling. Unfortunately, it didn’t do him any good as his opponent grabbed him and threw him to the ground, even though this broke his opponents arm. The daggers on the helms were quickly brought into play as both men inflicted severe wounds on each others face, neck and arms. The seconds decided to stop the fight and a draw was declared. The men reconciled their differences and became friends, but one of the men eventually died from the wounds he received, only a month later, leaving the survivor much grieved.

Next time: A look at some group duels.

Honos Servio,

Lionardo Acquistapace, Barony of Axemoor, Meridies

(mka Lenny Zimmermann, New Orleans, LA)

“A soldier uses arms merely with skill, whereas a knight uses them with virtuous intention.” - Pomponio Torelli, 1596.