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Emancipated duels

Ladies duel
Photo by Pavel Kurmilev

Baroness Lubinska who presided over the famous duel between Princess Pauline Metternich and the Countess Kielmannsegg in 1892, insisted that the duelists remove their clothing above their waists to avoid infection in the event that a sword pushed clothing into the wound it caused. Being a doctor, the baroness had seen many instances of septic infection in soldiers for this very reason throughout her years of medical training.

Some images can be seen with original olution - just click on it

Русская версия

In fact, long before 1892, images with topless and nude female duelists circulated around. Moreover, it is said, women in the Victorian era in Europe fought topless in real duels.

So, the reasons such duels are named “emancipated” are these two:
- It is a duel between two women that involved not only all female principals, but all female seconds and those present.
- The duelists act topless for their own reasonable considerations rather than for entertaining men.

Emancipated duel

The most intriguing duel ever fought between women, took place in August 1892 in Vaduz, the capitol of Liechtenstein, between Princess Pauline Metternich and the Countess Kielmannsegg. It has gone down in history as the first “emancipated duel” (see the title illustration) because all parties involved, including the principals and seconds were female and because the duelists fought topless. The weapon chosen in the duel was sword. In the third round the princess got a cut on her nose. At the same time as the countess was slightly injured in her arm. The seconds (two other noble ladies) then quickly declared the duel ended and Princess Metternich was declared a victor. The reason why the women came to arms in the first place - they disagreed over the floral arrangements for an upcoming musical exhibition. Interestingly, the confrontation was organized and presided over by the Baroness Lubinska, who had a degree in medicine (a rarity for a woman in those days) and was prepared to treat any wounds incurred. Before the proceedings began, the baroness pointed out that many insignificant injuries in duels often became septic due to strips of clothing being driven into the wound by the point of a sword. To counter this danger she prudently suggested that both parties should fight stripped of any garments above the waist. Since there would be no men present to ogle them, their decision to unbutton the tops of their dresses was not sexual; it was simply a way of preventing a duel of first blood from becoming a duel to the death. Certainly, Baroness Lubinska was ahead of her time, taking an even more radical take on the (at the time) widely dismissed theories of British surgeon Joseph Lister, who in 1870 revolutionized surgical procedures with the introduction of antiseptic...

This event made the history as a culmination of feminism and women emancipation, as a proof of courage and aggression inhered in women.

Duel in a garden
Foil Duel

From Drew Hammond's collection

The essence is in the mammaries. Notes by a Collector-fencer Amberger

Even the most explicit 19th-century images in the Amberger Collection don’t even get close to the degree of nudity available in a dentist’s waiting room magazine spread in Europe.

Mastaglio. Duel Probably, it is true that women have rarely fought or dueled, they mostly settled quarrels. But it doesn’t take much to surfing on the net to receive evidence that there are certainly plenty of historical records reporting dueling women. Woman fought, like their male counterparts, over lovers, insults (perceived and real), gossip, and ultimately, for their honor. They fought with all kinds of pistols and a variety of swords and knives. There is a long, long list of dueling women in history.

A lot of depictions with dueling ladies have been appeared since 18th century. Feminists were happy to jump on the emancipatory implications of women usurping the sphere of the patriarchy, its notion of honor and martial resolution of conflict. The most known dueling sequences involving women took place in a women-only environment.

Photographic postcards and, toward the end of the 19th century, stereoscopic views of sword-wielding female nudes were a logical continuation of artistic conventions expressed in drawing, painting, and sculpture. Until the 19th century, however, women’s roles in affairs of honor were pretty much restricted to that of spoilsport - breaking up a fight before it had begun or having hard time, cheering or grieving - depends on the fight result. Typical one: «A pretty girl crying over the mortal coil her lover was about to shuffle». It was only in the late 18th century that the women started taking a more pro-active role in artistic dueling. At least on paper.

Indeed, our collection contains two specimens of stereoscopic views of photographs depicting Emile Bayard’s oil paintings "An Affair of Honor" and "Reconciliation." Published by R.K. Bonine of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, as part of their Art Series ("for the admirers of fine Art works, and particularly for those who have not the opportunity to see the original painting"), we figure the main attraction of the originals and the photographic "3-D" reproductions were two sets of particularly fine mammaries.

Bayard. Duel
Stereographs "An Affair of Honor" and "Reconciliation."

For the fencing historian, this genre has the same value as descriptions of sword fighting in contemporary literature: Small to non-existent. Like in paintings or sculpture, models were posed and arranged for dramatic effect rather than with an eye for authenticity. Indeed, if there’s any documentary value to them at all, it’s mainly to demonstrate how little the average artist knew about fencing and dueling, even in the heyday of these art forms.

Photographic postcards and stereoview cabinet cards often told stories in sequences of up to a dozen scenes. In a way, you could consider them the direct ancestors of the silent movie: Both media had to convey complex action and implied dialogue by posing and gestures. Retelling these stories is made difficult these days, as most specimens circulate as singletons… such as the image above right whose elegant, cheek-revealing lunge represents a scene in the archetypical pattern of offense and challenge, duel, and death with or without reconciliation.

Apart from the obvious voyeuristic attraction inherent in depictions of nude females, there was often a melodramatic if not moralist undercurrent in the picture series. Duels, after all, were frowned upon, especially among the educated classes, and provided never-ending fodder for reverends and preachers to issue tome after tome of anti-dueling literature.

The following story was published in America in 1899, as yet another stereoscopic “3-D” storyboard, this time sans nudity. Weapons used in the photographs are foils, as in the French images above. (The scanning of these old cards is difficult because of the warping of the cardboard stock. Hence, we’ve chosen to show only relevant selections.)

The following incomplete sequence (three images at the right) has more documentary value than most others, inasmuch as it depicts the detailed preparations in the arranging of an affair of honor. Especially interesting, to an old épée fencer and collector like myself, are the dueling weapons selected. (And I have no doubt that feminists will be all-too-happy to jump on the emancipatory implications of women usurping the sphere of the patriarchy, its notion of honor and martial resolution of conflict: All dueling sequences involving women that I’m aware of take place in a women-only environment.)

We’ve seen the full sequence before and are relatively sure that partial frontal nudity, mayhem, and death will ensue, but the three albumen prints that somehow escaped being pasted to cardboard stock are what we have in our collection. Should you have additional images, we’re happy to supplement our story line appropriately… or inappropriately, as the case may be.

Duel 1  Duel 1  Duel 1

Foil Duel
Foil Duel

Mastaglio. Duel
Domenico Mastaglio’s Duel des Femmes, too, got a second wind as postcards and especially colored postcards proliferated.
This specimen dates from 1905.

Duel 1 Duel 2 Duel 3

In addition to the Amberger's collection

We are he supplementing the Amberger's collection with several images with women's duels.

An Affair of Honor
"An Affair of Honor" stereographs. Reprint from the Random Collection

The first postcard shows two women dueling with rapiers. In this image, one woman drives her point home with "the Successful Thrust."
In the next image, "Honor Satisfied", we see the victorious woman standing over her slain opponent. It’s all rather gory, and there is the added scandal of this being two women dueling.

Bayard. Duel Bayard. Duel

Bayard. Duel 1 Bayard. Duel 2
Émile Bayard. "An Affair of Honor" and "Reconciliation"
Oil painting and postcards

Edwardian topless duel
Edwardian women topless fencing (during the reign of Edward VII: 1901-1910)
Artwork by Eva Anner

French Duel French Duel
Women topless fencing postcards. Duel in Bois de Boulogne

Two more postcards (non-topless)

Duel Duel

This material is based on the article "Fencing Nudes: Duel Naked!" by Christoph Amberger in the resource The Secret History of the Sword

April 2013

Nude women dueling. Plate
From the collection of Atstoy

Ivan Myassoedov. Women Duel.
Lady in red - Malvina Vernichi, his civil wife. Lady in blue - one of his models. From the collection of Atstoy

An Affair of Honor, a silent short movie (1901, Lubin Studios)
In the film, a woman is dining with her boyfriend when another woman approaches and begins flirting with the man. The outraged girlfriend challenges the interloper to a duel and the two women fight in front of entertained onlookers.
This theme proved quite popular and the film was remade several times including every episode of The Jerry Springer Show in 1990s during (though sadly, minus the swords).
From the site Old Hollywood

Emancipated duel
Duel between Princess Pauline Metternich and the Countess Kielmannsegg, in Lichtenstein, in 1892.
"Madame, your floral arrangments appals me. I demand satisfaction!"
From the site Friskbiskit

Edwardian topless duel
Topless Edwardian ladies sword fighting club
From the collection of NileCrocodile

Topless duel
Topless duel
Photo by Pavel Kurmilev

>> History of Female Combat

>> History of female warriors and duelists

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