The way we were: duel action

June 21, 2010
A satirical view of Wellington's duel

The English diarist and cricketer Charles Greville writes in his diary, 21st March 1829:

This morning the Duke [of Wellington, then the prime minister] fought a duel with Lord Winchelsea [over the Catholic emancipation bill]… Lord Winchelsea is such a maniac, and has so lost his head, that everybody imagined the Duke would treat what he said with silent contempt. [The Duke] thought otherwise, however, and without saying a word to any of his colleagues or to anybody but Hardinge, his second, he wrote and demanded an apology. After many letters and messages between the parties (Lord Falmouth being Lord Winchelsea’s second) Lord Winchelsea declined making any apology, and they met… at Wimbledon at eight o’clock. There were many people about, who saw what passed. They stood at a distance of fifteen paces. Before they began Hardinge went up to Lords Winchelsea and Falmouth, and said he must protest against the proceeding, and declare that their conduct in refusing an apology when Lord Winchelsea was so much in the wrong filled him with disgust. The Duke fired and missed, and then Winchelsea fired in the air. He immediately pulled out of his pocket the paper which has since appeared, but in which the word “apology” was omitted. The Duke read it and said it would not do. Lord Falmouth said he was not come there to quibble about words, and that he was ready to make the apology in whatever terms would be satisfactory, and the word “apology” was inserted on the ground. The Duke then touched his hat, said “Good morning, my Lords,” mounted his horse, and rode off.

I think the Duke ought not to have challenged him… it was a great error in judgment, but certainly a venial one, for it is impossible not to admire the high spirit which disdained to shelter itself behind the immunities of his great character and station, and the simplicity, and almost humility, which made him at once descend to the level of Lord Winchelsea, when he might, without subjecting himself to any imputation derogatory to his honour, have assumed a tone of lofty superiority and treated him as unworthy of his notice.

Lord Folkestone writes to Thomas Creevey about the duel between George Canning, foreign secretary, and Lord Castlereagh, minister for war, fought over the disastrous Walcheren military expedition 21st September 1809:

I cannot help writing to tell you what a curious scene is going on here. Old Portland [the prime minister] is going both out of the Ministry and out of the world—both very soon, and it is doubtful which first; but the doubt arises from the difficulty of finding a new Premier. Castlereagh is quite gone, and Canning too, and the latter well nigh this morning quitted this sublunary globe, as well as the Foreign Office, for his friend Castlereagh on Wimbledon Common about 7 o’clock this morning as neatly as possible sent a pistol bullet through the fleshy part of his thigh. These heroes have quarrelled and fought about the Walcheren affair. Castlereagh was not touched; Canning’s wound is likely to be very tedious—not dangerous.