I went to a book launch the other day. It could be described as a family affair as the author was my cousin, Giles Hunt, and the book was "The Duel".
This was fought in 1809 between George Canning (His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and future Prime Minister) and Lord Castlereagh (His Majesty's Secretary of State for War and the Colonies). One of George Canning's uncles, Stratford, was my great-great-great-great-grandfather: I think I've got that right, one less "great" for cousin Giles.
You need to read the book to find out how these two leading politicians ended up facing each other on Putney Heath at the height of the Napoleonic Wars , and it's an amazing story! But it set me thinking about duelling as a topic we might add to the list of what we have missed (see Richard's recent post), or more positively, what we could add to the roughly 1500 titles Osprey has already done. Not strictly military maybe, but duelling pistols and the skill-at-arms involved (or not, in George Canning's case: "I must cock it for him", said his second, "for I cannot trust him to do it for himself - He has never fired a Pistol in his life.") are close enough to Osprey's mainstream. Add to this an extraordinary honour code, and the protocols of challenging and seconding, pacing out the ground, determining whether one man fired first or that they were to fire simultaneously, or the "satisfaction" that could be arrived at by one or both firing into the air, and we have a rich piece of 18th and early 19th century history.
On September 21, 1809 each had two, supposedly, aimed shots. Castlereagh's second hit Canning in the thigh, fortunately passing straight through and missing both bone and artery. Unlike Canning, Castlereagh had a reputation as a shooter, had "practised with pistols" and "taken the field" at least once. One of the mysteries of this extraordinary affair is why he missed with his first shot and only winged Canning with his second (another is his insane insistence against all evidence that Canning had personally and maliciously besmirched his "Honor and Reputation"). Back to the family, my late uncle John Gleave, a neurosurgeon, examined Castlereagh's available medical history (better qualified than cousin Giles, a priest, to do this), noting that the duel "manifested paranoia, lack of rational judgement, deterioration of moral standards, and, in that he missed, some loss of fine-control movement". His considered opinion was that Lord Castlereagh was suffering from syphilis. The launch was, appropriately, in the Carlton Club , which has portraits of the duellists in the same room and, it is claimed, at the same distance from each other as they stood on Putney Heath. However, the canvases are around twenty paces apart; the duel was actually fought at twelve.