by Rob Morgan
I’ve just been reading The Duel: A History of the Art of Duelling, written by Robert Baldick and published as long ago as 1965. It is long out of print, but there are a few on eBay, etc. It started a train of thought.
Duelling is virtually non-existent now of course, though one might suspect that the resolution by agreed force of insult or contempt may still be found on the fringes of certain societies, even in Europe. The judicial duel, the trial by combat, which had its origins in early medieval Burgundy, was long extinct by the Age of Enlightenment, but far into the modern period the duel was still to be found.
Military duelling remained a serious problem for armies and commanders well into the nineteenth century. At least one of Bonaparte’s generals killed another, and, during the Hundred Days, two veteran French generals fought two duels on consecutive days, but both survived!
Remember that brilliant film The Duellists?
Even as late as 1870, Prince Bonaparte killed a popular journalist in a duel and Baldick contends that this act was in some way instrumental in turning Frenchmen against the regime. Duels, says the author, seem regularly to have got in the way of some officers’ duties to the state and every European country, with the exception of Iceland, enforced laws to prohibit duels, which were fought with an astonishing array of weapons!
So, does the duel have a place in wargames?
Yes, I think it does. A commander, at almost any level from company to corps (pun!) can be given a rank or skill level at duelling with sword or pistol; let’s not stray into the realms of duelling from hot-air balloons, or with blunderbusses and even poisoned sausages.
The fatal outcome, even the wounding or incapacity of an officer, might have significant repercussions for a unit for a planned attack, a specialist task or a garrison’s survival under siege possibly, while the winner might suffer recall, banishment, or even death. Naturally, there is the inevitability of a significant morale effect on the regiment or corps!
Duels on the table-top? Why not? Worth a little more thought…