In Europe, the Russian duel was called "barbarism" and "legalized form of murder." The fact is that if in Europe the period of “dueling fever” was associated with battles with edged weapons, then in Russia preference was given to more deadly firearms.
In Europe in the first half of the 19th century, the Russian duel was called "barbarism" and "legalized form of murder."
All the evil from "minions"
The tradition of dueling in Russia is imported. Despite the fact that since ancient times in Russia there was a tradition of both judicial duels to resolve disputes and duels before the battles of the troops, it has nothing to do with the duel we now know.
In Western Europe, the duel as a way to protect the honor of a nobleman appeared in Italy in the 15th century and began to spread very quickly to other countries. By the beginning of the 16th century, the duel was quite common for the nobility of Western Europe. At the same time, the lower limit of the age of the participants in the fight dropped to 14 years.
Despite the fact that since the 16th century both monarchs and the church prohibited dueling, Europe experienced a phenomenon known as “dueling fever”.
On April 27, 1578, one of the most famous duels in history took place in the Parisian park Tournelle - the “duel of the minions”. It was a three-on-three duel between the associates of King Henry III of France (minions) and supporters of the Duke of Guise (Guizars). As a result of the duel, four of the six participants in the duel were killed.
Despite the official ban on duels, the French monarch did not punish the survivors, and ordered the dead to be buried in luxurious mausoleums and put marble statues on them.
This attitude towards the “minion duel” led to a surge in the popularity of duels and even to the emergence of professional duelists who earned fame for themselves by endless duels. In this case, any trifle, a disliked look or a dispute over clothes could become the reason for a duel.
A minion is a member of the king's retinue. The word mignonne is translated from French as "tiny". Since the 16th century, this word has been called the favorites of the royal person. In English, the borrowed word minion is more neutral, it means a devoted servant.
Peter the Great: hang those killed in duels by their feet!
At the height of the European "dueling fever" in Russia, complete calm reigned in this sense. The first duel here took place only in 1666. The rivals were the future general of Peter I Patrick Gordon and another mercenary officer, Major Montgomery.
In 1682, Princess Sophia signed a decree allowing servicemen to carry personal weapons, accompanied by a ban on duels.
In the popular film “Arap of Peter the Great”, the monarch-reformer expresses his readiness to accept a challenge to a duel for his pupil. In reality, Peter the Great, despite his commitment to European culture, had an extremely negative attitude towards duels.
One of the chapters of the Petrine Military Regulations of 1715 for a challenge to a duel provided for punishment in the form of deprivation of rank and partial confiscation of property, for entering a duel and drawing weapons - the death penalty with complete confiscation of property, not excluding seconds.
The “Military Article”, which was an explanation of the provision of the Military Regulations, confirmed the “most severe prohibition” of challenges and fights. Moreover, hanging was envisaged even for those who... died in a duel. Their corpses were ordered to be hung by the feet.
“Legitimized form of murder”
However, until the second half of the 18th century, duels in Russia did not take on a mass character. However, under Catherine II, they are becoming an increasingly popular way to sort things out, especially among young people brought up in a European spirit.
In 1787, Catherine the Great, alarmed by what was happening, issued a "Manifesto on fights." In it, duels were called "foreign planting"; the participants in the duel, which ended bloodlessly, were punished with a fine (not excluding seconds), and the offender, “like a violator of peace and tranquility,” was exiled to Siberia for life. For wounds and murder in a duel, it was appointed as a similar criminal offense.
But nothing helped. The first half of the 19th century was the peak period for the Russian duel. At the same time, in Europe, where this tradition began to decline, the Russian duel was called "barbarism" and "legalized form of murder."
The fact is that if in Europe the period of “dueling fever” was associated with battles with edged weapons, then in Russia preference was given to firearms, which led to serious outcomes many times more often.
"Noble" duel took the life of Pushkin
In Russia there was a rather diverse list of duels.
The most common was the so-called "mobile duel with barriers." A “distance” (10-25 steps) was marked on the path, its boundaries were marked with “barriers”, which could be any objects placed across the path. Opponents were placed at an equal distance from the barriers, holding pistols in their hands with the muzzle up. At the command of the manager, the opponents began to converge - to move towards each other. It was possible to go at any speed, it was forbidden to move back, you could stop for a while. Having reached his barrier, the duelist had to stop. The order of shots could be negotiated, but more often they fired on readiness, in random order. According to Russian rules, after the first shot, the opponent who had not yet fired had the right to demand that the opponent go to his barrier and thus be able to shoot from a minimum distance. The famous expression "To the barrier!" just means such a requirement.
A duel from a distance of 15 steps was considered "noble", because the option of a fatal outcome in this case was not so likely. However, Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin was mortally wounded in a duel with 20 steps.
“To the death” duel
Unlike Europe, in Russia there were types of duels that terrified residents of other countries. For example, a duel "for six steps": with this option, the opponents were located at a distance that provides a guaranteed hit. A duel of this kind often ended in the death of both participants.
Sometimes a variant of this duel was used, in which one pistol was loaded, the duelists received weapons by lot, after which both pulled the trigger. In this case, the "unlucky" was practically doomed to death.
In Europe, by the beginning of the 19th century, there were no types of duels that provided for the obligatory death of one of the participants. In Russia, there were types of duels "to the death." One of these was the duel on the edge of the abyss - the wounded in the duel fell into the abyss and died.
Gradation according to the degree of insults
The reason for the duel was the damage done to the honor of the victim, as well as the honor of his family. In certain circumstances, the call could also occur for insulting the honor of third parties who provide patronage to the caller.
The reason for the duel could not be the infliction of any material damage. In addition, filing a complaint with the authorities deprived the offended of the right to demand satisfaction with the help of a duel.
There was a whole gradation of insults, according to which the insulted person received the right to demand certain conditions of the duel.
It is curious that an insult inflicted on a woman was considered one step more serious than a similar one, but inflicted on a man.
Satisfaction could also be demanded from a woman who offended a nobleman - however, such an insult was estimated two steps lower than a similar one inflicted by a man. In any case, it would be the offender's relative, not herself, who would have to answer the call.
Fight with witnesses, but without spectators
seconds will be sent. Further, the offended could either send a written challenge (cartel), or challenge the offender to a duel orally, through seconds. The maximum period for a call under normal conditions was considered a day. Delaying with a challenge was considered bad form.
There was another important rule that said: "One insult - one challenge." If a certain insolent person insulted several people at once, only one offended person could call him to a duel. Preference was given to the one who got the most gross insult.
It was considered extremely unethical to turn a duel into a spectacle. In addition to the duelists, the duel was attended by seconds and a doctor. The presence of friends and relatives of the participants was possible but not encouraged.
At a predetermined time, usually in the morning, opponents, seconds and a doctor arrived at the appointed place.
One party was allowed to be 15 minutes late. A longer delay was considered avoiding a duel and meant dishonor.
The duel usually started 10 minutes after everyone arrived. Opponents and seconds greeted each other with a bow.
From among the seconds, a duel manager was appointed, who supervised all actions.
Heavily offended shoots first
The steward offered the duelists to reconcile for the last time. In case of refusal of the parties, he voiced the rules of the duel. The seconds marked the barriers and loaded the pistols (if the duel was with the use of firearms). The rules of the duel required the participants in the duel to empty all their pockets.
Seconds took places parallel to the battle line, doctors - behind them. All actions were performed by the opponents at the command of the manager.
If during a duel with swords one of them dropped his sword, or it broke, or the combatant fell - his opponent was obliged to interrupt the duel at the command of the steward until his opponent got up and was not able to continue the duel.
In a duel with pistols, the degree of insult inflicted was of great importance. If the insult was medium or heavy, then the offended person had the right to shoot first, otherwise the right of the first shot was determined by lot.
Right to Substitution
The rules of a duel allowed the replacement of a participant by a person representing his interests. This was possible if it was a woman, a minor, a man over 60 years old, or having an illness or injury that puts him in a clearly unequal position with the enemy.
The honor of a woman could be defended either by a man from among the closest blood relatives, or a husband, or a companion (that is, one who accompanied the woman at the time and place where the insult was inflicted), or, on the expression of such desire, any man who was present at the insult or later learned about it and considers it necessary for himself to stand up for this woman.
At the same time, only a woman who had impeccable behavior from the point of view of social norms could receive the right to defend her honor. If the lady managed to become famous for her excessively free behavior, the challenge in her defense was not considered valid.
Surviving duelists became friends
Dueling rules forbade fights with close relatives, which included sons, fathers, grandfathers, grandchildren, uncles, nephews, brothers. Duels with cousins and second cousins were considered quite acceptable.
If, as a result of the duel, both opponents remained alive and conscious as a result, then they were supposed to shake hands, the offender - to apologize (in this case, the apology no longer offended his honor, since it was considered restored by the duel, but were a tribute to common courtesy). At the end of the duel, honor was considered restored, and any claims of opponents to each other about the former insult were invalid.
It was believed that the duelists who survived the battle should have become friends, or at least continue to maintain normal relations. The repeated challenge of the same person to a duel was possible only in the most extraordinary cases.
How Minister Vannovsky staged a renaissance of the Russian duel
For almost the entire 19th century, Russian monarchs passed laws aimed at banning duels. Emperor Nicholas I said: “I hate the duel. This is barbarism. In my opinion, there is nothing knightly in it. The Duke of Wellington destroyed her in the English army and did well." At the same time, he significantly reduced the responsibility for duels. Approved in 1845, the "Code of Criminal Punishments" completely exempted seconds and doctors from liability, and the participants in the duel were threatened with 6 to 10 years in prison with the preservation of noble rights.
In practice, the punishment was even more lenient - most often the perpetrators, even in a deadly duel, were limited to several months in prison and a slight reduction in rank. By the end of the 19th century, the popularity of duels in Russia began to decline. However, in 1894, at the suggestion of the Minister of War, Pyotr Vannovsky, in order to strengthen morale in the army, duels were not only legalized, but in some cases became mandatory for officers.
The logical result was a sharp increase in the number of duels. If in the period from 1876 to 1890 in Russia only 14 cases of officer duels came to court, then in 1894-1910 322 duels took place. At the same time, over 250 of them were held by decision of the courts of officer honor, which were given the right to appoint fights. Unauthorized duels, without the permission of the chiefs, turned out to be only 19, and not a single participant was held accountable.
Of the 322 duels of this period, 315 took place with pistols and only 7 with melee weapons. Most of the fights of 1894-1910 ended in bloodless or light wounds, and only 30 ended in death or serious wounds of the duelists.
Rifle duels: how Russian emigrants died
At the beginning of the 20th century, duels fought not only the military, but also politicians, as well as cultural figures. The leader of the Union of October 17, Alexander Guchkov, was an avid duelist, the duel between the poets of the Silver Age Nikolai Gumilyov and Maximilian Voloshin is known.
The institute of Russian duel ceased to exist after the October Revolution of 1917, along with other attributes of a class society.
In the White Army, and then among the Russian emigration, until the 1930s, another original type of duel was popular - a duel on Mosin rifles. At the same time, the lethal force of this weapon made a lethal outcome almost inevitable. For desperate people, such a duel became a kind of “noble” way of suicide.
Reconstruction of the classical Russian duel with noble swords.
Film Duelist (2016) - trailer