IN TWO PARTS.
Duels, as may be seen from the two preceding ballads, are derived from
the times of chivalry. They succeeded to the combat at outrance,
about the end of the sixteenth century; and, though they were no longer
countenanced by the laws, nor considered a solemn appeal to the Deity,
nor honoured by the presence of applauding monarchs and multitudes, yet
they were authorised by the manners of the age, and by the applause of
the fair. [A] They long continued, they even yet continue, to be appealed
to, as the test of truth; since, by the code of honour, every gentleman
is still bound to repel a charge of falsehood with the point of his
sword, and at the peril of his life. This peculiarity of manners, which
would have surprised an ancient Roman, is obviously deduced from the
Gothic ordeal of trial by combat. Nevertheless, the custom of duelling
was considered, at its first introduction, as an innovation upon the law
of arms; and a book, in two huge volumes, entituled Le vrai Theatre
d' Honneur et de la Chivalerie, was written by a French nobleman,
to support the venerable institutions of chivalry against this
unceremonious mode of combat. He has chosen for his frontispiece two
figures; the first represents a conquering knight, trampling his enemy
under foot in the lists, crowned by Justice with laurel, and preceded by
Fame, sounding his praises. The other figure presents a duellist, in
his shirt, as was then the fashion (see the following ballad), with his
bloody rapier in his hand: the slaughtered combatant is seen in the
distance, and the victor is pursued by the Furies. Nevertheless, the
wise will make some scruple, whether, if the warriors were to change
equipments, they might not also exchange their emblematic attendants.
The modern mode of duel, without defensive armour, began about the reign
of Henry III. of France, when the gentlemen of that nation, as we learn
from Davila, began to lay aside the cumbrous lance and cuirass, even in
war. The increase of danger being supposed to contribute to the increase
of honour, the national ardour of the french gallants led them early to
distinguish themselves by neglect of every thing, that could contribute
to their personal safety. Hence, duels began to be fought by the
combatants in their shirts, and with the rapier only. To this custom
contributed also the art of fencing, then cultivated as a new study in
Italy and Spain, by which the sword became, at once, an offensive and
defensive weapon. The reader will see the new "science of defence," as
it was called, ridiculed by Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet, and
by Don Quevedo, in some of his novels. But the more ancient customs
continued for some time to maintain their ground. The sieur Colombiere
mentions two gentlemen, who fought with equal advantage for a whole day,
in all the panoply of chivalry, and, the next day, had recourse to the
modern mode of combat. By a still more extraordinary mixture of ancient
and modern fashions, two combatants on horseback ran a tilt at each
other with lances, without any covering but their shirts.
When armour was laid aside, the consequence was, that the first duels
were very sanguinary, terminating frequently in the death of one, and
sometimes, as in the ballad, of both persons engaged. Nor was this all:
The seconds, who had nothing to do with the quarrel, fought stoutly,
pour se desennuyer, and often sealed with their blood their friendship
for their principal. A desperate combat, fought between Messrs Entraguet
and Caylus, is said to have been the first, in which this fashion of
promiscuous fight was introduced. It proved fatal to two of Henry the
Third's minions, and extracted from that sorrowing monarch an edict
against duelling, which was as frequently as fruitlessly renewed by his
successors. The use of rapier and poniard together, [A] was another cause
of the mortal slaughter in these duels, which were supposed, in the
reign of Henry IV., to have cost France at least as many of her nobles
as had fallen in the civil wars. With these double weapons, frequent
instances occurred, in which a duellist, mortally wounded, threw himself
within his antagonist's guard, and plunged his poniard into his heart.
Nay, sometimes the sword was altogether abandoned for the more sure
and murderous dagger. A quarrel having arisen betwixt the vicompte d'
Allemagne and the sieur de la Roque, the former, alleging the youth and
dexterity of his antagonist, insisted upon fighting the duel in their
shirts, and with their poniards only; a desperate mode of conflict,
which proved fatal to both. Others refined even upon this horrible
struggle, by chusing for the scene a small room, a large hogshead, or,
finally, a hole dug in the earth, into which the duellists descended, as
into a certain grave.—Must I add, that even women caught the phrenzy,
and that duels were fought, not only by those whose rank and character
rendered it little surprising, but by modest and well-born maidens!
Audiguier Traité de Duel. Theatre D' Honneur, Vol. I. [B]
"All things being ready for the ball, and every one being
in their place, and I myself being next to the queen (of France),
expecting when the dancers would come in, one knockt at the door
somewhat louder than became, as I thought, a very civil person. When he
came in, I remember there was a sudden whisper among the ladies, saying,
'C'est Monsieur Balagny,' or, 'tis Monsieur Balagny; whereupon, also,
I saw the ladies and gentlewomen, one after another, invite him to sit
near them; and, which is more, when one lady had his company a while,
another would say, 'you have enjoyed him long enough; I must have him
now;' at which bold civility of theirs, though I were astonished, yet it
added unto my wonder, that his person could not be thought, at most, but
ordinary handsome; his hair, which was cut very short, half grey, his
doublet but of sackcloth, cut to his shirt, and his breeches only of
plain grey cloth. Informing myself of some standers by who he was, I was
told he was one of the gallantest men in the world, as having killed
eight or nine men in single fight; and that, for this reason, the ladies
made so much of him; it being the manner of all French women to cherish
gallant men, as thinking they could not make so much of any one else,
with the safety of their honour."—Life of Lord Herbert of Cherbury,
p. 70. How near the character of the duellist, originally, approached to
that of the knight-errant, appears from a transaction, which took place
at the siege of Juliers, betwixt this Balagny and Lord Herbert. As
these two noted duellists stood together in the trenches, the Frenchman
addressed Lord Herbert: "Monsieur, on dit que vous etes un des plus
braves de votre nation, et je suis Balagny; allons voir qui fera le
mieux." With these words, Balagny jumped over the trench, and Herbert
as speedily following, both ran sword in hand towards the defences
of the besieged town, which welcomed their approach with a storm of
musquetry and artillery. Balagny then observed, this was hot service;
but Herbert swore, he would not turn back first; so the Frenchman was
finally fain to set him the example or retreat. Notwithstanding the
advantage which he had gained over Balagny, in this "jeopardy of war,"
Lord Herbert seems still to have grudged that gentleman's astonishing
reputation; for he endeavoured to pick a quarrel with him, on the
romantic score of the worth of their mistresses; and, receiving a
ludicrous answer, told him, with disdain, that he spoke more like a
palliard than a cavalier. From such instances the reader may judge,
whether the age of chivalry did not endure somewhat longer than is
We learn, from every authority, that duels became nearly as common in
England, after the accession of James VI., as they had ever been in
France. The point of honour, so fatal to the gallants of the age, was no
where carried more highly than at the court of the pacific Solomon
of Britain. Instead of the feudal combats, upon the Hie-gate of
Edinburgh, which had often disturbed his repose at Holy-rood, his
levees, at Theobald's, were occupied with listening to the detail of
more polished, but not less sanguinary, contests. I rather suppose, that
James never was himself disposed to pay particular attention to the laws
of the duello; but they were defined with a quaintness and pedantry,
which, bating his dislike to the subject, must have deeply interested
him. The point of honour was a science, which a grown gentleman might
study under suitable professors, as well as dancing, or any other
modish accomplishment. Nay, it would appear, that the ingenuity of
the sword-men (so these military casuists were termed) might often
accommodate a bashful combatant with an honourable excuse for declining
It appears from a line in the black-letter copy of the
following ballad, that Wharton and Stuart fought with rapier and dagger:
With that stout Wharton was the first
Took rapier and poniard there that day.
Ancient Songs, 1792, p. 204.
This folly ran to such a pitch, that no one was thought
worthy to be reckoned a gentleman, who had not tried his valour in at
least one duel; of which Lord Herbert gives the following instance:—A
young gentleman, desiring to marry a niece of Monsieur Disaucour,
ecuyer to the duke de Montmorenci, received this answer: "Friend, it
is not yet time to marry; if you will be a brave man, you must first
kill, in single combat, two or three men; then marry, and get two or
three children; otherwise the world will neither have gained or lost by
you." HERBERT'S Life, p. 64.
—Understand'st them well nice points of duel?
Art born of gentle blood and pure descent?
Were none of all thy lineage hang'd, or cuckold?
Bastard or bastinadoed? Is thy pedigree
As long, as wide as mine? For otherwise
Thou wert most unworthy; and 'twere loss of honour
In me to fight. More: I have drawn five teeth—
If thine stand sound, the terms are much unequal;
And, by strict laws of duel, I am excused
To fight on disadvantage.—
Albumazar, Act IV. Sc. 7.
In Beaumont and Fletcher's admirable play of A King and no King, there
is some excellent mirth at the expence of the professors of the point of
But, though such shifts might occasionally be resorted to by the
faint-hearted, yet the fiery cavaliers of the English court were but
little apt to profit by them; though their vengeance for insulted honour
sometimes vented itself through fouler channels than that of fair combat
It happened, for example, that Lord Sanquhar, a Scottish nobleman, in
fencing with a master of the noble science of defence, lost his eye by
an unlucky thrust. The accident was provoking, but without remedy; nor
did Lord Sanquhar think of it, unless with regret, until some years
after, when he chanced to be in the French court. Henry the Great
casually asked him, how he lost his eye? "By the thrust of a sword,"
answered Lord Sanquhar, not caring to enter into particulars. The king,
supposing the accident the consequence of a duel, immediately enquired,
"Does the man yet live?" These few words set the blood of the Scottish
nobleman on fire; nor did he rest till he had taken the base vengeance
of assassinating, by hired ruffians, the unfortunate fencing-master. The
mutual animosity betwixt the English and Scottish nations, had already
occasioned much bloodshed among the gentry, by single combat; and James
now found himself under the necessity of making a striking example of
one of his Scottish nobles, to avoid the imputation of the grossest
partiality. Lord Sanquhar was condemned to be hanged, and suffered that
ignominious punishment accordingly.
By a circuitous route, we are now arrived at the subject of our ballad;
for, to the tragical duel of Stuart and Wharton, and to other instances
of bloody combats and brawls betwixt the two nations, is imputed James's
firmness in the case of Lord Sanquhar.
"For Ramsay, one of the king's servants, not long before Sanquhar's
trial, had switched the earl of Montgomery, who was the king's first
favourite, happily because he tooke it so. Maxwell, another of them, had
bitten Hawley, a gentleman of the Temple, by the ear, which enraged the
Templars (in those times riotous, and subject to tumults), and brought
it allmost to a national quarrel, till the king slept in, and took it up
himself.—The Lord Bruce had summoned Sir Edward Sackville (afterward
earl of Dorset), into France, with a fatal compliment, to take death
from his hand. [A] And the much lamented Sir James Stuart, one of the
king's blood, and Sir George Wharton, the prime branch of that noble
family, for little worthless punctilios of honor (being intimate
friends), took the field, and fell together by each others
hand."—WILSON'S Life of James VI. p. 60.
The sufferers in this melancholy affair were both men of high birth, the
heirs apparent of two noble families, and youths of the most promising
expectation. Sir James Stuart was a knight of the Bath, and eldest
son of Walter, first lord Blantyre, by Nicolas, daughter of Sir James
Somerville, of Cambusnethan. Sir George Wharton was also a knight of the
Bath, and eldest son of Philip, lord Wharton, by Frances, daughter of
Henry Clifford, earl of Cumberland. He married Anne, daughter of the
earl of Rutland, but left no issue.
See an account of this desperate duel in the Guardian.
The circumstances of the quarrel and combat are accurately detailed in
the ballad, of which there exists a black-letter copy in the Pearson
Collection, now in the library of the late John duke of Roxburghe,
entitled, "A Lamentable Ballad, of a Combate, lately fought, near
London, between Sir James Stewarde, and Sir George Wharton, knights,
who were both slain at that time.—To the tune of, Down Plumpton Park,
&c." A copy of this ballad has been published in Mr Ritson's Ancient
Songs, and, upon comparison, appears very little different from that
which has been preserved by tradition in Ettrick Forest. Two verses have
been added, and one considerably improved, from Mr Ritson's edition.
These three stanzas are the fifth and ninth of Part First, and the
penult verse of Part Second. I am thus particular, that the reader may
be able, if he pleases, to compare the traditional ballad with the
original edition. It furnishes striking evidence, that, "without
characters, fame lives long." The difference, chiefly to be remarked
betwixt the copies, lies in the dialect, and in some modifications
applicable to Scotland; as, using the words "Our Scottish Knight."
The black-letter ballad, in like manner, terms Wharton "Our English
Knight." My correspondent, James Hogg, adds the following note to this
ballad: "I have heard this song sung by several old people; but all
of them with this tradition, that Wharton bribed Stuart's second, and
actually fought in armour. I acknowledge, that, from some dark hints in
the song, this appears not impossible; but, that you may not judge
too rashly, I must remind you, that the old people, inhabiting the
head-lands (high grounds) hereabouts, although possessed of many
original songs, traditions, and anecdotes, are most unreasonably partial
when the valour or honour of a Scotsman is called in question." I
retain this note, because it is characteristic; but I agree with my
correspondent, there can be no foundation for the tradition, except in
THE DUEL OF WHARTON AND STUART.
It grieveth me to tell you o'
Near London late what did befal,
'Twixt two young gallant gentlemen;
It grieveth me, and ever shall.
One of them was Sir George Wharton,
My good Lord Wharton's son and heir;
The other, James Stuart, a Scottish knight,
One that a valiant heart did bear.
When first to court these nobles came,
One night, a gaining, fell to words;
And in their fury grew so hot,
That they did both try their keen swords.
No manner of treating, nor advice,
Could hold from striking in that place;
For, in the height and heat of blood,
James struck George Wharton on the face.
"What doth this mean," George Wharton said,
"To strike in such unmanly sort?
"But, that I take it at thy hands,
"The tongue of man shall ne'er report!"
"But do thy worst, then," said Sir James,
"Now do thy worst! appoint a day!
"There's not a lord in England breathes
"Shall gar me give an inch of way."
"Ye brag right weel," George Wharton said;
"Let our brave lords at large alane,
"And speak of me, that am thy foe;
"For you shall find enough o' ane!
"I'll alterchange my glove wi' thine;
"I'll show it on the bed o' death;
"I mean the place where we shall fight;
"There ane or both maun lose life and breath!"
"We'll meet near Waltham," said Sir James;
"To-morrow, that shall be the day.
"We'll either take a single man,
"And try who bears the bell away."
Then down together hands they shook,
Without any envious sign;
Then went to Ludgate, where they lay,
And each man drank his pint of wine.
No kind of envy could be seen,
No kind of malice they did betray;
But a' was clear and calm as death,
Whatever in their bosoms lay,
Till parting time; and then, indeed,
They shew'd some rancour in their heart;
"Next time we meet," says George Wharton,
"Not half sae soundly we shall part!"
So they have parted, firmly bent
Their valiant minds equal to try:
The second part shall clearly show,
Both how they meet, and how they dye.
George Wharton was the first ae man,
Came to the appointed place that day,
Where he espyed our Scots lord coming,
As fast as he could post away.
They met, shook hands; their cheeks were pale;
Then to George Wharton James did say,
"I dinna like your doublet, George,
"It stands sae weel on you this day.
"Say, have you got no armour on?
"Have ye no under robe of steel?
"I never saw an English man
"Become his doublet half sae weel."
"Fy no! fy no!" George Wharton said,
"For that's the thing that mauna be,
"That I should come wi' armour on,
"And you a naked man truly."
"Our men shall search our doublets, George,
"And see if one of us do lie;
"Then will we prove, wi' weapons sharp,
"Ourselves true gallants for to be."
Then they threw off their doublets both,
And stood up in their sarks o' lawn;
"Now, take my counsel," said Sir James,
"Wharton, to thee I'll make it knawn:
"So as we stand, so will we fight;
"Thus naked in our sarks," said he;
"Fy no! fy no!" George Wharton says;
"That is the thing that must not be.
"We're neither drinkers, quarrellers,
"Nor men that cares na for oursel;
"Nor minds na what we're gaun about,
"Or if we're gaun to heav'n or hell.
"Let us to God bequeath our souls,
"Our bodies to the dust and clay!"
With that he drew his deadly sword,
The first was drawn on field that day.
Se'en bouts and turns these heroes had,
Or e'er a drop o' blood was drawn;
Our Scotch lord, wond'ring, quickly cry'd,
"Stout Wharton! thou still hauds thy awn!"
The first stroke that George Wharton gae,
He struck him thro' the shoulder-bane;
The neist was thro' the thick o' the thigh;
He thought our Scotch lord had been slain.
"Oh! ever alak!" George Wharton cry'd,
"Art thou a living man, tell me?
"If there's a surgeon living can,
"He'se cure thy wounds right speedily."
"No more of that!" James Stuart said;
"Speak not of curing wounds to me!
"For one of us must yield our breath,
"Ere off the field one foot we flee."
They looked oure their shoulders both,
To see what company was there;
They both had grievous marks of death,
But frae the other nane wad steer.
George Wharton was the first that fell;
Our Scotch lord fell immediately:
They both did cry to Him above,
To save their souls, for they boud die.