An 18th Century Duel

Duels  (although technically illegal) were very popular in the 18th Century due to their association with honour and manliness. One such event of this type occurred on the morning of the 15th November 1711 at the Ring, Hyde Park London the offended parties being James, 4th Duke of Hamilton and Baron Mahon. They had been bitter enemies for years partly because they were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, Lord Hamilton a Tory and Lord Mahon, a violent dissipated man by all accounts, a Whig. However it is generally  agreed  that what they were really fighting about was money!

In 1702 the 3rd Earl of Macclesfield died leaving a huge estate – Ld Mahon believed it was his because he had been made the heir to the 2nd Earl, Ld Hamilton because his wife was related to the Earl.  In the years following the Earl’s death both claimants had fought a legal case in the Court of Chancery and patience had run thin. Whatever the reason observers at the time recounted how insults had been traded between the two aristocrats and this had led to the fence off! When they met there were of course two ‘seconds’ – Colonel Hamilton (a relative) for the Duke and General MacCartney for the Baron. So after the usual preliminaries the fight started but what was unusual for the time in England ( but common in France) was that the two seconds also fought! What followed was in many respects unclear but a passing man witnessed the Duke drag the Baron to the ground and skewer him. However when the duel had ended the Duke was also dead and in the resulting investigation MacCartney was accused of killing him. MacCartney fled to the Continent as accounts unravelled before the public but eventually he returned to stand trial  and was acquitted due to lack of evidence.

The duel became notorious and was described in Thackeray’s ‘The history of Henry Esmond’ and Bernard Burke’s ‘Anecdotes of the Aristocracy’. There is also a more modern book which analyses the events surrounding the duel: ‘High Life, Low Morals’ by Victor Slater (pub. 1999).

I have been unable to find out who eventually did inherit Macclesfield’s money although it is highly likely that most of it went on attorney’s fees !



Author: coverstory2017

I am retired having had careers as a lecturer and then supporting people with learning disabilities. I love history, poetry and dogs. Politically I am what I would call a left wing Conservative and although I am not religious I find its mysticism fascinating, especially with regard to the Catholic faith.

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