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.294 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.
294 “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 generally supposed.]
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,295 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.296
295 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.]
296 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.]
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 the combat:
— 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 honour.
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.297 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.
297 See an account of this desperate duel in the Guardian.]
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.
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 national partiality.
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.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00