The Last Duel Took Place in France in 1967, and It’s Caught on Film

Another man insults your honor, leaving you no choice but to challenge him to a highly formalized fight to the death: in the 21st century, the very idea strikes us as almost incomprehensibly of the past. And dueling is indeed dead, at least in all the lands that historically had the most enthusiasm for it, but it hasn’t been dead for as long as we might assume. The last recorded duel performed not with pistols but swords (specifically épées, the largest type of swords used in fencing) took place in France in 1967 — the year of the Saturn V and the Boeing 737, the Detroit riots and the Six-Day War, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Summer of Love.

The duelists were Marseilles mayor Gaston Defferre and another politician names Rene Ribière. “After a clash in the National Assembly, Defferre yelled ‘Taisez-vous, abruti!’ at Ribiere and refused to apologize,” writes professional stage-and-screen fight coordinator Jared Kirby. “Ribière challenged and Defferre accepted. The duel took place with épées in a private residence in Neuilly-sur-Seine, and it was officiated by Jean de Lipkowskiin.”

Heightening the drama, Ribière was to be married the following day, though he could expect to live to see his own wedding, Defferre having vowed not to kill him but “wound him in such a way as to spoil his wedding night very considerably.”

You can see the subsequent action of this relatively modern-day duel in the newsreel footage at the top of the post. Defferre did indeed land a couple of touches on Ribière, both in the arm. Ribière, the younger man by twelve years, seems to have taken the event even more seriously than Defferre: he insisted not only on using sharper épées than the ones Defferre originally offered, but on continuing the duel after Defferre first struck him. Lipkowskiin put an end to the combat after the second time, and both Defferre and Ribière went on to live full lives, the former into the 1980s and the latter into the 1990s. Just how considerable an effect Ribière’s dueling injuries had on his wedding night, however, history has not recorded.

via Messy Nessy

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Comments (11)
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  • Armando Gascón says:

    Still years later, in 1971, in Uruguay two retired generals and politicians fought a duel, by pistols.
    Gal. Liber Seregni (left) and Gal. Juan Pedro Ribas (right) shot at each other in front of many other Army officers and witnesses.
    Ribas missed, Seregni shot in the air.

    In 1970 Senator Manuel Flores Mora fought two duels, against Sanguinetti (later President) and against Jorge Batlle, later President also.

    The most famous duel happened in 1919, the President of the Republic José Batlle y Ordóñez and the leader of the oposition and journalist, Washington Beltrán Barbat fought it out, Batlle, a crack shot and dangerous sword fighter killed Beltrán with a shot in the heart.

    Duels have now been outlawed, we live in decadent times, after all better that two political leaders fight for what they believe in the field of honour that the people suffer a revolution, right now in Venezuela if Maduro and Guaidó sorted things out with a duel, it will be a good, humane solution.

  • steph says:

    specificaly “épée” ? That is just the translation of the general word sword. Not specific at all.

  • Wistiu says:

    What? No it isn’t. An Epee is “Specifically ” designed for dueling.

  • Jack Jackson says:

    Check up on that…The épée is one of the three weapons of modern fencing. Thrust only weapon with a triangular, therefore somewhat stiffer, blade. Any part on the entire body is valid.

  • Bobby says:

    Oh no, dear Steph !
    It is not at all what you are thinking…
    It’s not a translation
    An epee is a type of sword 🗡
    It is very long and is used in fencing 🤺 matches.
    The foil, the saber, and the epee are the three blades used in modern fencing.
    The epee requires the most patience. It helps to be tall and lean to be an epee fencer.
    Saber is just slash and burn !
    The foil is the most technical but lightning fast if you ever watch a match… it’s really hard to follow the action unless you know the rules and there are MANY !

  • mike power says:

    Unfortunately, you are utterly mistaken.

  • mike power says:

    NB: My reply was meant for steph

  • Joanne L. Pelletier says:

    Hi! ,new’s of history to remember! “my, birthday is January,18th 1971.

  • Sam Signorelli says:

    Some misconceptions here in the comments.

    1) The word “epee” IS actually French for “sword.” The term was not applied to the sport version of the weapon until the 1880s. Plug “epee” into an online translator and translate it from French to English…you’ll see.

    2) Epees as described in the article WERE, in fact, developed for dueling, as they allowed for honor to be satisfied with a greatly reduced fatality rate. As with the other 2 sport weapons, the modern epee game was developed as a sporting version of a weapon developed for actual combat.

    3) The gents dueling are not using epees in the modern sense….the bell guards are much too small, since the purpose is to protect the hand (they’re typically 13.5 cm wide). What I see in the video are foils…rectangular blade in cross section, much smaller (9cm) bell guard, and lighter than an epee.

    In a sense, the article is correct in saying they’re using epees if the mean a sword in a general sense…it would be just as accurate linguistically if they’d used a sabre, katana, pata, schlager, or any other long-bladed weapon. It’s relative to MODERN usage of the word that the term is wrong, as “epee” now refers to a specific weapon in sport fencing.

  • Walter G Green says:

    These clearly are epees, old ones, but epees nonetheless. The blades of the weapons removed from the sword bag are not rectangular. You can clearly see at around 22 seconds that the distinctive epee fuller is present. I say these are old epees, because the guard is smaller, the blade is center mounted (which generally disappeared after World War II in favor of eccentric mounting), and the pommels are more ornate than in epees of the period after World War II. Guard size, until weapons were standardized by the material rules of the FIE, was always variable depending on the maker of the weapon or the armorer who assembled them. Even today the requirement is only that the guard must be able to pass through a cylinder 13.5 cm in diameter and 15 cm in length. There actually are two epees when we go back to the emergence of the weapon as a sporting weapon the 1880s – the epee of the terrain (the dueling ground) or the epee of combat – both terms were used for the dueling sword, and the epee of the salle, the sport weapon or practice weapon for the duel. In actuality the weapons were identical, the difference being that the nail head was either not formed or was filed off by an armorer to create the dueling sword.

  • David Martineau says:

    10:37 PM Central. Friday, February 4th, 2022. Wow! Who could possibly believe that duels were taking place in my lifetime(I was born in mid-July 1965). What is even more fantastic is that this entire affair was FILMED!!! Like, the Gendarmerie didn’t whip ’round to Monsieur de Lipkowskinn’s place to conduct some serious grilling, or even to try and collar the two parties more directly involved in the matter? I recall seeing a clandestinely-taken photo of a duel involving a South American politician(not Sanguenetti of Uruguay, I’m certain, but someone else. Peru’s Belaunde Terry(I could be wrong). Anyway, quite the story I just saw. The newsreel wasn’t too shabby, either. Thanks loads for it all, you guys. Bye.

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