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.
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.