We all know that the safe and thrilling sport fencing that we know and love today grew out of the art of swordfighting. On this Valentine’s Day, we’d like to walk you through some of the great sword duels of the past that weren’t for points, but were instead for love! These stories showcase just how fierce sword battles could be, but take note that swordfighting duels (unlike duels involving guns) were generally not fatal, but those that gained a great deal of fame were more likely to end unfortunately for one or the other.

Count Bertazzoli vs. Signor Calderoni

Year: 1891

Place: Lugo, Italy

Count Bertazzoli and Signor Calderoni were both in love with the same woman in Lugo, Italy around the turn of the 20th century. The two men agreed to settle their differences and determine who would win the hand of the maiden with a duel in the woods near the city, without seconds (those are basically backups who also negotiate and try to keep duels from happening). The men, for unknown reasons, decided to forgo the traditional swords and use daggers instead. Can you imagine swordfighting with daggers? Apparently it wasn’t too easy, because the fight went on for an astonishing forty-five minutes according to the people watching.

The men kept on fighting until neither one could stand any longer, as they were both suffering from serious wounds. In the end, both were taken to local hospitals for treatment and neither one won the duel or got the girl. The duel was reported in the local paper, the Pall Mall Gazette (a British newspaper), on October 30th, 1891.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan vs. Captain Thomas Matthews

Year: 1772

Place: London, England

Irish poet and playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan found himself madly in love with Elizabeth Ann Linley, one of the most noted and celebrated soprano singers in Europe. Captain Thomas Matthews wasn’t impressed with Elizabeth, and wrote a disparaging newspaper article about her that resulted in the two men dueling over her honor not just once, but TWICE!

The first time the two met for a duel, the fought in London in the famed Hyde Park, a place where lots of duels had taken place. However the popularity of the spot proved to be too much and the crowds drove the men to another nearby location. This first duel wasn’t a bloody one, but that’s only because Captain Matthews lost his sword! He had to beg Sheridan not to kill him, which would of course have been legal under the rules of dueling. Matthews signed a retraction and apologized for the comments about Elizabeth Linley and loved seemed to rule the day.

But it didn’t last long.  Matthews was embarrassed by his loss, and when the apology was made public he challenged Sheridan to duel again! The two met again in London a short time later in July near Bath, where they had a much bloodier bout. Though both men did live to tell the tale, Matthews used the hilt of his sword to repeatedly strike Sheridan in the face. Sheridan was bloodied and bruised, having to be carried off the field of battle with a piece of Matthews’ sword still in his ear! Captain Matthews made off in a carriage after the battle, but the poet won in the end as he married his lady love and went on to become famous for his words.

Image credit: National Gallery of Art

Richard Sheridan may not have known his way around a sword, but his words are pretty romantic, and of course no one could accuse him of not being brave!  Here’s one of his most famous love poems for this Valentine’s Day:

Had I a heart for falsehood framed

Had I a heart for falsehood framed,
I ne’er could injure you;

For though your tongue no promise claimed,

Your charms would make me true:

To you no soul shall bear deceit,

No stranger offer wrong;

But friends in all the aged you’ll meet,

And lovers in the young.

For when they learn that you have blest

Another with your heart,

They’ll bid aspiring passion rest,

And act a brother’s part;

Then, lady, dread not here deceit,

Nor fear to suffer wrong;

For friends in all the aged you’ll meet,

And lovers in the young.

Karol Cizewski vs. Walery Lozinski

Year: 1861

Place: Lviv, Ukraine

Walery Lozinski, a polish author and journalist, was ready to marry the love of his life Aniela Przylecka. However his dreams of a peaceful life together were dashed when his close friend Karol Ciszewzki met his fiancé and immediately fell in love with her. Ciszewzki professed his love to Aniela in the hopes of her returning his affection. Lozinski found out about his friend’s betrayal and the two writers fought one another passionately in print, slandering one another in the press mercilessly.

Before long, the battle spilled off of the page and onto the battlefield, when Lozinski challenged his former friend to a sabre duel. The men met on a cold winter day near the Citadel, where they were to face one another for the final word in the love of this smart and beautiful woman. Lozinski was shorter and had poor eyesight, but he did manage to get the first blow in. The wound wasn’t enough to end the battle, and the second blow of the bout came from Ciszewzki, who slashed his countryman’s face. Despite quick medical attention, Lozinski died from his wounds several days later. Ciszewzki was charged with the murder of his former friend, though he was later acquitted. He never did get the girl though, as he died not long after, interestingly from an infection that came from the infection in a wound from another earlier duel.

Image credit: Europe Between East and West

Isabella de Carazzi vs. Diambra de Pettinella

Year: 1552

Place: Naples, Italy

Love and dueling isn’t just for men! Isabella de Carazzi and Diambra de Pettinella were both deeply in love with Fabio de Zeresola. This young man was perhaps the most sought after bachelor in the 16th century, and many women were caught under his spell. The outcome of this famous duel is lost to history, but we do know that the women met with their swords in front of the Spanish viceroy in Naples and that there was a large crowd there to witness the bout. The event was celebrated among gossip circles for decades, culminating in the Spanish artist Jose de Ribera creating a famous painting of the incident called “Duelo de Mujeres” or “Duel of Women” in 1636. You can see the painting below!

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

These four famous fencing duels for love remind us just how powerful those emotions are! May we all have the chance to fall deeply in love, but not to the point of drawing a sword. Happy Valentine’s Day!