A duel?

(Following on from my earlier thoughts about duels, I have taken a quite long and detailed deposition from the files and rather than just pasting it in, I’ve turned it into a first-person narrative in modern English so you can read the story more easily.)

On 26 August 1661, Kenrick Edisbury of Sonlli (Denbighshire), gentleman, was examined by two JPs in relation to the death of Roger Grosvenor, esquire:

On 21 August I was at Chester for a foot race to be run to Wrexham, between a footman of Mr Roger Grosvenor [of Eaton Hall, Cheshire], and a footman called Astyn, formerly my servant, now ‘maintained’ by Mr John Pulford of Wrexham. [NB: The title ‘Mr’ in this period always denotes a man of gentry status.] Shortly before the start of the race, Pulford asked me to ride along with Astyn, and I went to Grosvenor and asked him if I could do so, if Astyn went into the lead, in order to encourage him. Grosvenor answered, ‘Yes, yes, I care not if two or three do ride with him but I will not have a crowd to come between them’.

After the race began, the two runners were together for about half a mile and then Astyn drew ahead by about ‘a stone’s cast’, at which point I asked Grosvenor, ‘Now that the fellow is far enough ahead, may I ride up to him, without prejudice to your footman?’, to which Grosvenor did not object. I rode up to the front, along with Mr Hugh Roberts and Mr Francis Edisbury, my brother. Although we avoided the beaten way to avoid raising dust, about half a mile on Grosvenor sent someone to call back Roberts, saying ‘it was uncivil, unhandsome and not like a gentleman’ to ride in front of Grosvenor’s man and raise the dust. Roberts responded that he was doing no harm and he would not go back.

On being told this, Grosvenor rode up to us and demanded ‘with passionate language’ that Roberts turn back. Roberts refused, and Grosvenor swore he would stop the race, to which Kenrick answered that he could stop his own man if he liked, but Astyn should continue.

Grosvenor went to strike Astyn, who ‘forsook his way’, and Roberts rode between Grosvenor and the footman. Grosvenor struck Roberts with a stick, and then suddenly leapt off his horse and drew his sword. He went up close to Roberts as he sat on his horse, forcing Roberts to dismount from the other side, and go backwards 3 or 4 steps, when he drew his own sword. Grosvenor ‘made a pass upon him’ which Roberts ‘put by’ and they ‘closed’ together.

When I saw the swords drawn, I also dismounted in order to separate them, and came up to them with only my whip in my hand, and thrust my hands between them, saying ‘Enough gentlemen I hope there is no hurt done to you’, to which Grosvenor replyed, ‘Yes, he has wounded me in the belly’. I said, ‘I hope not’. Grosvenor got down on hands and knees, I asked to see his wound, he got up and let down his breeches to show the wound in his belly. Meanwhile another man named Mr Jockut[?] and the footman came up to us, each with a drawn sword. I drew my own sword and stood upon my guard and said, ‘Put up your swords, I fear there is too much hurt done already’, at which they put up their swords and then I left and rode towards Wrexham.

(Francis Edisbury also gave a shorter deposition to the same effect which adds the detail that after Grosvenor and Roberts had been separated, Grosvenor said to Roberts, ‘I wonder you would do so by me’, to which Roberts replied that ‘he was never so much obliged to any as to let him kill him in a humour’. I should probably add the slightly technical detail that in both examinations the words ‘sayeth and confesseth’ were used at the beginning, which usually means that the examinant is under suspicion for something.)

……..

So, was that a ‘duel’? (To be continued…)

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8 Responses to A duel?

  1. Paula Petrik says:

    I think not. This excerpt suggests that the incident was a “rough and tumble” that got out of hand (assault and battery), ending in a death. (Whether the jury will decide on manslaughter or self-defense reamins to be seen.) There don’t seem to be any references to honor and so forth and no calls to stand. The detail referring to dismouting the horse is interesting, suggesting that Roberts was so quickly attacked that he had to get off his horse in a hurry and put the horse between him and his assailant. As I recall, duelling protocol would allow Roberts to dismout in good time and stand. Roberts’ man is winning, and Grovenor doesn’t like it; there must be some circumstance or someone to blame.

  2. Sharon says:

    I’ll just say that I am not at all sure about the outcome of the case. The thing is that I’m not too sure whether the fight took place in Cheshire or in Denbighshire. These examinations were taken in Denbighshire, and have ended up in the Denbighshire files, but there is no coroner’s inquest or record of a trial there. There may well be something in the Cheshire records, but 1661 was not one of the years I included in my samples when I was in the PRO looking at them (and I completely forgot about this case at the time).

    Anyone else agree or disagree with Paula?

  3. It’s an interesting question. Clearly honor, etc., are involved, and a challenge is given and received. Is it possible to argue that this is a duel in substance, but not in form?

  4. By the way — H-net/H-Albion just published a review of Peltonen’s The Duel in Early Modern England. Don’t know if it would be helpful …

  5. Sharon says:

    Yes, the review was originally in my mailbox a month or two back. (It probably helped to get me thinking seriously about the subject.) Although it’s very much cultural/intellectual history, his work seems (from the reviews, and online sampling and the HJ article) to be vastly better than anything else of that kind that I’ve read so far. I haven’t quite round to buying the book yet, but it’s at the top of my To Buy list.

    For anyone interested, the review is here: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=154241125079576

  6. Zebee Johnstone says:

    I didn’t see it mentioned in your list of books, Frederick Bryson wrote “Honor and the duel in sixteenth-century
    Italy: an aspect of the life of the gentleman” which might be of use.

    It’s more or less an expansion of his PhD thesis. It has a lot about how honour was viewed, and while I don’t recall it explicitly touching on masculinity, it does shed light on it.

    It is an older book – the thesis is dated 1933 – but I don’t think that should be held against it.

  7. Sharon says:

    Thanks, Zebee. It’s on my list to read at some point, but I forgot to make a note of it here. It’s not easy to get hold of, unfortunately, and I can’t get a copy locally.

  8. Pingback: Early Modern Notes » Thinking about duels and violent gentlemen

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