“Put up your sword." - the infamous “Duel of the Mignons” in 1578

27 April 1578 in Paris, the infamous “Duel of the Mignons” was fought between the dainty ones of King Henry III near Porte Saint Honoré.
“Put up your sword. If this young gentleman / Have done offence, I take the fault on me: / If you offend him, I for him defy you.“ (William Shakespeare) 

An imagination of the duel that appeared in “Paris illustré” in 1885

Trial by battle and single combat were not that much of grey prehistory in the late 16th century and the toxic atmosphere in France during the Wars of Religion gave plenty of reason for duels, beyond personal defamation, and more than 4,000 men slaughtered each other on the field of honour between 1575 and 1625. The partisans of King Henry III and the Duke of Guise in their rivalry for power might have had, not unusual for the days of the High Renaissance, a classical antique idea for going at each others’ throats over a minor slight, the Battle of the Horatii and the Curatii. Livy hands down the story of triplets from Rome and Alba Longa who fought it out to settle a war between the two cities during the 7th century BCE. And thus, three of the current favourites of the king and three of the discarded ones, now the Duke’s men, decided that Jacques de Lévis remark about a lady of Charles de Balzac’s acquaintance being “rather fair than chaste” called for blood – not because of the said lady’s honour but for de Balzac’s implied dealings with loose females.

Jaques-Louis David and Anne-Louis Girodet:" The Oath of the Horatii" (1784)

Not that the reputation of the King’s “Mignons”, his dainty ones, wasn’t bad enough already. Generally regarded as effeminate, overly well-dressed, bejewelled and scented, reputed of various affairs with men and women, most of the current and the ex-Mignons were nonetheless battle-hardened veterans and all of them had been in the wars. The duel itself was supposed to be fought between de Lévis and Balzac, de Maugiron and d’Arcès volunteered to be the seconds of the King’s darling while d’Aydie and de Schomberg accompanied de Balzac. The meeting was arranged to take place at 5’o clock in the morning and as soon as the duellers and their seconds arrived at the Marché aux Chevaux a general melee broke out and all of the men went each other, even though the seconds were actually supposed to be there to ensure a fair fight only.

Well dressed monarch with Gascon custom at his court: King Henry III of France
(portrait by François Clouet (1510 - 1572))

All of them really meant business. Schomberg was killed on the spot by d’Arcès who was disfigured from a blow to the head for the rest of his life, Maugiron was dispatched by Aydie who succumbed to his injuries on the following day, de Lévis received 19 blows from Balzac’s sword and it took him a month to die with the King allegedly never leaving his side in hospital. He complaint though that the fight was a bit unfair since he had forgot his dagger and Balzac took advantage of that. Balzac himself was the only one who came off with only a light wound and could pursue Guise’s interests and fair, unchaste females until his death in 1599. The general public was horrified about the duel that ended in a battle royal, speaking of Russian or even Gascon customs among the courtiers that underlined the point of King Henry’s enemies of their monarch’s unfitness for ruling France.

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