Aerial Aggression–The Odd Story of the Paris Balloon Duel of 1808

An example of a 19th century balloon.

An example of a 19th century balloon.

Dueling was something of a hobby among fashionable fellows of the 18th and early 19th centuries. While today it might seem crazy, to people of those times it seemed like a viable way for gentlemen to solve their differences. In fact, when laws began to be considered banning the practice, defenders came forward claiming that the violent confrontations actually decreased violence, as it gave a very formal outlet for what could well become indiscriminate violence.

Despite having set rules and procedures, sometimes duels could get very weird. Typically duels were fought with swords or pistols, but in one case from 1808, the opponents took to the skies to solve a conflict as old as humanity.

Two men fighting over a woman. From mopey teen love stories about vampires and werewolves to anime to high dramas, it’s a common trope in fiction, probably because it happens so often in reality. The quarrel between M. Granpree and M. Le Pique that led to one of the weirdest duels in history resulted from that very basic conflict. The lovely Mademoiselle Tirevit, an opera dancer no less, was “kept” by Granpree but discovered in a dalliance with Le Pique.

To solve the issue, the two agreed to duel. For some reason, they agreed this duel should take place in balloons. On May 3rd, crowds gathered, curious to see what they thought would be a balloon race. What they saw instead was Granpree and Le Pique and their seconds climb into baskets suspended beneath the balloons, each armed with a blunderbuss (a sort of 19th century shotgun).

At 9am, the cords were cut. The balloons hovered to a height of about 900 yards above the city, and were about 80 yards apart. Le Pique fired first, but his shot went wide. Granpree returned the fire, and his shot tore a hole in his adversaries balloon. Le Pique’s balloon plummeted to the earth, and the wayward lover and his assistant met their ends on the roof of a house. Granpree landed about seven leagues away, his honor restored.

 

Sources:

“The First Duel Fought in Hot Air Balloons—Paris, 1808.” BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk. August 24, 2012. The British Newspaper Archive. August 16, 2014. http://blog.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/2012/08/24/the-first-duel-fought-in-hot-air-balloons-paris-1808/

 

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