Duels were a popular way to settle insults in the eighteenth century. One famous duel involved Louis XVI’s younger brother, the Count of Artois, and his cousin, the Louis Henri of Bourbon-Condé (known as the Duke of Bourbon). The incident began with an insult during a masked ball on Shrove Tuesday in 1778 where attendees likely included such people as the Marie Antoinette, the Princesse de Lamballe, and the Duchess of Polignac.
Madame Carrillac had been mistress to the Duke of Bourbon, but she left the Duke for the Count of Artois. In addition, the Duke’s wife, the Duchess of Bourbon had feelings for the Count of Artois. One night at a masked ball the Count offered his arm to Madame Carrillac, and the Duchess of Bourbon, who was upset about Madame Carrillac, recognized the Count and Madame Carrillac. She then began following the pair spewing sarcastic remarks at Madame Carrillac.
When confronted, Madame Carrillac was annoyed and attempted to escape through the crowd. She was facilitated in her escape by the Count, and, it was at this point that Duchess of Bourbon tried to rip off the Count’s mask, snapping the mask’s strings. The Count, in defending himself, fought back, and, forgetting his position, he rudely crushed the Duchess’ mask on her face and then fled the ballroom.
The incident would have been forgotten if not for a grand supper that the Duchess gave two days later. At the supper she mentioned the masked ball and the insult she received from the Count of Artois. In addition, she accused the Count of being nothing more than a ruffian, which in turn whipped up all the women at court that the Count of Artois had ever offended. They supported the Duchess and denounced the Count’s actions, and, despite his rank, the women encouraged the Duchess to receive satisfaction, which then fell to her husband to call out him for his supposed offense.
In the meantime, Louis XVI heard about the incident and summoned the guilty parties — the Duke and Duchess of Bourbon and the Count of Artois. At the time, the Count attempted to explain, but Louis XVI immediately silenced him. The King announced that the incident was dead and should not be spoken of again. However, the King’s decree did not sit well with the Duchess or with the other women at court. They wanted satisfaction and they continued to gossip and spread rumors about the incident.
Eventually, because the rumors would not die, the Duke of Bourbon became convinced he needed to duel the Count, despite the fact he was not jealous of the relationship between Madame Carrillac and the Count. The Duke also felt that a duel was a matter of etiquette and became convinced it was the only way to avenge his wife’s honor. Thus, on the appointed day at the appointed time, the Duke arrived in the forest of Bois de Boulogne to duel with the Count, who appeared with his sword in hand.
Words between the two cousins passed. The Count said, “Sir, it i said that you and I are looking for each other?” The Duke replied “I am here, Sir, to receive your commands.” The Count then responded, and the two combatants put their swords under their arms and walked to the designated spot conversing as they went with their seconds following close behind.
The men then reached the appointed spot:
“They were on the point of commencing the combat, when the Duke de Bourbon, addressing the Prince, said, ‘Perhaps, Sir, you do not observe that you stand n a very unfavourable position, as the sun is directly in your eyes.’ ‘Right,’ said the Prince, ‘there is as yet little or no foliage on the trees, and the sun is inconvenient; – we shall, however, not find a shady place.’ Accordingly, each put his naked sword under his arm, and they walked to the proposed spot, side by side, and conversing together.”
The combatants now took off their coats and crossed swords but waited for the other to make the first move. At last several lunges were exchanged. The Count of Artois, red-faced and perspiring, saw the Duke stagger as one of his lunges passed under the Duke’s arm. The seconds thinking the Duke had been wounded, begged the parties to stop, and, with that, the men offered each other kind words and heartily embraced one another.
Neither combatants was the worse for their brief and bloodless duel, and, in the end, the duel helped to cement and repair the relationship between the cousins. However, while there may have been no hard feelings between the two combatants, the King was livid the men had disobeyed him, and, in response, he exiled both men for a week: The Count was sent to Choisy and the Duke to Chantilly. As for the Duchess, she received satisfaction too. The Count of Artois went to her and profusely apologized for “raising a hand against a woman.”
-  Hone, William, Full Annals of the Revolution in France, 1830, 1830, p. 228.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid., p. 228-229.
-  Steinmetz, Andrew, The Romance of Duelling in All Times and Countries, 1868, p. 271.