Emmanuel Barthelemy and the Last Fatal Duel in England

Emmanuel Barthelemy was born in 1823 and came from Sceaux Hauts-de-Seine, on the outskirts of Paris. He had a magnetic personality and revolution in his blood practically from birth. He became a member of a society that existed during the reign of Louis Phillipe I known as the Blanquist, which was based on a theory by Louis Auguste Blanqui that socialist revolution should be carried out by a relatively small group of highly organized and secretive conspirators.

Friend of Emmanuel Barthelemy - Blanqui

Louis Auguste Blanqui. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

While involved with Blanqui, the hot-tempered teenager was arrested in 1839 for his involvement in a coup led by Blanqui and Armand Barbès with the Société des saisons (Society of Seasons). Barthelemy shot sergent de ville (a new national guard) in an attempt to kill him but didn’t succeed. He was arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to forced labor as a galley convict. Some eight years later, in 1847, he was released from prison during a general amnesty.

He got out just in time to be involved in an uprising staged by the workers of France from 23 to 26 June 1848, known as the June Days Uprising. During it, Parisians erected barricades and fought against the government. Barthelemy was in thick of the action because he commanded insurrectionists that manned a barricade blocking the Rue de la Grange-aux-Belles. He later reported:

“We remained as five only to repel the combined efforts of the Line, the Mobile Guard, and the National Guard. This moment was terrible, we heard only the noise of the gunfire and the whistling of bullets past our heads. At the end of about a quarter of an hour, we were only two combatants, two of our comrades were killed and another wounded. … We remained thus for more than two hours and it was only after having entirely used up our ammunition and that of our dead comrades that we withdrew, carrying our wounded; we left the dead on the field of battle.”[1]

Afterwards, Emmanuel Barthelemy fought on his own. He was eventually arrested, convicted, and imprisoned at the Conciergerie but somehow escaped to London around 1850, the same year that the famous wax sculptor Madame Tussaud died there. In London, Barthelemy continued to be involved in politics and became a prominent and well-known follower of Blanqui’s. Barthelemy also became involved with Blanqui, Eugene Sue, and others in producing a journal, Les Veillees du Peuple, that was a newspaper for the socialist democracy. However, despite his involvement and allegiance to Blanqui, some people mistrusted him and thought he was a spy for the French government.

During this same time, Barthelemy met Karl Marx, a German philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary socialist whose theories resulted in Marxism. Emmanuel Barthelemy also visited Marx at his apartment and met his wife Jenny. In addition, he patronized Rathbone Place, a spot where many French exiles met to practice fencing and pistol shooting. It was at Rathbone that he coached Marx in fencing.

Emmanuel Barthelemy - Karl Marx

Karl Marx. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Around this same time, Emmanuel Barthelemy also began to associate with the German radical and early proponent of communism, August Willich. Barthelemy came to believe that Marx was too conservative and that he was a traitor who deserved to die. He and Willich then plotted to kill him. To facilitate it, in 1850, Willich publicly insulted Marx and challenged him to a duel. Marx refused to fight, and then a young follower of Marx’s, Konrad Schramm, challenged Willich. The duel took place in Belgium with Barthelemy acting as Willich’s second. Schramm was wounded but survived the duel.

That was not the only duel Emmanuel Barthelemy was involved in. In 1852, he participated in the last fatal duel in England. It happened after he challenged a man named Frederic Constant Courant to a duel. Supposedly, Cournet made some disparaging remarks about Barthelemy’s former girlfriend,* but newspapers reported the duel occurred because of the two men’s political differences. A note was given to journalists by friends of Cournet’s that in part stated:

“It is truly to be regretted that a certain class of exalted and misguided men who have found a safe and hospitable asylum in England, should abuse the hospitality granted to them, and take upon themselves the right of avenging their political squabbles by pistols or swords.[2]

Cournet, like Barthelemy, was a French exile and although both men were both on the political left, they were opponents: Barthelemy supported Blanqui whereas Cournet followed Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin. Cournet had been born on 21 February 1801 and made a career in the navy but found he could not advance because of his Republican politics. He then retired in 1846, at the age of 38. Two years later, he was involved in the July 1848 Uprising and in 1850 was temporarily imprisoned for helping a French anarchist escape from prison. After his release, he led resistance against the Coup d’etat of Napoleon III in 1851, and when it proved unsuccessful, he fled France.

Victor Hugo, one of the greatest and best-known French writers, personally knew Cournet from the 1848 revolution and his resistance to Napoleon III. He provided this description of him in Les Miserables:

“[A] man of tall stature; he had broad shoulders, a red face, a muscular arm, a bold heart, a loyal soul, a sincere and terrible eye. Intrepid, energetic, irascible, stormy, the most cordial of men, the most formidable of warriors. War, conflict, the mêlée, were the air he breathed, and put him in good-humour. He had been a naval officer, and, from his carriage and his voice, you would have guessed that he sprang from the ocean, and that he came from the tempest; he continued the hurricane in battle. Save in genius, there was in Cournet something of Danton, as, save in divinity, there was in Danton something of Hercules.”[3]

Emmanuel Barthelemy - Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The duel between Cournet and Barthelemy took place on 19 October 1852 in a secluded spot at Priest Hill, near Englefield Green, which was about half way between Chertsey and Windsor. A Windsor correspondent provided the following account:

“Between the hours of two and three on Tuesday afternoon, a party of six Frenchmen proceeded to a field at the back of the Sir John Cathcart Tavern, where they were observed by a female to make such arrangements as to convince her that two of the person contemplated fighting a duel, but before she had time to give an alarm the ground was measured, the seconds took up their position at the side of each of their friends and in an instant a shot was fired from each party and was again repeated, but apparently without striking either, as they immediately afterwards went to work with swords. After a little fencing one man closed upon his antagonist and ran the sword into his body. The unfortunate man staggered once or twice and then fell to the ground. His friends rushed to his aid, and two of them remained with him until Dr Haywood of Egham could be procured. Although everything was done for him he died between six and seven o’clock.”[4]

After the duel, another journalist reported:

“[A]bout a quarter past one, as Dr. Hayward, of Egham, was coming up Priest hill to Englefield green, he passed three foreigners, and little further he saw another coming out of a field towards the road; this led him to believe the something serious had happened, and he went to the field adjoining, where he found a person lying on the ground bleeding. He attended to him immediately and the unfortunate man was removed on some hurdles and straw which had been procured from a farm belonging to Sir John Cathcart. Dr. Hayward attended to him until near 5 o’clock, and he lived about three hours, being nearly the whole of the time in dreadful agony.”[5]

One of Cournet’s seconds fled the scene and was never found. The other second, Philppe Eugene de Morney, a notary, remained with the injured Cournet and was taken into custody. In the meantime, Emmanuel Barthelemy and his two seconds left by the South-Western Railway. Police were informed by telegraph that three Frenchmen who had been involved in a duel were on their way to London by express train. They arrested the three men at the Waterloo station. In addition, a police constable by the name of John Underwood claimed that as he was conveying the men to the Tower Street station, one of them offered him a bribe to let them go, which he did not do.

At the station the men were searched and “upon them were found two small swords, beautifully mounted, a pistol-case, and a knife with some blood upon it.”[6] After questioning, the men were committed to the Horsemonger Lane gaol. The names of the three individuals arrested were Etienne Barronnet (laborer), Edmund Allain (wine merchant), and Emmanuel Barthelemy. Both Barronnet and Alain also handed in declarations to authorities that stated:

“Whatever may be the consequences of the severity of the English law against duelling … I declare that I was the second of Mons. Cournet on the 19th of October; that the obligations and sincere friendship which I entertained for him would not allow of my refusing to accompany him in this fatal rencontre. He was my best friend, I had found so many noble qualities in him, that I did all I could to avoid the rencontre, but I had to obey the laws of honour, friendship, and the customs of French duelling. Were I to pass the remainder of my life in prison, I would never disclose the name of the person who was the adversary of Mons. Cournet, now that I know the English law. Honour forbids my mentioning the name of an antagonist, if he will not, or cannot do so. I am a prisoner, but will never quit a prison by a declaration which is repugnant to my character and my habits.”[7]

The men were questioned on Wednesday at Chertsey town hall, and, on Friday, an inquest was held at the Barley-mow Tavern. Several witnesses were also questioned, and it was reported that “much” contradictory evidence was presented. Cournet’s body was also available to view as it had been placed in an upper room of the tavern after he apparently succumbed to a ball that passed through him. One newspaper reported:

“Mr. Biddlecombe, the superintendent of police, stripped the body with Dr. Hayward, and found that a ball, which he produced, and which was much flattened, had passed through his coat, waistcoat, waistband of the trousers, and shirt. He was satisfied that the discharge took place at some distance, as there were no symptoms of powder in the coat. The bullet was found on the sheet of the bed.”[8]

The Barley Mow Tavern in Englefield Green. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

As Emmanuel Barthelemy and the others sat in jail, Cournet’s body was interred at Egham’s St. John’s churchyard. Six of his countrymen carried his body for about a mile and a half, with five different parties relieving each other along the way. The procession was led with a large red flag, hung with black crape that bore the inscription “République Democratique et Sociale.” A group of about 150 mournful Frenchmen followed the procession to where the grave was dug at the far end of the churchyard. After the coffin was lowered into the ground, a rousing and brief speech was given that ended with “Vive la République, democratique et sociale.” It was followed by a loud cheer.

Several months later, on 21 March 1853, the four Frenchmen involved were tried together for murder at Kingston Assizes. The prisoners had elected to be tried by a jury, which consisted of six foreigners and six Englishmen. The jury consulted for an hour and returned a verdict of manslaughter, and the judge then passed the sentence. As the prisoners had been in jail for five months and because the judge thought the Frenchmen were probably ignorant of English law, he gave them a light sentence, only two more months of incarceration.

*That may have been a pretext for the duel.


  • [1] J. Harsin, Barricades: The War of the Streets in Revolutionary Paris, 1830-1848 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), p. 304.
  • [2] The Cornish Telegraph, “Fatal Duel Near Windsor,” October 27, 1842, p. 1.
  • [3] V. Hugo, Les Miserables v. 2 (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, Limited, 1994), p. 801.
  • [4] Elign Courier, “Fatal Duel at Windsor,” October 29, 1852, p. 4.
  • [5] The Cornish Telegraph, p. 1.
  • [6] Falkirk Herald, “Fatal Duel at Windsor,” October 28, 1852, p. 2.
  • [7] North Devon Journal, “Accidents and Offences,” October 28, 1852, p. 6.
  • [8] The Cornish Telegraph, p. 1.

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