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The Most Incredible Sword Fights in History

Posted by JT Hats

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Historical Turning Points

While this next group of swordfights might be less spectacular than the ones previously mentioned, each changed the course of history and deserves special recognition for doing so.

William Wallace's Fishing Trip
Origin of the Heroic Guardian of Scotland and Robin Hood
Destruction: 5
Skill: 4
Honor: 3

Now revered as the Guardian of Scotland and the heroic leader of the Scottish Wars for Independence, Sir William Wallace's true story remains hidden in legend. Beginning as a knight and landowner, William Wallace crossed swords with the English for the first time while fishing on the River Irvine — an act officially known as poaching.

A band of English soldiers demanded the lion's share of his catch as punishment for his transgression. Wallace argued, two of the soldiers threatened to kill him, and Wallace smashed the first down with his fishing rod. Picking up the downed man's sword, Wallace killed possibly two and possibly five of the men, depending on which legend you read. Authorities issued a warrant for Wallace's arrest and that began his life as an outlaw.

Mel Gibson as William Wallace

In secret, Wallace married Marion Braidfute, a young woman residing in Lamington. Surprised by the authorities during a late night visit to Marion's home in May of 1297, Wallace escaped via the back door. In retribution the High Sheriff of Lanark — William de Heselrig — trapped Marion in the house and set it ablaze, killing her. To exact his own revenge, William Wallace and his men infiltrated Lanark Castle at night and hacked the sheriff to pieces in his own bedroom.

If part of that story sounds oddly familiar, it may be because the life of William Wallace also inspired the legend of Robin Hood, according to David Crook of the University of Nottingham.

William — Today, in Aberdeen
Woodbridge vs. Phillips
America's first fatal duel, fueled by wine and women
Destruction: 3
Skill: 1
Honor: 1

The men who fought America's first fatal duel may have been inspired by liquor and an argument over a woman.

Records suggest that on the night of July 3rd, 1728, in the Royal Exchange Tavern on King Street in Boston, Massachusetts, Henry Phillips and Benjamin Woodbridge began to argue. The two good friends decided that only a duel with swords could restore their honor.

Officials discovered the body of 19-year-old Woodbridge on the Common the morning of July 4th and pieced together events of the night. At seven the previous evening, Woodbridge had stopped by the White Horse Tavern to ask Robert Handy for the loan of a sword. Handy complied but followed Woodbridge to the Commons and met Phillips there as well, in the area of the Powder House. The pair declined Mr. Handy's advice, and both armed with swords, walked away to a private part of the Common.

Handy returned later out of concern for their safety and found Woodbridge alone, holding his hand over a chest wound and asking for a surgeon. Rather than seeking medical aid for Woodbridge, Handy returned to the Powder House, where he had a dinner engagement already planned, and did not pursue the matter.

A Sword Duel

Meanwhile Phillips, wounded across the abdomen and across his fingers, sought out Dr. George Pemberton, at yet a fourth tavern — the Sun Tavern on Dock Square. The two tried to locate Woodbridge on the Common, since Phillips feared for his friend's life, but were not successful. The search then concentrated upon homes and of course, taverns, but after midnight the determined first-responders went to the Common again and at 3 a.m. finally located Woodbridge, who had already expired near the Powder House.

Phillips survived, boarding the British Man-O-War Sheerness shortly before the ship sailed, and barely ahead of the authorities. Phillips died a year later in Rochelle, France.

The Petticoat Duels
Never ask a lady her age

Nice Day For a Duel
Destruction: 1
Skill: 2
Honor: 5

The open ground of London's Hyde Park was the stage for many duels over the years, but nearly always between men. In what later was called "The Petticoat Duel" two proper English ladies settled a serious disagreement that only violence could satisfy.

In 1792, Lady Almeria Braddock had been enjoying a cup of tea with Mrs. Elphinstone when, according to some, Mrs. Elphinstone made an unacceptable remark about Lady Braddock's age. The two women arranged to meet in Hyde Park with pistols. Mrs. Elphinstone shot first, damaging Lady Braddock's hat, but Lady Braddock missed Mrs. Elphinstone completely.

Two misses provided the women with a chance to end the fight peacefully, but the ladies declined and continued with smallswords. After a skirmish in which Lady Braddock wounded Mrs. Elphinstone in the arm, the latter agreed to write a formal apology for her inconsiderate comment. Both curtsied to one another and left the park virtually unharmed.

Princess Metternich vs. Countess Kielmannsegg
Half-naked swordfighting women. Shouldn't the be a Hollywood movie?

Step Aside, Boys
Destruction: 1
Skill: 1
Honor: 4

"Petticoat duels" were not limited to London. Women had fought in the arenas of ancient Rome and in countless private battles later on in history. An argument over the choice of flower arrangements triggered one notable bout in Liechtenstein's capitol city, Verduz, in August of 1892.

Princess Pauline Metternich fought Countess Kielmannsegg in history's first "emancipated duel," with two women as seconds and a lady physician, the Baroness Lubinska, presiding. As hostilities were about to begin, the Baroness pointed out the dangers of wearing too much clothing during a swordfight, explaining that blades drove bits of clothes into wounds, causing dangerous septic infection. The two duelists agreed to strip to the waist for the combat, but first ordered their men-servants away to the carriages, where they were to keep their backs turned.

As the fight commenced, Princess Metternich raked the tip of her sword viciously across the Countess's nose, and was so shocked at the blood that she threw up both hands and forgot her own defense. The Countess seized the opening and ran her sword through the Princess's forearm. So much blood flowed then that both women's seconds fainted.

Hearing cries from the battleground, the concerned men-servants rushed to the aid of the ladies, only to be chased away again by Baroness Lubinska's unmerciful umbrella. The Baroness suspected they were interested in more than the ladies' welfare.

Last American Use of Swords in Combat
Korean War spells the end for the combat saber

Lt. Presley N. O'Bannon, USMC
Destruction: 5
Skill: 3
Honor: 2

On both battlefield and field of honor, firearms eventually displaced the sword. Although still part of the dress uniform of the U.S. Marine Corps, the current American military saber isn't designed for combat.

The Marine Mameluke sword takes its design from one presented to Marine Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon by Prince Hamet Bey in recognition of O'Bannon's action during the Battle of Derna. A more functional cutlass, the Model 1941, may have been the last American sword used in official military combat.

At the Battle of Incheon during the Korean War, an NCO in an engineering unit of the U.S. Marines used an M-1941 cutlass to fell an attacking enemy soldier, according to Bill Gilkerson, author of "Boarders Away."

Gaston Deferre Vs. René Ribière
The last French duel — more recent than you might think
Destruction: 1
Skill: 2
Honor: 1

In civilized nations of the West, dueling gradually lost its popularity. By the 18th Century, dueling was no longer a respectable way of settling disputes in America, having caused many unnecessary deaths among both politicians and professional military men.

Just prior to the American Civil War, two-thirds as many American naval officers died in duels as were lost in combat. Many American states prohibited dueling specifically, adding punishments above and beyond the consequences for ordinary violence. In this they followed the example of enlightened nations like France, where King Louis XIII declared the practice illegal in 1626.

That didn't stop the French from settling scores the old-fashioned way. From 1626 onward, Frenchmen fought thousands of duels and hundreds of men died. In fact, the last duel fought in France took place in modern times.

Members of Parliament Settle Their Differences in the 1960's

In 1967 an argument between two members of the French Parliament descended into unforgivable insults. Gaston Deferre and René Ribière decided to settle things like men, and took up swords. Deferre emerged unhurt, but Ribiere suffered two slight wounds in the last known true political duel of the western world.

Olympic Champion
The greatest fencer of all time?
Destruction: 1
Skill: 4
Honor: 4

Fencing existed as a nonlethal sport right alongside the violent practice of dueling, becoming the pastime of champions as early as the 14th Century. Innovations introduced in the 17th Century gave rise to modern fencing, and included a wire-mesh mask to prevent facial injuries, a flattened sword tip to limit the piercing hazards, and rules which restricted attacks to particular parts of the body.

The first Olympic games to allow fencing were the Athens games in 1896, with women's fencing competition added at the Paris Olympics in 1925. Today's Olympic competitions include events for the foil, the epee, and the saber; with matches for men, women and teams.

Lexan eye-shields were standard equipment for fencers for a few years, but an accident in 2009 caused a return to the full face wire mesh mask. During the Men's Junior Championships in Odense, Sweden, a fencer's foil penetrated the visor of one competitor's mask but caused no serious injury.


Olympic Champion fencer Nedo Nadi of Italy still holds a unique place in Olympic history, being the only competitor to win a medal with each weapon during one Olympic session. Nadi won a medal in the foil event in 1912 when he was only 18, and returned to the games after service in the First World War. In the Antwerp Olympics of 1920, Nadi competed as an individual in the foil and saber competitions; and as a team player in the foil, epee and saber team events. His record of five gold medals still stands.

Final Thoughts

Did we miss any fights? Think we highlighted Musashi Miyamoto too much? Or maybe overstated the significance of half-naked women duelers? Let us know in the comments below.

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