Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs. Elphinstone
Historically, duels were fought mainly by aristocrats or men of the upper classes, but they weren’t fought exclusively by them. Women too occasionally dueled for a number of reasons. In the 16th century Naples, Isabella de Carazzi and Diambra de Pettinella subverted gender roles by taking up lances, maces, and shields and doing battle for the hand of a very eligible bachelor, one Fabio de Zeresola. In 1829, two wealthy Russian landowners took up their husbands’ sabers and hacked each other to death in a nearby birch grove because they didn’t quite see eye to eye as neighbors.
In this quintessentially English story, however, a duel arose from some sharp-tongued remarks made over afternoon tea. Mrs. Elphinstone, an upper-class woman, was visiting the house of Lady Braddock when she made some somewhat tasteless comments about her hostess’s appearance:
“You have been a very beautiful woman. You have a very good autumnal face even now, but you must acknowledge that the lilies and roses are somewhat faded. Forty years ago, I am told, a young fellow could hardly gaze upon you with impunity.”
Problematically, Lady Braddock had only recently turned 30, and the seasonal and floral imagery could do nothing to placate her rage at the injury done to her honor. She demanded that Mrs. Elphinstone satisfy her by consenting to a duel.
The “Petticoat Duel“, as it came to be known, was fought in London’s Hyde Park in 1792. The pair drew pistols and Mrs. Elphinstone managed to penetrate Lady Braddock’s hat, knocking it to the ground (yup, she was apparently aiming for the head). The two then switched to swords and, going for a rather less capital target, Lady Braddock struck her opponent in the arm. Bleeding from her wound, Mrs. Elphinstone returned home where—presumably with her good hand—she wrote Lady Braddock a lengthy letter of apology.
So at least ran the story in a 1792 edition of Carlton House Magazine. Unfortunately, there’s no other evidence that this duel ever took place. No Lady Braddock existed who actually fits the bill; only a Lady Almeria Carter who seems to have been of an entirely peaceful disposition. But there was a Georgian actress called George Anne Bellamy who had once played a character called Almeria, was friends with one General Braddock—who had fought a duel with pistols and swords in Hyde Park—and was acquaintances with one Mrs. Elphinstone. Though it’s sure to disappoint, it seems this story, revolving around the Georgian actress, was purely apocryphal.