Parasol Duelling... in Prussia?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A continental view...

Here is another faux historical piece about Parasol Duelling.

Written by the talented Stewart MacPhee of Calgary, it is a very interesting look at one of the many continental styles of Parasol Duelling that could have existed at the time of Queen Victoria.

Enjoy
Keep your sightglass full, your fire box trimmed and your water iced.
KJ
 
Ed: This evening, continuing the fascinating discussions on Parasol Duelling, I am happy to post a paper from a more European and Continental perspective.

This paper, by a Dr. Johann Portsmouth Adler, appears to have been written shortly after the time that the Brandenburg Variations were formalized by Her Majesty. It discusses the version of Parasol Duelling as practiced in Prussia at that time. The contrasts with the Queen's Rules are intriguing.

I am hoping to get more information on the specific provenance of this paper, but even without the details of its source there is much here that warrants close study.


Walzer der Schmetterlinge
(Waltz of the butterflies)

A treatise on the noble art of parasol dueling in the Germanic territories.
By Dr. Johann Portsmouth Adler

                With the rise in popularity of Parasol Dueling in England and her far flung empire ,thanks in no small part to the royal assent given by her royal majesty Queen Victoria, I feel compelled to sit and pen this account of Parasol Dueling in my families homeland of the Germanic principalities.

                There is no small amount of debate among scholars as to where the sport originally came from on the European continent.  These debates (heated at times I am told) have raged since the formation of some of the earliest dueling schools in the capitols of the major powers.  In the case of Germany I have uncovered evidence both confirming and contradicting the claims that Deutschland was the birthplace of the sport. 

                What I can confirm undoubtedly is that in the beginning it was the families of the Military aristocracy that saw to the spread and refinement of what today is called the Prussian style.  In those early days it was the wives and daughters that took to the sport with a relish.  While the men would engage in lengthy debates over military strategy and points of honor the women would have their own spirited discussions over the various points of the growing sport, weighing the pros and cons of a figure with the same fervor that a general would while forming strategy for an upcoming battle.

                Owing to their connections to the military it was soon that a highly formalized and some could even say regimented style started to emerge.  Where the sons of Military families were sent to one of the Military academies it was not unheard of for daughters of the same families to go to one of the quickly growing Dueling schools. 

                As each nation and in some cases each city developed their own style it quickly became apparent that the Germanic schools prided themselves on the efficiency and execution of each of the figures.  As one visiting dignitary to Berlin noted in a letter to his family "The way that they go about their training  you would think you were looking at a group of infantry practicing rifle drill. They are all formed in a tight well dressed group, at the head is the mistress, at her command the entire group presents the chosen figure.  again and again they repeat it.  Pausing after every one while the Mistress walks up and down the assembled ranks correcting girls on the proper display and posture of the chosen figure."

                It is said that some of the Mistress's of these schools would have custom made pace sticks made for them so that they could exactly measure the distance between a duelist and her parasol in any given figure.  This can even be seen in use today in some of the older Germanic schools.

                Of course their chosen course did have its drawbacks and while they were quickly becoming masters of the compulsory figures in the arts of the flirtation trials they were lacking, instruction in these arts was mainly left to the individual duelist to develop and expand upon at their discretion.  There did exist one school in Dresden where the arts of Flirtation were highly practiced and it is said that their "Ankling" methods were on par with some to the great Parisian schools at the time.  But overall they were in the minority when compared to the other schools.

                With the rise of the Brandenburg variations and the strict rules regarding contact the title of Doctor is usually purely an honorific given to the appointed adjutant of a duel.  In the early cases of German competitions  however this was not the case.  While there was a mandated distance decided upon it was still within striking distance of their opponent.  Usually it was only one marching pace away from your opponent and it was a rare case where the doctor was not needed after a match to treat a bruise, cut or broken bone in severe cases.  There exist multiple cases of renowned duelists who would bear these marks with pride after a competition.  One remarkable case details a young noble women who after a particularly brutal match was left with a small scar on her jaw line, instead of trying to hide it she wore it with pride, eagerly regaling the tale of how she obtained it to other young duelists.

                One disturbing trend that did arise was the use of weighted parasol tips.  The thinking at the time was that a well placed "accidental" strike to your opponents wrist would numb it enough that they would be unable to complete their figures in time thus giving the duelist an advantage.  While this did indeed numb the wrist if contact was made it resulted in more than one case of severe fracturing of a young woman's wrist.  More than one promising dueling career was cut short due to this method of thinking and the use was quickly banned though it was not unheard of for the occasional duelist to risk forfeiture and  expulsion from the competition with the use of a weighted tip in the hopes of gaining an advantage over a particularly skilled opponent.

                When comparing the Brandenburg variation figures to those developed by the Prussian style it is easy to see similarities between the two.  It is even joked about in some circles that the Brandenburg variation is just a British twist on the Prussian style.  One figure that is unique to the Prussian style though and hardly seen outside of German competitions is the "Ehre Nehmer" or Honor Taker.  This move is used when one wishes to show their utter contempt for their opponent or in cases where the duelist knows they will not win in a final show of defiance.  For this move the duelist places their parasol over their shoulder as if going to perform a twirl but then with a flourish of their skirt turns their back on their opponent, forfeiting the round but taking any honor that the opponent might have gained in a straight forward match.  One famous example of this was when a German duelist performed this maneuver on a Parisian duelist in an international competition that had soundly defeated the entire German team previously.  The French woman was so incensed by this that she launched herself at the German and both parties had to be physically removed from the venue for fear that a real duel might break out if they remained.

                The main Prussian style as it had evolved before the rise of the Brandenburg variation was indeed a very similar style.  Both had a core set of 3 figures, the Plant (Pflanzen), The Twirl (Drehen) and the Snub (Abfuhr).  While there did exist some secondary figures it was these three (Plus the above mentioned Ehre Nehmer) that were at the core of the style and the officially recognized moves used at German competitions.  Where they styles start to differ is in the separation of the duelists, in the Prussian style it is one standard marching step before the turn to face your opponent.  In case of disagreement on the length of the pace to be taken it is not unusual for a pace stick to be brought out and one full pace exactly measured to ensure that there is no further argument.

                On the matter of contact between duelists it was perfectly sanctioned in Prussian style duels for contact to happen in a match with extra points awarded on occasion if a duelist actually managed to disarm their opponent of their parasol.  But points could also be deducted or the match forfeited if an outright attack was made on the opponent in an attempt to disarm them or ruin their parasol in such a manner that they could not continue the match.  Any contact that did occur in later era matches had to be either accidental or a part of a sanctioned figure.  One example of this would be if when going from a snub to a twirl the duelists parasol made contact with their opponents person or parasol.

                Another exception can be found in the recent rise of "street dueling" that is quickly becoming an accepted part of modern competitions.  In the Germanic territories while this new method and style is quickly being picked up by the middle and lower classes the upper classes and schools have been slow to accept this new form of the classical duel and while it is starting to be studied in some schools for the time being it is still mainly up to the individual duelist as to whether or not they pursue learning on this matter. 

Ed: This is all that remains of Dr Adler's paper one wonders what else he may have discussed, alas no other pages have been preserved.

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