Fournier-Sarlovèze (left) and l’Ètang. Pinterest

General François Fournier-Sarlovèze and General Pierre Dupont de l’Ètang

Remember that scene from Lord of the Rings where Gandalf and the Balrog do battle basically all over Middle Earth? Standing on a bridge, falling from said bridge, flying through the air, “through fire and water, from the lowest dungeon, to the highest peak”? Well essentially the same thing happened with two French officers during the Napoleonic Wars, when they fought no less than 30 duels in 19 years between 1794 and 1813.

It all started when Dupont was charged with delivering a rather heated message to Fournier. More commonly known as “the worst subject in the Grand Armée”, Fournier was a keen duellist, despite the fact that Napoleon had banned the practice. And on this occasion Fournier did decide, almost literally, to shoot the messenger, though his weapon of choice was a rapier rather than a pistol. This time, however, winning didn’t come so easily.

Fournier was wounded in the first fight, but demanded further satisfaction. They fought again, this time Dupont receiving a wound. On their third meeting both managed to inflict glancing wounds on each other. This lack of resolution led them to draw up a contract, essentially setting out the terms of their private war. It stipulated: 1) They would meet sword in hand whenever 100 miles from each other; 2) If one was unable to travel, through demands on his services, the other would come to him; 3) There were to be no excuses whatsoever for not abiding by the contract.

Though you might fault them for their stubbornness, you can’t fault them for their creativity. On foot or on horseback, Fournier and Dupont fought with pistols, sabers, rapiers, swords, and lances. I’ve italicised fought because I struggle to see how two Napoleonic generals could have failed to inflict a mortal blow r over so many encounters. I actually suspect that they really rather enjoyed themselves; something we may deduce from the fact they would often dine together before doing battle.

Things finally came to a head in 1813 when Dupont plunged his sword through Fournier’s neck during a sword fight in a Swiss wood. Believing this was a good moment to try and talk some sense into his rival, Dupont informed Fournier that he was engaged and, for the sake of his marriage, would rather like to put this who duelling business behind him. They agreed on a final pistol showdown in a nearby wood. Dupont tricked Fournier, making him fire at a piece of clothing, before advancing on him with his pistol still loaded. Fournier conceded defeat, thus ending their long rivalry on an unexpectedly peaceful note.