A Topless Duel Between Two Women of Nobility
By Kathleen Bittner Roth
Six years ago, in an unscheduled move, I ended up living in Budapest, Hungary where I promptly fell in love—with the city, with the people, and with the country’s intriguing history. Recently, I came across a fascinating true story about a duel that took place between a Hungarian princess and a Russian countess where both women fought half-naked.
Princess Pauline Clémentine von Metternich (02/18/1836 – 09/28/1921) was born into a Hungarian/Viennese noble family. Her father, Count Clemens von Metternich, was well-known throughout the Habsburg Empire as a superior equestrian. Her mother was the daughter of Austrian Chancellor Prince Klemens Wenzel Von Metternich.
Elegant and charming, albeit a bit headstrong after growing up in her grandfather’s Viennese palace, Pauline became a famous Parisian and Viennese socialite who did whatever she darn well pleased. She was a serious patron of the arts who promoted composers and authors such as Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt, and Alexander Dumas. She also put couturier Frederick Worth on the map with his famous House of Worth designs, many of which the princess wore with élan. Pauline spoke several languages, wrote two books, one in German and one in French, and still found time to teach women to smoke cigars and aristocrats to skate.
Princess Pauline also became a countess when she married her uncle, the chancellor’s son (her mother’s half-brother), Prince Richard von Metternich. She accompanied her husband on his diplomatic missions to the royal court in Dresden, and to the Imperial Court in Paris where she befriended French Empress Eugenie, wife of Emperor Napoleon III. She stood by Eugenie’s side during the war and most likely saved her life by smuggling the Empress’s jewels to England in a diplomatic pouch.
In the summer of 1892, Princess Pauline fought a duel with Countess Anastasia Kielmannsegg, a highly ambitious Russian royal. Historically, women sometimes had male champions duel on their behalf. However, in late 19th century Europe, new women were encouraged to fight for themselves. Nonetheless, it was highly unusual for women to be crossing swords, let alone bare-chested.
Not only did these two women challenge each other, the duel became an emancipated one when Pauline chose Princess Schwarzenberg as her second, and Countess Anastasia chose Countess Kinsky as her second (a driver and male attendant were on hand but they were ordered to stand by the wagons with their backs turned).
Enter Baroness Lubinska, a Polish woman who held a degree in medicine. Chosen as the surgeon to oversee the duel, the baroness insisted Pauline and Anastasia fight topless to avoid any pieces of fabric getting jammed into a wound which could cause sepsis to set in. So the noble ladies, determined as they were to duel to the end, removed their upper body clothing, and the duel commenced. According to French rules, they were to fight to first blood using rapiers.
Countess Anastasia claimed victory as drawing first blood when Princess Pauline got nicked on the nose. Princess Pauline, on the other hand, claimed victory because her wound to Anastasia’s arm was much deeper.
Oh, yes. You might be wondering what this duel was about. It seems these two headstrong women were at odds over arrangements for the Vienna Musical and Theatrical Exhibition—some say flower arrangements; others say musical arrangements. However, as I researched the event here in Hungary, I learned there had been an ongoing fierce rivalry between Princess Pauline and Countess Anastasia over who stood on the highest rung of the social ladder. The Countess Anastasia, who was very ambitious, and apparently had a well-known talent for arranging entertainments of all kinds, stole the spotlight from Princess Pauline at every opportunity which infuriated Pauline.
So there you have it—another intriguing peek into history, and the lives of strong, noble women who dared to step outside the rules of the day. No wonder the topless duel between Princess Pauline and Countess Anastasia made headlines around the world.
Kathleen Bittner Roth thrives on creating passionate stories featuring characters who are forced to draw on their strength of spirit to overcome adversity and find unending love. Her own fairy tale wedding in a Scottish castle led her to her current residence in Budapest, Hungary, considered one of Europe’s most romantic cities. However, she still keeps one boot firmly in Texas and the other in her home state of Minnesota. A member of Romance Writers of America®, she was a finalist in the prestigious Golden Heart® contest. Find Kathleen on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, Pinterest and www.kathleenbittnerroth.com.
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