Radzivill wielded a sword better than D´Artagnan

Belarusians were skilful at protecting their honour and dignity not only at war, but in duels
Knight tournaments arrived in Grand Principality of Lithuania from Poland at the end of XVI century. The first registered duel with knights of Grand Principality of Lithuania participating took place in Buda in 1412 (now - Budapest) during the rule of Hungarian King Sigizmund of Luxembourg.

According to chronicles, Zygmunt August saw knight contests thriving in Vilna in 1546-1547. Duels entered their heyday in XVII-XVIII centuries, i.e. under Rzeczpospolita when swords were crossed at each and every Seym. There is nothing unusual here. If we compare that with clashes (both verbal and physical) that happen in various European parliaments today, we will not call deputies of the past "savages".

During the times of Rzeczpospolita, a duel was traditionally referred to as a double fight. If somebody´s honour and dignity were insulted, a claim would be launched to court. Rather often the court´s decision would not satisfy the injured side and the lynch law was widespread. There were times, when not two individuals, but the whole legions fought for dignity and the confrontation between the magnates led to a war.

The legend has it Geronim Khodkevich and Janusz Radzivill quarrelled in early XVII century. Sofia Slutskaya, who was a granddaughter of renowned Anastasia and later recognised as a saint, served the bone of contention. Sofia lost her parents at a very early age and was the last and the only heiress of the ancient family of Alelkoviches. Geronim Khodkevich became her guardian. He seemed to have been attracted by duke´s gold and riches, as he squandered away most of Sofia´s dowry. When Janusz Radzivill proposed to Sofia, he learned about dishonest dealings of Khodkevich and took the case to court. Khodkevich grew very jealous and threw Sofia´s guest down the stairs. The latter was not going to grant forgiveness.

As often as not plain folk was drawn into the wars between their masters. According to Adam Maldis, a researcher of the epoch, in XVIII duels were sporadic and unmethodical at times turning into massacre.

The behaviour of opponents could be different. Once a Polotsk voevode attacked his peer in Nesvizh. He then noticed that there was a whole army standing at arms to defend his opponent, he ordered to pour wine and was drinking to the health of his enemy himself.

A tragic accident happened to Ilya, a son of famous hetman Konstantin Ostrozhsky, in XVI century. On the day of his wedding he held a duel with King Zygmunt August. The monarch was kicked the magnate off the saddle and the latter died from wounds in a year.

The most famous duellist of them all in Grand Principality of Lithuania was Boguslaw Razdivill, the one that in the war with Russia in the middle of XVII century, when Vilna fell under the king´s rule, terminated the alliance with Poland and formed a union with Sweden. Boguslaw travelled extensively throughout Europe and even reached the British Isles. He created a furore in France. According to Yury Bokhan, historian of the gun-making trade, Radzivill wielded a sword better than D´Artagnan himself! Despite the fact that the duke was a friend of Louis XIII, Cardinal Mazarini threw the Lithuanian guest to the Bastille for his overindulgence in duels, though he first offered the brave visitor a rank of a General of the French mercenary troops.

Here, in our land Polish gentlemen sometimes deliberately created melodramatic scenes: they would set fire to a tavern and fight their till "the first blood." It was not until XVIII century that duels were imposed certain regulations upon under the influence of the French fashion. We have little information about "double fights" of XIX century. The legend has it once two classical authors - poet Ludwik Kondratowicz (Wladyslaw Syrokomla) and Adam Kirkor, well-known as one of the writers of the widely-lauded "Picturesque Russia." Kondratowicz fell in love with Kirkor´s wife Helena Malewska and the two men became bitter feuds. But it was some irony of fate that the competitors died from jealousy that took the form of incurable diseases.

It was Adam Mickiewicz who nearly killed Duke Puttkamer Wawrz. Adam armed with guns and accompanied by a friend Teodor Lazinsky headed for the place of Bolteniki (now Voronovo District in Grodno Region). Poet´s muse Marylya Veraschaka lived there. The duke permitted Adam to have a word with Marylya and the duel never took place.

Duels were in place at all times. They were resorted to when a person felt insulted.

Viktar Korbut
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