Tales of the French duels: Duel des Mignons

Please see the introduction of this series for more information on the authors and context.

There is no way to leave aside perhaps the most famous unofficial duel, the one that started the trend: the Duel des Mignons. This is going to be a long post, maybe the longest in the series, because we have a lot of information about this duel, its causes, the fight itself and the aftermath.

The Mignons (which translate as “darlings”) were young favourites of French king Henri III who were quite controversial at the time, detested by a sizable fraction of the population and court for their effeminate manners, their arrogance and the unjustified generosity of the king towards them, without respect for the old feudal hierarchies. Although their looks were certainly feminine, they were also quarrelsome and violent, and served in the wars of religion. In 1578 some of these favourites fought in an encounter that became famous because of several factors: the rank and numbers of the participants in the court, the cause of the fight, the bloody outcome, were all seen as exceptional at that time. Unexpectedly, it started a duelling fashion that cost France a great number of nobles.

Here is a brief, but relatively reliable account, at least one written very shortly after the fact:

Le dimanche 27e avril, pour demesler une querelle née pour fort légère occasion, le jour précédent, en la cour du Louvre, entre le seigneur de Quélus, l’un des grans mignons du Roy, et le jeune Entragues, qu’on apeloit Antraguet, favori de la maison de Guise, ledit Quélus avec Maugiron et Livarrot, et Antraguet avec Ribérac et le jeune Chomberg, se trouvèrent, dès cinq heures du matin, au Marché-aux-Chevaux […], et là combattirent si furieusement, que le beau Maugiron et le jeune Chomberg demeurèrent morts, sur la place. Riberac, des coups qu’il y receust, mourust le lendemain à midi. Livarrot, d’un grand coup qu’il eut sur la teste, fut six sepmaines malade et enfin reschappa. Antraguet s’en alla sain et sauf aveq un petit coup, qui n’estoit qu’une esgratigneure au bras. Quélus, aucteur et agresseur de la noise, de dix-neuf coups qu’il y receust, languist trente-trois jours, et mourust le jeudi vingt-neuvième may, en l’hostel de Boisi, où il fut porté du champ du combat, comme lieu plus ami et plus voisin. Et ne lui proufita la grande faveur du Roy, qui l’alloit tous les jours voir, et ne bougeoit du chevet de son lit, et qui avoit promis aux chirurgiens qui le pensoient cent mil francs au cas qu’il revinst en convalescence, et à ce beau mignon, cent mil escus pour lui faire avoir bon courage de guérir.
Sunday April the 27th, in order to untangle a quarrel born from a very light occasion, the day before, in the Louvre court, between the lord of Quélus, one of the great “darlings” of the King, and the young Entragues, who was nicknamed Antraguet, favourite of the house of Guise, the said Quélus with Maugiron and Livarrot, and Antraguet with Ribérac and the young Chomberg, met at 5 o’clock in the morning, in the horse market […] and there fought so furiously, that the fair Maugiron and the young Chomberg died on the spot. Ribérac died at noon the next day from the wounds received. Livarrot was sick for six weeks from a great blow he received on the head, but finally recovered. Antraguet went away safe and sound except for a minor wound to the arm. Quélus, who was the cause and agressor in the affair, suffered during 33 days from the 19 wounds he received and died on May 29th in the hostel Boisi, where he was carried from the place of combat, as a friendly and nearby location. And the great favour of the King was not profitable to him, despite the fact that he was visiting him everyday and never moved from is bedside, and had promised a hundred thousands franks to the physicians if they made him recover, and a hundred thousands crowns to this fair darling to lend him the courage to get better. Pierre de L’Estoile

(The spelling of the participants’ names was not standardized at the time, and potentially mixed with other titles. I have decided to stick with l’Estoile’s spelling in the following)

I am citing this one specifically because it is at the same time quite concise and possibly the most exact in terms of how long the participants survived. As we will see in the rest of this article, the versions do not all agree on these matters! But Brantôme and d’Audiguier give further details about this duel that are worth reading as well, and probably circulated in the court from the accounts of survivors.

The causes

The exact causes of the duel remain quite nebulous. According to La Taille:

L’occasion en fut au Louvre pour un maigre subject, sçavoir pour un trait de jalousie que le Sieur de Quelus conceut contre Entraguet, le voyant sortir un samedy au soir de la chambre d’une certaine Dame plus douée de beauté que de chasteté. Et pource qu’elle estoit aussi aymée d’un grand. Quelus luy dit comme en folastrant qu’il estoit un sot : l’autre lu respond de mesme, qu’il avoit menty.
The occasion came in the Louvre for a meager reason, a sudden jealousy that Quélus conceived against Antraguet, seeing him get out a saturday evening from the room of a certain Lady more gifted with beauty than chastity. And she was also loved by a Great. Quélus told him playfully that he was a fool, the other answered in the same fashion, that he had lied. Jean de la Taille

D’Audiguier paraphrases La Taille, and adds:

Le sieur de Serignac qui est encore à la Cour, et qui estoit alors avec Caylus, m’a bien dit, qu’ils eurent quelques parolles sur mesme suject, mais non pas si offensives ; et au contraire qu’elle estoient tellement indiferentes que personne ne s’estoit doutté qu’il en deut venir aucune dispute.
The lord of Sérignac who is still in the Court, and who was with Quélus, told me that they had some words on the same subject, but none so offensive; and that they were so indifferent that nobody thought that any quarrel could come from them. Vital d’Audiguier

Brantôme is rather more brief and only mentions pour dames, for ladies.

There may have been some underlying political motive; there were factions in the court at that time, and as we will see later one of the survivors fled under the protection of the duc de Guise, who was strong enough to save him from the king’s wrath. However the accounts here do not mention such a motive; the fight seems to have come as a surprise to everyone, and not as the predictable result of the game of alliances and factions.

The frivolity of the dispute might have been what allowed the duel to take place at all. A serious noticeable cause for a fight would probably have provoked the intervention of the king. Here some people at least were aware that a fight was decided, but could not prevent it from taking place:

Ils arresterent neantmoins la partie et de deux seconds avec eux, pour empescher qu’aucune supercherie ne fut faite à l’un, ny à l’autre ; Mais non pas si secrettement qu’on n’en eust le vent. Toutesfois on ne la peut jamais rompre. Caylus se desroba de nuit, avec Maugiron (qui estoit aussi mignon du Roy, & qui ne luy cedoit en valeur, ny en beauté si ce n’est en la perte d’un oeil qu’il avoit laissé, combattant généreusement sur la bresche d’Issoire ; ) Et Livarrot qui fut le tiers, estoit encore mignon du mesme Prince, et ne cedoit à pas un des autres.
They decided to meet anyway, with two seconds to prevent any trickery from being made to either ; but not so secretly that no one caught wind of it. However it was not possible to prevent it. Quélus exited quietly in the night, with Maugiron (who was also one of the king’s darlings, and was his equal in valour in beauty, save for the loss of an eye that happened to him on the breach at Issoire). And Livarrot who was third, was again a king’s darling, and the equal of the others. Vital d’Audiguier
Portraits of three of the participants in the duel.
From left to right: Antraguet, Maugiron, Quélus. Maugiron was only 18 at the time of the duel, Quélus 24, Livarrot 23, Antraguet 33, Chomberg 35, and I have been unable to find out Ribérac’s age.

The fight

According to all accounts the fight took place as basically three duels in parallel. The main contenders, Quélus and Antraguet, the seconds, Maugiron and Ribérac, and the thirds, Livarrot and Chomberg.

According to Brantôme:

Ils combattirent vers les rempars et porte de Sainct Anthoine, à trois heures du matin en esté, de sorte qu’il n’y eut aucun qui les vist battre, que quelques trois ou quatre pauvres gens, certes chétifs témoins de la valeur de ces gens de bien ; qui pourtant en rapportèrent ce qu’ils en avoient veu, tellement quellement.
They fought near the walls and gate of Saint Antoine, a three o’clock in the morning in the summer, so that nobody saw them fight, except three or four poor people, certainly puny witnesses of the worth of these good people, who nevertheless reported what they saw, such as it was. Brantôme

We should therefore expect that some details are lost. Certainly there must have been survivors accounts, others may have been from non-noble witnesses. One noted drawback of such unofficial duels was that what exactly happened was never so clear, and was even disputed.

Apparently the seconds were actually the first to get going.

Si tost que les parties s’entrevirent, Riberac s’avance devers Caylus, & parlant à Maugiron. Il me semble, dit-il que nous devrions plutoost accorder, & rendre amis ces Gentils-hommes, que les laisser entretuer. A qui Maugiron. Je ne suis pas venu pour enfiler des perles, je me veux batre. Et à qui te voudrois tu batre, Maugiron tu n’as point d’interest en la querelle : dit Riberac ; Davantage, il n’y a icy aucun qui te soit ennemy. C’est à toy, dit Maugiron. A moy ! dit Riberac, prions donques Dieu. Ce disant il tire son espee, qu’il croise avec son poignard, et se jettant à genoux fit sa prière assez briesve, mais neantmoins trop longue au gré de Maugiron ; Qui s’escria en jurant que c’estoit trop prié. Alors prenant ses armes il enfonsse furieusement Maugiron, qui le reçoit de mesme, et s’enferrant tous deux, tombèrent morts sur la place. On dit que Maugiron fut blessé devant Riberac, & que le poursuivant ainsi qu’il tomboit, il s’enferra luy mesme dans les armes de son ennemy.
As soon as the parties met, Ribérac advanced towards Quélus, and said to Maugiron: it seems to me that we should reconcile these gentleman and make them friend again, rather than let them kill one another. Maugiron answered, I have not come to amuse myself, I want to fight. And who do you want to fight, Maugiron, you have no interest in the quarrel, said Ribérac; what is more, you have no enemy here. I want to fight you, said Maugiron. Me ! Said Ribérac, let us pray God then. Saying this he drew his sword, which he crossed with his dagger, and falling to his knees started a prayer, rather brief, but too long anyway for Maugiron’s taste, who shouted with a swear that it was too much. Then, taking up his weapons, he furiously charged Maugiron, who received him in the same fashion, and transfixing one another they fell dead on the place. It is said that Maugiron was wounded before Ribérac, and that the latter impaled himself on his enemy’s weapons, pursuing him as he fell. Vital d’Audiguier

This seems quite close to a double-hit, although the timing is unclear. Apparently Ribérac was so keen to finish Maugiron off that he impaled himself on his sword. That fight must have been over in a flash. None of the authors point out that the prayer may have been a trick, although it does seem to me that this allowed Ribérac to get the first hit very quickly and almost by surprise on the unnerved Maugiron. La Taille account is the same except he precises that Ribérac laid his weapons on the ground, and therefore was not holding them during his prayer.

The principals then engaged:

Quant à Caylus, il s’estoit porté sur la place avec l’espee seule ; & voyant Entraguet avec l’espee & le poignard, il luy dit qu’il le devoit quitter. Entraguet luy respondit, que c’estoient les armes qui avoient esté accordees. Mais cela n’est pas sans dispute, à sçavoir si ce n’estoit pas de la franchise d’un brave courage de le quitter. Caylus neantmoins qui estoit trop genereux pour rompre, ou diferer une partie pour cela, ne laisse d’aller à luy, luy perce le bras d’une pointe, & en reçoit trois ou quatre dans le corps, dont il tombe à terre. Il est à presupposer que n’ayant point de poignard, il taschoit à passer sur son ennemy, qui ayant cest avantage sur luy, l’arresta de grands coups d’estoc qu’il luy tiroit de pied ferme.
As far as Quélus is concerned, he went in the place with the sword alone, and upon seeing Antraguet with sword and dagger, told him that he should leave the latter. Antraguet answered that these were the weapons that were agreed. But this is not without controversy: was not it more honest and courageous to leave it. Quélus however was too generous to step back, or report the fight because of this, went to Antraguet and pierced his arm with a thrust, and received three or four in the body, from which he fell to the ground. One can suppose that without a dagger, he tried to pass over to his enemy, who having this advantage upon him, stopped him with great thrusts delivered from a firm foot. Vital d’Audiguier

Obviously the notion of equality of weapons is not what we would expect for a duel. Technically speaking the idea of passing against someone having a dagger does not seem all that good, so I do wonder where d’Audiguier took that from. There does not appear to have been a unanimous disapproval of Antraguet’s behaviour, as long as daggers were agreed beforehand. This is echoed in Brantôme’s own account:

il se plaignit fort d’Antraguet, de quoy il avoit la dague plus que luy, qui n’avoit que la seulle espée ; aussi pour parer et détourner les coups que l’autre luy donnoit, il avoit la main toute découpée de playes ; et, ainsi qu’ils se voulurent affronter, Quiélus dist à Antraguet : “Tu as une dague, et moy je n’en ay point.” A quoi répliqua Antraguet : “Tu as donc faict une grande faute de l’avoir oubliée au logis ; icy sommes-nous pour nous battre, et non pour poinctilles des armes.” Il y en eut aucuns qui dirent que c’estoit quelque espèce de supercherie d’avoir eu l’avantage de la dague, s’il n’en avoit esté convenu de n’en porter point, mais la seulle espée. Il y a à disputer là-dessus ; mais Antraguet disoit n’en avoir esté parlé. D’autres disoient que par gentillesse chevaleresque, il devoit quicter la dague ; c’est à savoir s’il le devoit. Je m’en raporte aux bons discoureurs, meilleurs que moy.
he [Quélus] complained strongly about Antraguet, that he had the dagger when himself had just the sword; so that in order to parry and set aside the blows given by the other, he got his hand all cut up with wounds. As they went into the fight, Quélus told Antraguet : “You have a dagger, and I do not”. To which Antraguet replied: “You have done a great mistake then, to have forgotten it in the house; we are here to fight and not to fuss about weapons”. There were some who said it was some sort of cheating to have the advantage of the dagger, if it was not agreed to carry one but to have a single sword. It is controversial; but Antraguet says that this had not been discussed. Others have said that he should have abandonned the dagger out of knightly nobility; one might wonder if he had to. I leave this to better writers than me. Brantôme

Possibly a number of l’Estoile 19 wounds claimed on Quélus were to the left hand and arm.

A good reason to study Giganti’s advice against sword & dagger…

The thirds also got involved, albeit perhaps with slightly less animosity, but no less bloody results:

Chomberg s’estoit adressé à Livarot, & voyant leurs amis aux mains, ils se batent, dit-il, que ferons nous ? Battons-nous aussi pour nostre honneur, respond Livarrot. Responce qui fut trouvee fort estrange de ce temps-là, ou les seconds n’avoient point accoustumé de se battre. Mais on le seroit bien encore davantage, si l’on respondoit autrement en cestui-cy, ou l’on ne pourroit avec honneur voir batre ses amis les bras croisez, sans faire autre chose que les regarder. Ils commencent donc à s’entrecharger, Chomberg qui estoit Allemand d’un coup de taille à la mode de son païs, ouvre à Livarrot toute la joue du costé gauche. Mais Livarrot plus adroit, luy donne d’une estocade dans la mamelle qui le porta mort par terre, & tombe aussi de l’autre costé estonné du grand coup qu’il avoit receu, & de l’abondance de sang qui sortoit de sa playe.
Chomberg, seeing their friends coming to blows, said to Livarrot: they are fighting, what shall we do? Let us fight as well, for our honour, answered Livarrot. An answer which was found very strange at the time, when the seconds were not customarily used to fight yet. But we would be even more astonished to hear another response nowadays, when it is not possible to watch one’s friends fight with one’s arms crossed, without doing anything else. Therefore they start to charge one another. Chomberg who was German opened Livarrot’s whole left cheek with a cut in his country’s fashion. But Livarrot was more skillful, and gave his opponent a thrust to the bosom which took him down, and then fell as well to the other side, shaken from the great blow he had received and the amount of blood pouring out of his wound. Vital d’Audiguier

Apparently, it was seen as typical for the Germans to cut profusively!

This exchange is allegedly the model for all the subsequent duels where seconds could not abstain from fighting any longer, if they wanted to keep their honour.

A pertinent question to ponder is how much fencing skill did these gentlemen have. It is difficult to answer it precisely, of course. Maugiron died without much chance of showing whatever skill he had. It seems to me that Ribérac had at least some ruse and determination, but had bad luck when he wanted to finish off his opponent. Chomberg knew enough to deliver a good cut in a way characteristic from his country of birth, and Livarrot to place a decisive thrust against him, so they must have had some fencing instruction. Quélus appeared quite lost without his dagger, but then that’s certainly not a nice situation to find oneself in. Antraguet managed to take his opponent down and not get seriously wounded, which is a lot better than his five companions, but given his advantage, it cannot be attributed purely to skill. The least that can be said is that they were not timid in front of the danger, perhaps not enough…

The aftermath

The body count is quite certain, only two participants survived.

Ainsi demeurerent morts sur la place Maugiron & Chomberg, & blessez Caylus, & Livarrot qui furent portez à l’hostel de Boissy là aupres; & Riberac à l’hostel de Guyse, ou il mourut le lendemain. Entraguet se sauva blessé à la faveur de Monsieur de Guyse ; & bien luy en prit, car le Roy l’eust fait mourir, pour la grande affection qu’il portoit à Caylus […].
Thus Maugiron and Chomberg were left dead on the place; Quélus and Livarrot, wounded, were carried to the nearby hostel de Boissy, and Ribérac to the hostel de Guise, were he died the day after. Antraguet fled under the protection of Monsieur de Guise, and good for him, because the king would have had him killed out of the great affection he had for Quélus […]. Vital d’Audiguier

What exactly happened to Quélus is surprisingly unclear, despite his high status. Brantôme gives him a few days:

M. de Quiélus ne mourut pas sur la place, mais il survesquit quatre ou cinq jours par la bonne cure des chirurgiens et la bonne visite du roy, qui l’aymoit fort.
Quélus did not die on the spot, but survived four or five days thanks to the good care of the physicians and the visits of the king, who loved him very much. Brantôme

La Taille, here quoted by d’Audiguier, claims 18 days. D’Audiguier had another oral source explaining that Quélus seemed to recover at first, then died anyway, which is more consistent with l’Estoile 33 days:

La Taille dit qu’il avoit un coup mortel, & que tout l’art, & l’industrie des chirurgiens ne luy sceut prolonger la vie que de dixhuit jours. Mais je tiens d’un vieux Gentilhomme du païs nommé la Planio, qui estoit lors à la court, qu’il estoit desia guery, & se promenoit par la maison; tellement que trois sepmaines après son combat, il le vit à la Court de son logis, ou il estoit sorty avec sa robe de chambre pour voir des chevaux qu’on luy avoit amenez. Néantmoins il est bien certain qu’il en mourut peu de jours après, soit qu’il fit quelque excez, ou qu’il eust été mal pensé.
La Taille says he had a mortal wound, and that all the art and industry of the physicians only made him live eighteen more days. But I have heard an old countryside gentleman named la Planio, who was then at the court, claim that he was in fact cured and walking about his home, so much so that three weeks after his fight, he saw him in the court of his house, where he was in a dressing gown examining horses that were brought to him. However it is absolutely certain that he died a few days later, either from some form of excess, or from a badly tended wound. Vital d’Audiguier

This duel is a good example of how sword wounds can have a variety of effects, somewhat unpredictable. You have people dying nearly instantenously from one thrust, stunned from a cut but still killing the opponent, or enduring dozens of wounds and fighting on.

The King mourned his “darlings” very much, perhaps excessively according to l’Estoile and some of the anonymous pamphlets he cites. Apparently not everyone regretted them, to say the least.

The outlook on this duel seemed to have been variable. Vital d’Audiguier writes a text against the current use of duelling which had been very much shaped by the Duel des Mignons, and as expected he is very negative:

Comparez maintenant ce Duel avec ceux que nous avons raportez, vous trouverez qu’il est pire que les plus mauvais en toutes les façons qu’on le voudra prendre.
Now compare this Duel with the others that we have reported, you will find it worse than the worse in any way you could look at it. Vital d’Audiguier

Reading Brantôme gives some insight on how it was perceived in another part of the nobility, though. He has nothing negative to say about it. Actually, it almost seems like to him a higher body count would have been better!

Ce combat fut très beau, et l’acompara-on lors à celui des Cuyrasses et Horaces, les uns Albans, et les autres Romains, pour n’en avoir veu en France de longtemps tel, et de tant à tant et sans armes aucune deffencives. Reste que de cestuy-cy en resta deux en vie, qui furent Antraguet et Livarot, et de l’autre des Romains et Albans, un seullement.
This fight was very beautiful, and was compared to that of the Curiatii and Horatii, Albans and Romans respectively, because such a battle had not been seen in France for a long time, so many against so many and without any armour. That said, two went away alive from this one, Antraguet and Livarrot, but from the other between the Romans and Albans, only one. Brantôme

All the praise to the victims and the lack of consequences for the survivors unarguably encouraged others to engage in such duels. Antraguet remained under the protection of the duc de Guise for a while, and was never punished for the deaths. Livarrot also got away without any judicial consequences, but died in another duel three years later. This, however, is another story…


2 thoughts on “Tales of the French duels: Duel des Mignons

  1. Brillant story and analysis. The tencency for germans and swiss to have a cut oriented fencing is reported in several treatises, including in Dancie and in Rene François’ book.

    • Thanks!

      Yes it’s all consistent. What I do find nice is that it indicates that he had some training; you don’t fight in a recognizable way if you’re entirely out of training!

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