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The Dubious Quick Kill, part 2
 
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by

Frank Lurz

Frank Lurz bio

Because exsanguination is the most frequent cause of death in stabbing and incising wounds1, the first installment of this work covered the subject of wounds to the cardiovascular system. Anecdotes of duels fought with rapier, sabre, or smallsword, and forensic literature based upon present-day coroner's reports of homicides in which knives and other sharp instruments were used convincingly showed that mortal wounds to the major vessels and even to the heart itself do not always lead to instant incapacitation of the victim. The veracity of these accounts is supported by a 1961 survey conducted by Spitz, Petty and Russell which found that of seven victims stabbed in various regions of the heart, none expired immediately. While two were quickly incapacitated, the remaining five were not, and of these one, despite a two-centimeter incision in the left ventricle, walked a full city block, armed himself with a broken beer bottle, and collapsed only after he returned to the scene of the crime to re-engage the individual who had stabbed him.2 This case in particular makes it clear that for the duelist, mortally wounding an adversary, even in the heart, may not necessarily be enough to place him hors de combat. This final installment will address other organ systems of the human body with an aim to further explore the question of instant incapacitation by thrust or cut.

The Respiratory System

To understand the mechanisms of incapacitation and death caused by sharp force injury to the respiratory system, a brief explanation of the anatomy and mechanical function of this system will be helpful. Air entering the nose and mouth is conducted to the lungs by way of the windpipe (trachea), a nearly cylindrical conduit passing down through the neck toward the chest cavity where it divides into the right and left bronchi. Each bronchus further bifurcates into a series of subdivisions within the lungs. In the chest, within the spaces (pleural cavities) found on either side of the heart, lie the lungs. Divided into a number of lobes, these organs are exceptionally light, porous, highly vascularized, and elastic.3 The movement of air into the lungs is governed by a number of muscles which increase the volume of the chest, and hence, the volume of the pleural cavities within. As these cavities expand, a drop in intrathoracic pressure is produced. Provided the airway is clear, air rushes in along the pressure gradient to equilibrate the intrathoracic pressure with outside pressure, thereby inflating the lungs which expand as they fill the larger volume. Upon exhalation the process is reversed, generally through a passive mechanism produced by the elastic character of the lungs, chest wall, and abdomen.4

Wounds to the Respiratory System

As long as the pleural cavities remain closed to the outside atmosphere, the mechanics of respiration function normally. If the chest wall is opened, however, intrathoracic pressure will equilibrate as outside air enters, not just into the lungs, but directly into the pleural cavity through the incision (pneumothorax), thereby causing the lung inside to collapse.5 A sabre stroke penetrating the intercostal muscles and opening the chest wall will produce a pneumothorax, resulting in the immediate loss of function of the lung. Of course to do so, the cut would either have to fall between and run parallel to the ribs, or be of sufficient force to cut through the bone. Since the right and left lungs are each isolated within their own pleural cavities however, a wound to only one side of the chest would leave the lung on the opposite side functional.

A point thrust inflicted by a smallsword or rapier may produce somewhat different results. While a penetrating wound inflicted with these weapons may appear on the surface to be much smaller than the incising wound produced by the stroke of a sabre, the track of a penetrating wound may extend completely through the body, damaging even the most deeply located structures. In addition, such a wound may be inflicted with little effort since the entire force of the thrust is delivered by a sharp point over an extremely small surface area. Depending upon the size of the blade, the hole in the chest wall may be small enough to close itself partially upon withdrawal of the blade, producing only a slow leak of air into the chest cavity. If the victim were well profiled when the thrust was delivered, the blade could enter one lung and easily pass through the chest to the opposite side, causing pneumothorax in both pleural cavities. In this case air would enter the pleural cavity not only through the hole in the chest wall, but also through the holes in the lungs themselves, with each respiratory cycle.

Death caused solely by pneumothorax is generally a slow process, occurring as much as several hours after the wound is inflicted.6 However, because lung tissue is so heavily vascularized, a blade penetrating not only the chest wall but the lung as well will also cause hemorrhaging into the pleural cavity (hemothorax); the amount of blood and the rate of its flow being dependent upon the dimensions of the wound, blood pressure, vascular structures compromised, and clotting factors. While blood loss alone may produce incapacitation and death, it is important to consider that, in the case of stab wounds to the chest, most of the blood lost usually remains confined within the pleural cavity because the elastic nature of the tissues around the site of entry tends to at least partially close the wound . Consequently, as the cavity fills with blood, the lung becomes increasingly compressed and less able to function, contributing to the cause of death. Today, most fatalities due solely to stab wounds which penetrate the lungs are caused by hemothorax, with pneumothorax sometimes also present.7

As is the case with pneumothorax, neither death nor incapacitation by hemothorax is rapid. Spitz reports a typical case of a twenty-nine year old man stabbed in the chest. Immediately after the stabbing the victim ran across the street to ask for help. He eventually collapsed, but remained alive for one and a quarter hours before expiring. Autopsy revealed a 2.5 centimeter wound track in the lung and a volume of blood in the pleural cavity in excess of two liters.8

Consistent with the findings of Spitz and other present-day investigators, numerous examples taken from dueling anecdotes indicate that sword-thrusts to the lungs were not always effective in immediately placing a determined duelist out of the combat. The duel fought in 1613 between the Earl of Dorset and Lord Edward Bruce is a typical example.9 According to the account, the Earl received a rapier thrust which entered the right nipple and passed "level through my body, and almost to my back." It seems certain that a blade introduced in this fashion would penetrate some part of a lung. Nevertheless, Dorset remained engaged for a considerable period of time and ultimately ran his adversary through with two separate thrusts. Dorset's wound was, indeed, serious for his complete incapacitation followed immediately afterward; as is evidenced by the necessity of one of his seconds to intervene to defend him as one of Lord Bruce's friends, in a moment of uncontrolled temper, attempted to dispatch Dorset where he lay.

This duel almost seems a copy of the duel described by Deerhurst10 in which a mortally wounded combatant received a through-and-through rapier thrust just above the nipple. With the blade still protruding from his back, the dying man remained upright and fully engaged, repeatedly attempting to drive his own blade into his adversary's throat. Losing a number of fingers while attempting to parry away the thrusts with his hand, the ill-fated defender was eventually impaled. Each transfixed upon the blade of the other, both men remained upright and locked in a death grip for some time before collapsing.

Another example may be found in the duel between Sawyer and Wrey, in which the latter was initially stabbed in the left chest. As Wrey failed to collapse on the spot, Sawyer quickly launched another attack, this time wounding him in the left arm. Despite his chest wound, Wrey nevertheless remained an active, capable, and dangerous adversary. Upon the increasingly confidant Sawyer's third attack, Wrey reversed the fortunes of his as yet unscathed opponent and ran him through.11

Given the typically sketchy character of dueling anecdotes, it is often difficult to ascertain satisfactorily the precise nature of the wounds involved since duelists who survived their wounds were not examined at autopsy. However, the account of a duel fought in 1765 between Lord Kilmaurs and an unnamed French officer12 is an uncommonly illuminating one. The likelihood that a lung was penetrated through-and-through seems, in this case, to be well supported by the details of the anecdotal evidence. According to the account, after one or two attacks, the Frenchman delivered a thrust which entered the "pit" of Kilmaurs' "stomach" and exited through his right shoulder. It seems probable that, given the sites of entry and exit, the blade of the officer's weapon would have had to pass through some portion of a lung. In support of this probability, the account goes on to state that subsequent to the termination of the combat, Kilmaurs was nearly "stifled with his own blood." The sign of blood in the airway, combined with the description of the manner in which the blade entered and exited the victim's body, strongly suggests that a lung had been pierced.

It is impossible to know how this affair would have ended since, after the wound had been delivered, the duel was immediately interrupted by spectators. In fact, despite the horrific nature of his wound, Lord Kilmaurs was reported to have seemed hardly aware that anything was amiss. Consequently, assuming that this account is reasonably accurate, Kilmaurs appears to have been, for some time, capable of continuing the combat, potentially reversing the fortunes of his adversary.

The account goes on to say that His Lordship eventually became speechless and demonstrated every sign of impending death for several hours. Incredibly, after just a few days, Lord Kilmaurs' condition improved and over time the gentleman ultimately recovered. Curiously, the Earl of Dorset also recovered from his chest wound and lived an additional thirty-nine years.

As an historical aside, given the current forensic literature one may accept that a swordsman grievously wounded in the lung may nevertheless remain a dangerous adversary for a considerable period. However, one may yet wonder why Dorset and Kilmaurs did not eventually succumb due to pneumothorax or hemothorax. Of course, without medical records or any other information one can only speculate as to why these men survived. Aside from almost impossibly good luck, their survival may be explained by the fact that because tuberculosis was more prevalent during those times, each of these men may have been previously afflicted with this disease. If so, the scarring of lung tissue may have left portions of their lungs poorly vascularized and slow to hemorrhage. While the evidence of blood in the airway strongly indicates that a lung of Lord Kilmaurs was penetrated, it may be that the rate of blood flowing from scarred lung tissues was low enough to allow clotting to take place before His Lordship bled to death.

Sword-thrusts to the lungs are certainly a serious matter as far as the question of long-term survival is concerned, but it is clear that wounds of this type offer no guarantee that an opponent will immediately be rendered helpless. A thrust or cut to the throat, on the other hand, is a very different matter. As everyone knows, the inadvertent aspiration of even a small amount of fluid into the airway can instantly produce powerful coughing and choking reflexes and acute respiratory distress. Stab wounds or cuts to the neck which penetrate or transect the trachea or larynx will allow blood to flow directly into the airway, quickly causing incapacitation and death by asphyxiation.13

On May 12, 1627 Bussy D'Amboise, while acting as a second in the duel between Francois de Montmorency and the Marquis De Beuvron, was reported to have received such a wound. Immediately disabled, D'Amboise was said to have "just had time to cross himself and die." The evidence for the neck as a choice target for quick kill seems compelling, but by no means should it be taken as a guarantee. In the 1609 duel between Sir Hatton Cheek and Sir Thomas Dutton,14 Cheek plunged a dagger into Dutton's throat, "close to the windpipe." With so many vital structures compactly situated in the area, it is hard to imagine how Dutton could have survived. Nevertheless, the blade seems to have narrowly missed the trachea, neatly avoiding the common carotid and vertebral arteries and the internal jugular vein as well. As luck would have it, Dutton survived both the wound and the affair, killing Cheek with a rapier thrust through the body, and a dagger thrust to the back as well.

The Musculature

In order to effect locomotion, the human body is invested with an ingeniously designed array of contractile tissues; the voluntary, or skeletal muscles. These muscles are composed of numerous, relatively long muscle fibers gathered together in parallel to form bundles (fasciculi) which, in turn, are bundled together to form individual muscle organs, e.g., the deltoid, biceps or calf muscles with which most of us are familiar.15 To effect locomotion, muscles must span the joints of bones and attach directly to them at some point by means of masses of strong connective tissues called tendons and aponeuroses16. Upon contraction, the tension between the attached muscle ends pulls one bone toward the other with the joint acting as a pivot or hinge.

The fibers which compose a muscle are generally aligned in a parallel fashion, much like the hairs in a horse's tail. Consequently, a penetrating wound delivered by a narrow blade may have little immediate effect upon the functionality of a muscle since all it does is separate slightly the fibers which compose the muscle as a whole. Similarly, a cutting stroke from an edged weapon which results in an incision running parallel to the fibers of a muscle may not necessarily render an adversary immediately helpless. On the other hand, a cut which incises a muscle at right angles to the longitudinal axis of its fibers can be expected to compromise the function of that muscle to a degree commensurate with the severity of the cut. The same may be said for cuts which sever the tendons. Should a muscle, a group of muscles, or their tendons be severed, voluntary movement of the body part serviced by that muscle or muscle group will be immediately terminated.

Wounds to Musculature of the Forearm

Incising wounds, delivered with the cutting edges of a sabre or rapier, which transect tendons or muscle groups servicing the sword arm or hand may be expected to serve as an effective means of immediately terminating an adversary's ability to pose a menace. In a duel with the fencing master of the Chasseurs de Vintimille, Marshal Ney, the Duke of Elchingen is said to have wounded his adversary in this fashion. Surgical techniques being as crude as they were in those days, the wound left the victim permanently crippled.17 The dorsal surface of the forearm of a sabreur in the guard of second is particularly exposed. An examination of the anatomy of the forearm, however, suggests that a single cut to this area may not necessarily succeed in severing a sufficient number of the muscles at this site before the bones around which they are so elaborately entwined prevent the blade from transecting the entire muscle mass.

Cuts transecting the palmar surface of the forearm can sever muscles and tendons required to flex the fingers as they effect a grip on the weapon, and to flex the wrist. An incising wound delivered to this region may incapacitate an adversary more effectively, especially if the cut is placed across the wrist itself because the tendons of so many muscles pass over this site. The palmar surface of the wrist is not well exposed, however, by the sabreur maintaining guards of second, third, or fourth. In rapier play, guards or invitations of second or third suppinate the hand and displace the arm in such a way as to leave the palmar surface of the wrist more vulnerable, but the protection afforded by rapier hilts, whether swept or cup, makes such a cut not so easy a thing to accomplish.

Wounds inflicted by point thrusts through the muscles of the forearm most certainly do not guarantee the immediate disability of an adversary. In the account given by Deerhurst, one of the two combatants received a rapier thrust which entered the inside of the sword arm and exited at the outside of the elbow.18 This description indicates that the track of the wound, rather than transecting the muscles of the arm, ran a course more or less parallel to them and likely did relatively little damage. In fact, after springing back and dislodging the hostile blade from his arm, the combatant was still able to wield his weapon with dexterity sufficient to enable him to run his adversary through. In the duel between the Earl of Dorset and Lord Edward Bruce, Dorset also received a "great" wound to the arm.19 Nevertheless, subsequent to the injury, Dorset was able to deliver not one, but two thrusts, each of which passed through his adversary's body. The affair between Sawyer and Wrey,20 is yet another example. According to this account, Captain Wrey is reported to have received two wounds, one to the left chest and one to the left arm. Because both injuries are located on the same side of the body, it is likely that Wrey was left-handed. If so, it was his sword arm which, though wounded, nevertheless remained serviceable enough to dispatch his antagonist on his third attack.

Wounds to Musculature of the Leg and Thigh

As in the case for the forearm, attempts to immediately incapacitate an adversary by directing thrusts or cuts to leg muscles may not have been particularly effective. In the first place, the leading leg of a swordsman in the guard position faces forward to present a fairly heavy bone, the tibia (shin bone), situated just beneath the skin, on the leg's anterior and medial surfaces.21 Unless a stroke is delivered with enough force to part the bone, a cut placed across this region of the leg is not likely to transect a great deal of muscle. Although considerably more muscle lies on the lateral side of the leg, a stroke to this region would have to be delivered across the target from right to left (in the case of two right-hand swordsmen) with the tibia once again affording some measure of protection.

Regarding the thigh, in the guard position a duelist presents the leading thigh forward in such a way as to expose the femoral muscle group, the quadriceps femoris. This group is composed of four muscles of relatively massive proportions which lie in front and on either side of the thigh bone (femur).22 All four of these muscles cooperate in extending the leg. The posterior femoral muscles, commonly known as the hamstrings, work together to flex the leg.23 Because the individual muscles in these groups are massive, and because the individual muscles of each group share common functions, a single cut or thrust to either muscle group may not do enough damage to cripple a leg instantly.

One example illustrating this point may be found in the sabre duel between St. Aulaire and Pierrebourg in which St. Aulaire, quickly seizing what appeared to be an opportunity, delivered a cut to his adversary's knee. While the massive tendons of the quadriceps extend over this site, the account makes no mention of Pierrebourg being either seriously wounded or incapacitated. In fact, the stroke proved to be a costly one for St. Aulaire in that, upon delivering the cut, St. Aulaire exposed his upper body. Seeing the opening, Pierrebourg took advantage and gave point to his opponent's chest. St. Aulaire expired a few minutes later.24

Another example of the damage a leg may sustain without loss of function may be found in the duel in 1712 between the Duke of Hamilton and Lord Mouhn, in which Hamilton had been mortally wounded. After he had expired an examination of the body revealed numerous wounds, including one that penetrated his right leg to a depth of eighteen centimeters as well as another wound on the left. Despite these injuries, the Duke was able to inflict three wounds to his adversary, including one to the groin and another which penetrated the right side of the body clear through to the hilt.25

It is conceivable that, because wounds inflicted upon the muscles of the forward-facing aspect of the leg were not particularly effective, a technique was developed specifically designed to incapacitate a swordsman more quickly. The stroke, which appears to have a history traceable as far back as the second century A.D.,26 ultimately became known as the Coup de Jarnac.27 The technique disabled one's adversary by severing the tendinous portion of the hamstrings, causing the victim's leg to collapse immediately, much the same way the limb of a marionette would go limp upon the severing of the string responsible for its movement. Located behind the knee, these tendons are not well exposed to an adversary facing his opponent from the front. Consequently, delivering a cut to this area presents certain challenges. The efficacy of the stroke was clear, however, and the technique may have served as a justifiable alternative to the risky and less effective cutting strokes directed to other parts of the leg.

The momentous duel in 1547 which gave the technique its name was that fought between Jarnac and Chastaigneraye.28 After a preliminary exchange of thrusts and cuts, Chastaigneraye was closing distance when Jarnac shifted his position while drawing Chastaigneraye's defenses high with a feint to the head, leaving the lower limbs exposed. With his hand in pronation, Jarnac then executed a drawing cut with the false edge of his blade across Chastaigneraye's hamstrings, inflicting a slight wound behind the knee of the left leg. Surprised, Chastaigneraye became briefly distracted, but before he had an opportunity to regain his composure Jarnac delivered a similar stroke to the hamstrings of the right leg, this time cutting through to the bone. Although Chastaigneraye eventually bled to death, it was the severing of his hamstrings which resulted in his immediate incapacitation.

A similar duel featuring the application of this technique was also fought between Newton and Hamilton in the same year,29 and earlier in that century yet another duel is reported to have been fought in which the same technique was employed in a combat between an Italian officer and a Frenchman.30 Short of a stroke resulting in dismemberment, this technique would appear to be the only sure means of disabling instantly the musculature of the leg.

Wounds to the Skeletal System

With the exceptions of the enamel and dentin of the teeth, bone composes the hardest structures in the human body. Durable and slightly elastic, it is capable of sustaining considerable force.31

Although violent strokes delivered by massive weapons such as cavalry sabres can produce forces sufficient to divide bone, cuts or thrusts by the duelist's rapier, sabre or epee may fail to have any immediate incapacitating effect. In fact, some duelists who delivered cuts or thrusts which met with their antagonists bones were sometimes left at a serious disadvantage. A classic example may be found in the duel fought with rapier and dagger between Lagarde and Bazanez in which a stroke was delivered by the former to his adversary's head. No doubt to Lagarde's surprise, the stroke proved to be ineffective, as the steel merely bounced off his adversary's skull, leaving the blade inconveniently bent.32

In the encounter between Baron de Mittaud and Baron de Vitaux, a thrust to the chest by Vitaux also resulted in a disfigured blade. It had been argued that it was a flesh-colored cuirass, concealed beneath the Baron's shirt, that had caused the steel to bend, but tricks of this sort were not unknown, and in fact, both Vitaux and Mittaud had been properly examined by seconds before the duel began. No doubt for this reason it had also been suggested that it was the impact of the point on one of Mittaud's ribs that had bent the blade; a suggestion which may lead one to conclude that such occurrences may have been witnessed before or since. In any case, Vitaux was left with nothing to do but hack away at his adversary until, after "four well-applied cuts," Mittaud finally ran him through.33

Yet another example may be found in the 1777 affair between Captain Stoney and a Reverend Mr. Bate. In this combat a thrust delivered by Bate is said to have struck the captain's breast-bone. The Reverend's weapon was left so badly bent that his chivalrous opponent felt obliged to pause in order to allow his adversary an opportunity to restore his blade to its proper alignment.34

Wounds to the Peripheral Nervous System

Because they lie close to and often between the bones, the larger nerves of the peripheral nervous system are generally not well exposed to the blade. As they extend farther away from the central nervous system, both motor and sensory nerves repeatedly subdivide, ultimately forming a complex network of individual fibers.35 By virtue of its wide distribution this network, as a whole, is capable of sustaining a localized cutting or penetrating wound with little effect to the overall motor function of the body in most cases.

Severed pain fibers, of course, are still capable of relaying sensory information which the brain interprets as pain. The deeply distressing sensation of a cut from a sharp kitchen knife is an experience with which nearly everyone is familiar. It is not unreasonable, therefore, for one to anticipate that the pain resulting from a sabre or rapier blade drawn across the flesh or passing through the chest, abdomen, or a limb would be severe enough to be immediately disabling. The dueling accounts cited in this essay, however, suggest that even in the case of mortal wounds, pain may not reach levels of magnitude sufficient to incapacitate a determined swordsman. Considering the great emotional stress under which these combats were fought, the adrenaline-mediated "fight or flight" response undoubtedly played a significant role in attenuating the pain of many wounds. The stress of modern warfare has also provided numerous present-day examples of similar cases in which combat soldiers who, despite extremely serious and even mortal wounds, were surprisingly unaware of their injuries until the engagement was concluded or they noticed blood. Some of these men were reported capable of amazing physical feats and collapsed only when the sequelae of their injuries made further action physically impossible.36

Wounds to the Central Nervous System

The central nervous system is well protected by the vertebral column and by the skull. Because of the thinness of bone in the orbits and at the site of the temples however, a point thrust may penetrate these areas with relative ease.37 Other vulnerable areas of the skull are also found in the frontal, maxillary, and nasal sinuses. The vulnerability of the face was clearly appreciated early in the history of rapier-play. In Vincentio Saviolo's treatise, "His Practice in Two Books," published in 1595, the master makes it plain that he advocates actions directed to the adversary's face, especially time thrusts.38 Also, a generous number of illustrations of various fencing actions, described in the treatises published by Capo Ferro39 and Alfieri40 in the first half of the 17th century, depict rapier thrusts entering the forward area of the head. In England, fencing master John Turner was reported to have developed considerable skill in dispatching adversaries with thrusts to the eye. In one case Turner is reported to have delivered a thrust to the eye of a combatant "so far in the brain at the eye that he presently fell down stone dead."41

That one would instantly fall down "stone dead" as a consequence of a stabbing which penetrates the brain through a breach in the skull may seem an outcome to be reasonably expected. Modern medical case reports, however, show that stab wounds of the skull and brain are, in general, not immediately fatal. In fact, victims have frequently been reported to have walked, and in some cases run away from their attackers.42 In some instances, victims may not even realize that they have been wounded. A report by Adam43 describes a case very much analogous to a sword thrust penetrating the frontal sinus of the skull. According to the report, the victim sustained a wound from a blade eleven centimeters in length which passed through the frontal bone in the region of the frontal sinus and penetrated deeply into the brain. The patient was found to be conscious and coherent upon admission, and after forty days, recovered completely. In another incident, a young man was accidentally shot through the head with an arrow which penetrated to a depth of twenty to twenty-five centimeters. The patient remained conscious, and while being transported to the hospital, attempted to extricate the projectile himself. The arrow, which entered through the face, was finally withdrawn through the back of his skull.44

Summary and Conclusions

Early American motion pictures have frequently misrepresented virtually every aspect of authentic swordplay. This seems to have been especially true of the industry's depiction of the manner in which swordsmen fell before the blades of their opponents. While anecdotes of duels may have been biased by politics or personal vanity, modern forensic medicine provides ample evidence to support historical accounts of gravely wounded duelists continuing in combats for surprising lengths of time, sometimes killing those who had killed them.

In the first installment of this essay modern forensic evidence indicated that exsanguination is the principal mechanism of death caused by stabbing and incising wounds, but that death by this means is seldom instantaneous; victims frequently capable of continued physical activity, even after being stabbed in the heart. Similarly, victims of sharp force injuries to the lungs are not infrequently able to carry on for protracted periods of time. Wounds which result in the introduction of blood into the upper airway, on the other hand, are likely to incapacitate and kill an adversary quite rapidly.

Duels featuring penetrating wounds to the muscles of the sword arm appear in some cases to have left duelists fully capable of manipulating their weapons. Thrusts to the thigh and leg may have been even less efficacious. Strokes with the cutting edges of swords to the limbs may result in more serious wounds to the musculature than the penetrating variety, but historical accounts of duels demonstrate that immediate incapacitation of an adversary stricken with such wounds was by no means guaranteed. Incising wounds which sever tendons, however, can be expected to immediately incapacitate the muscles from which they arise.

Recent medical reports of sharp force injuries to the brain suggest that even a sword-thrust penetrating the skull ought not to have been expected always to disable an opponent instantaneously.

While severe pain is usually incapacitating, the stress of combat may mask the pain of gravely serious wounds, enabling the determined duelist to remain on the ground for a considerable length of time.

The immediate consequences to a duelist of wounds inflicted by thrusts or cuts from the rapier, dueling sabre or smallsword were unpredictable. While historical anecdotes of affairs of honor and twentieth century medical reports show that many stabbing victims collapsed immediately upon being wounded, others did not. While a swordsman certainly gained no advantage for having been wounded, it cannot be said that an unscathed adversary, after having delivered a fatal thrust or cut, had no further concern for his safety. Duelists receiving serious and even mortal wounds were sometimes able to continue effectively in the combat long enough to take the lives of those who had taken theirs.

In the case of fencing practiced strictly as an art or sport, any series of fencing movements are represented in terms of tempi, each of which represents the execution a single fencing action. In terms of time per se, each tempo may be expressed in terms of fractions of a second. When touches are scored, fencing officials calling "halt," bring exchanges to an immediate conclusion.

For the duelist, however, another form of tempo had to be considered. In the early history of affairs of honor, this "dueling tempo" spanned the period extending from the moment that a wound was inflicted until the instant that the adversary was no longer able to continue effectively. This span of time was unpredictable in length and could be expressed in terms ranging from a fraction of a second to minutes. Considering the number and severity of wounds that were sustained by combatants in the early days of the duel, it would not be surprising to find that many duelists of latter days secretly breathed a sigh of relief when interrupted by seconds rushing in to terminate affairs of honor immediately upon the delivery of a well placed cut or thrust.


End Notes

1W. Spitz and R. Fisher, Medicolegal Investigation of Death (Springfield: 1980) 99.

2Supra, 297.

3H. Gray, Anatomy of the Human Body (Philadelphia: 1967), 1137-1150.

4A. Guyton, Textbook of Medical Physiology (Philadelphia:1971) 456.; A. Vander, J. Sherman and D. Luciano, Human Physiology: The Mechanisms of Body Function (New York: 1970) 304-307.

5Vander (Supra n. 4), 305.

6Spitz (Supra n. 1), 199.

7D. Di Maio and V. Di Maio, Forensic Pathology (New York: 1989) 185.

8Spitz (Supra n. 1), 296.

9L. Sabine, Notes on Duels and Dueling (Boston: 1855), 74-78.

10J. Millingen, The History of Dueling, 2 vols. (London: 1841) II, 18-21.

11Supra, 48-49.

12Supra, 92-94.

13Spitz (Supra n. 1), 199.

14Millingen (Supra n. 10), II: 12.

15Gray (Supra n. 3), 523-526, and also Guyton (Supra n. 4), 76.

16Gray (Supra n. 3), 277.

17Millingen (Supra n. 10), I: 226-227.

18Millingen (Supra n. 10), II: 18-21.

19Sabine (Supra n. 9), 74-78.

20Millingen (Supra n. 10), II: 48-49.

21Gray (Supra n. 3), 508.

22Supra, 495-497.

23Supra, 502, 505-507.

24Millingen (Supra n. 10), I: 242-243.

25R. Baldick, The Duel (New York: 1965), 71-72

26J. Amberger, "The Coup de Jarnac in 150 A.D.!," Hammerterz Forum, 2 no. 1 (1995): 12-14.

27Baldick (Supra n. 25), 29.

28A. Hutton, The Sword and the Centuries (New York: 1995), 46-52; Baldick Supra n. 25), 29-31; and also Millingen (Supra n. 10), I: 50-54.

29Hutton (Supra 28), 51.

30Supra, 53.

31Gray (Supra n. 3), 281.

32Baldick (Supra n. 25), 52-53, and also Millingen (Supra n. 10), I: 125-127.

33Millingen (Supra n. 10), I: 117.

34Millingen (Supra n. 10), I: 113-114.

35Gray (Supra n. 3), 907-1042.

36B. Knight, Forensic Pathology (New York: 1991), 115

37Di Maio (Supra n. 7), 186

38V. Saviolo, His Practise, in two bookes (London: 1595), cited in Turner and Soper, 65.

39R. Capo Ferro, Gran simulacro (Siena:1610).

40F. Alfieri, La Scherma (Padova: 1640).

41J. Aylward, The English Master of Arms (London: 1956) 37.

42Di Maio (Supra n. 7), 186.

43Adam, J.C. "Stab Wound of the Brain," British Medical Journal, 2 (1925): 546.

44Albuquerque Journal, May 6, 1993, cited in H. Stockel. The Lightning Stick (Reno, 1995) 3-4.


Select Bibliography

Adam, J.C. "Stab Wound of the Brain," British Medical Journal, 2 (1925): 546.

Albuquerque Journal. May 6, 1993. cited in Stockel, H. The Lightning Stick (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1995)

Alfieri, Francesco. La Scherma (Padova: 1640).

Amberger, J. "The Coup de Jarnac in 150 A.D.!," Hammerterz Forum, 2, no.1

(1995): 12-14.

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Saddle, Lance and Stirrup: The Irish/Roman Connection
The Naked Truth | If I Had a Hammer
The Sabre's Edge | Swordfight at the OK Corral
How to Defend a Monopoly | A Propos d'un Accident
The Dubious Quick Kill part 1 | The Dubious Quick Kill part 2
Review and Commentary | Duels with the Sword | Starting with Foil
Liancour's Tercentenary | The Manuel d'escrime of 1877 | The Military Masters Fencing Program
Analysis of the Patton Fencing Manual | The Red Court Fencing's Royal Connection
| The Practical Saviolo part 1 | Saddle, Lance and Stirrup
Demystification of the Spanish School 1 | Demystification of the Spanish School 2
Demystification of the Spanish School 3
| A Brief Look at Joseph Swetnam
| Ithacan Retains Title | Third Time's a Charm
Cross-Training Not Cross-Purposes | Riposte Direct | Use of the Word "Sparring"
Chivalry Makes a Come-back | Teachings of Marozzo |

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