the duel


At their best politicians can be hugely entertaining. All, though some more consciously than others, are by nature performers. They can affect anger, indignation and sensitivity at will. Inevitably, however, their repertoire changes over the centuries. Until 1850 or so, politicians occasionally fought each other in a duel. Death was uncommonly the result, but a delighted public could often count on a serious wound or two. William Pitt took on George Tierney, while Charles James Fox was wounded by William Adam. In the latter contest, Fox jokingly remarked that he would certainly have been killed but for the fact that his opponent had been using government powder.

The duel in question in this book was fought in 1809 between Lord Castlereagh and George Canning. Both were members of the Duke of Portland’s Cabinet. One was Secretary of State for War and the other was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Since each of them should have been directing all his efforts towards the destruction of Napoleon Bonaparte, their attempts to kill each other were relished. It suggested that their priorities had become somewhat blurred. Both men had gallons of Irish blood in their veins, but some further explanation seemed necessary.

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