In 1792, the Carlton House Magazine ran an article, with an accompanying illustration, of two female petticoat duellists. The two participants were identified, in the magazine, as Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs Elphinstone.
The two ladies were taking tea when Mrs Elphinstone, after an exchange of ‘bloated compliments’ between them, said to Lady Almeria, “You have been a very beautiful woman.”
Lady Almeria: “Have been? What do you mean by ‘have been’?”
Mrs Elphinstone: “You have a very good autumn face, even now . . . The lilies and roses are somewhat faded. Forty years ago I am told a young fellow could hardly gaze on you with impunity.”
Lady Almeria: “Forty years ago! Is the woman mad? I had not existed thirty years ago!”
Mrs Elphinstone: “Then Arthur Collins, the author of the British Peerage has published a false, scandalous and seditious libel against your ladyship. He says you were born the first of April 1732.”
Lady Almeria: “Collins is a most infamous liar; his book is loaded with errors; not a syllable of his whole six volumes is to be relied on.”
Mrs Elphinstone: “Pardon me. He asserts that you were born in April 1732 and consequently are in your sixty first year.”
Lady Almeria: “I am but turned of thirty.”
Mrs Elphinstone: “That’s false, my lady!”
Lady Almeria: “This is not to be borne; you have given me the lie direct . . . I must be under the necessity of calling you out . . . “
Mrs Elphinstone: “Name your weapons. Swords or pistols?”
Lady Almeria: “Both!”
The ladies met at Hyde Park and set to with pistols. Mrs Elphinstone proved the better shot, putting a bullet hole through Lady Almeria’s hat. Their seconds pleaded with them to end it there but Mrs Elphinstone refused to apologise and so hostilities resumed, this time with swords. Lady Almeria managed to inflict a wound on her opponent’s sword arm and honour was deemed to have been satisfied; both ladies quitted the field.
It’s no doubt an intriguing tale and has been repeated time and time again over the intervening two centuries. Unfortunately, it is also most probably completely untrue. There never was a Lady (or a Lord) Braddock, and no contemporary account can be found of such a duel being fought, and it would certainly have excited plenty of attention if it had.
There was a contemporary Lady Almeria, but she was Lady Almeria Carpenter (20th March 1752-1809), daughter of the 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, and the mistress of Prince William Henry, the Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh (1743-1805, son of King George II) and mother to his illegitimate daughter Louisa Maria La Coast.
The True Briton wrote of her on the 28th June 1798, ‘Lady Almeria Carpenter was at the Haymarket Theatre on Monday last; and though she has been celebrated as a Beauty for near thirty years, she may still vie in personal attractions with the fairest Toasts of the present day.’
If Lady Almeria Carpenter is not the person alluded to, we do wonder if the fictitious Lady Almeria Braddock is somehow referring back to the Georgian actress George Anne Bellamy (1727-1788)? She played Almeria in Congreve’s The Mourning Bride and was a close acquaintance of one General Edward Braddock (1695-1755). She claimed to have known him from her infancy, and in her memoir ‘An Apology for the Life of Mrs. George Anne Bellamy,’ in which she mentions him often, she said of him:
This great man having been often reproached with brutality, I am induced to recite the following little accident, which evidently shews the contrary.
As we were walking in the Park one day, we heard a poor fellow was to be chastised; when I requested the General to beg off the offender. Upon his application to the general officer, whose name was Drury, he asked Braddock, How long since he had divested himself of brutality, and of the insolence of his manners? To which the other replied, “You never knew me insolent to my inferiors. It is only to such rude men as yourself, that I behave with the spirit which I think they deserve.
In 1718 Braddock had fought a duel, using both swords and pistols, with Colonel Waller in Hyde Park. George Anne Bellamy also knew a Mrs Elphinstone; again in her ‘Apology’ she writes:
The most attached patronesses I had, besides those of the Montgomery family, which were numerous, were the Duchess of Douglas, and the Miss Ruthvens, the eldest of whom soon married Mr. Elphinstone. The latter were partial to me to a degree of enthusiasm. Lady Ruthven likewise honoured me with her support.
We can, however, give one, much earlier account of a ‘petticoat duel’ which did take place, however not with swords and pistols but with pattens (protective wooden overshoes).
Some Days ago a Female Duel was fought at Greenwich, in which one of the Combatants kill’d her Antagonist with her Patten. The Coroner’s Inquest having sate upon the Body of the Deceased, brought in their Verdict Manslaughter.
(London Journal, 28th December 1723).