History’s Strangest Duel Was Fought in Blimps

May 21, 2022 1 comments

They say that every action arises from either love or hate. Imagine then, what a creative catastrophe would unfold if a man was inspired by both. That’s probably what happened in the France of 1808, when two men ended up fighting the strangest duels of all times to come. In a story wrought with infatuation and betrayal, a love triangle ascended into a hot air balloon duel that probably became one of the first airborne fights in history.

The city was Paris, in all its pomp and gait. A lovely woman named Mademoiselle Tirevit enjoyed her fame as a dancer for the Paris Opera. As the social jargon of the times suggested, she was kept by Monsieur de Grandpré; but on the sidelines she began to see a gentleman named Le Pique.

When Grandpré found out about the affair, it was obvious that the matter had to be settled in favour of one man or the other. But these were not ordinary men, therefore their confrontation could not be ordinary either. Abandoning the conservative path of roulettes and arm punches, the men settled on a hot air balloon duel. The winner of the fight would get Mademoiselle Tirevit’s hand. People were intrigued, but not amazed. Duels were fairly common in 19th century France, and each day a new ordeal faced the men of the country.

And so it happened that on 3 May 1808, the two men met on a field next to the Tuileries, two gas balloons waiting for them. Both contestants carried in a blunderbuss each, which they would use to shoot their opponent’s balloon. They also had a second in command each, who would willingly die with his leader in the event of a loss. The men got into their balloons with a large crowd waving and watching. The chords were cut at about 9 o’ clock, and the ascent into air began. A true account from Northampton Mercury in England relates that the two balloons kept within 80 yards of each other as the moderate wind continued to sway them a mile up in the sky.

Le Pique was the first one to fire, and to miss. Grandpré responded with a shot that pierced the blimp. Soon Le Pique and his second were smashing into a terrace on humble ground, losing the battle, the lady and their lives. Grandpré was elated at winning the ostensible and hardly violent fight, and showed it off well by steering his balloon higher up in the sky. He may have landed back down sometime later, but the man remained on cloud nine as he took back his good lady home, having stretched history’s threshold for the bizarre forever.

# The Vintage News
# The British News Archive


  1. And yet another place that covers this fun story, as if it were a true one.

    There's just so many strange things in it. This story is just too good to be true and looks made up.

    Come on. The seconds are with the duelists in the balloon? Why would they, who would risk his life so easily? Even if we assume that death was not necessarily intended, and they expected the hit balloon to go down but not so fast that people would be killed, this sounds too risky. And the pellets could hit your eyes or so.

    What are the actual references? Every article on this I found is either based on other articles, or references the same article of a British newspaper from 1808. Any French references of such an event maybe? In one of the many comments someone somewhere wrote hat he actually tried to find some and failed. No, all we have is an article in a British newspaper about something that allegedly happened in another country which one does not like anyway.

    And I also seriously doubt it would work like this at all. A blunderbuss is a near-range weapon, they do little harm after 40 feet or so, and here we have 80 yards. Wikipedia tells me that the shot spread is nearly one meter at ten yards, so 8 metres at 80 yards. Makes a balloon hard to miss. But would that do much to a balloon? Observation balloons were used in wars, and they were not so easy to take down even with gun fire from planes. Bullets just pass through, and it needs a lot of holes to make the gas escape so quickly that it goes down rapidly, so that "M. Le Pique and his second were both dashed to pieces on a house-top", like the original article says. For sure a blunderbuss sounds like something that makes big holes into the stuff you shoot at or rip it all apart, but it does so only at short range. But taking a balloon down with a single shot is something lots of people would expect to happen, and so did the inventer of this story.

    Those names looked at least somewhat strange to me. I first thought "M. Granpree" (Mr. Bigprize?) does not seem to be a real name, but Granpré exists, grand pré would mean large meadow. So far, so good. But "M. Le Pique", the stinger? When you search for it, the balloon story comes on top. Does not look like a common name. And if you just search for the lady's name "Tirevit" ("tirer vite" woud be shooting fast" I guess), the first Google page nearly exclusively comes up with this story. This just isn't a name.

    Or is it? Thanks to a friend who did some more search, we find the Wikipedia article "Prostitution in Paris", listing Rue Tire-Vit among the streets related to prostitution. Oh, and as a bonus, "vit" is also a synonym for "penis".

    So, in short: Miss Prostitution-Street, who has some liaison with Mr. soundslike Bigprize, gets penetrated by Mr. Stinger, leading to a duel where Bigprize penetrates the Stinger's balloon. A 200-year-old joke.


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