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Today in Boobs

If You Will: Topless Female Duelists

Before we begin, a caveat that some of you who may have happened upon our humble site might have seen the words “topless” and “female” and are expecting something racy. Well, this is not racy. But it is, however, very badass and awesome. And practical. So, if you’d like to find out more about the practice of women dueling while topless, we would love to invite you to read more. But that’s what this is about: the practical reasons why women fought duels while topless. This was an actual, historical thing!

You might have seen pieces of this article on Tumblr lately, as did we, and our interest was definitely piqued. What exactly was going on here? Was this some sort of show being put on for horny men? Or, in other circles, for horny women? Was it punishment? Was it pleasure? Was it possible that somehow, there was a less prudish time in history that allowed women to not only fight, but do so without the restrictions of a corset?

It was actually just a matter of precaution. At the start of an 1892 duel in Liechtenstein between Princess Pauline Metternich and the Countess Kielmannsegg, Baroness Lubinska — who presided over the duel, which was being fought for reasons we will save until the end of the post — insisted that the women remove their clothing above their waists to avoid infection in the event that a sword pushed clothing into the wound it caused. The baroness had seen many instances of septic infection in soldiers for this very reason throughout her years of medical training.

If you’re keeping track, this is:

1. A duel between two women, the first-ever “emancipated duel” that involved not only all female principals, but all female seconds.

2. Women in the Victorian era in Europe fighting topless.

3. An emancipated duel being fought by topless women who were topless at the urging of a woman with formal medical training and a degree who was also presiding over the duel.

In other words, this was pretty crazy for the time. So, are you wondering how this all went down?

At the dueling ground on the fateful day, all formalities were carried out to the letter including an attempt at and refusal of reconciliation. The ladies engaged and, after a few trifling feints and thrusts, a wild slash from the princess brought about a light flow of blood from the countess’ nose. Seeing the injury she caused, the shocked princess, in a stereotypical feminine gesture, threw both hands up to her cheeks. Just then, the countess lunged and pierced the princess through her right forearm. The sight of the ensuing blood caused the respective seconds to faint. The footmen and coachmen, who had been ordered to stand some distance away with their backs toward the action, heard the cries and ran toward the women to render aid. Baroness Lubinska, however, decided the male servants had more salacious motives and attacked them with her umbrella, shouting, “Avert your eyes, avert your eyes — you lustful wretches!”

In the end, Princess Pauline won. And the reason they were fighting? Floral arrangements. For an “upcoming musical exhibition.”

(Women of Action Network)

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  • Kath

    Is that the TARDIS on the right?

  • Ipstenu

    I think I’m in love with  Baroness Lubinska….

  • Kathryn Jinx

    i think thats kinda awesome.  as a female sword fighter.  however, i still prefer armour, lol!

  • ruo

    it… absolutely IS the TARDIS… that is amazing!

  • Joanna Moylan

    Well that’s one way to loose a boob. =O

  • Christine Mooers

    I’m with the lady above – armor! 

  • Smoke Tetsu

    I wonder if they even considered armor for the “next time” something like that happened. ;)

  • mittbabysqueak

    Just then, the countess lunged and pierced the princess through her right forearm. ha! amazing!

  • Erin

    Oh my!  You can’t have TB if you’re going to be doing that! 

  • Life Lessons


  • Anonymous

    I need to start fencing again. . .  where is my foil . . .

  • Frodo Baggins

    There isn’t a whole lot of using the edge of a sword in fencing, so chopped-off body parts were rare.

  • Frodo Baggins

    That is so metal.

  • Edcedc8

    I will indeed!

  • Anonymous

    Has anyone figured out who painted this? I’d love to get a print somewhere but I can’t find a single mention of who painted it.  

  • Anonymous

    That’s… actually kind of awesome.

  • P. Elfman

    That depends on if they’re using epees or sabers. If they’re using epees, then you’re right, but a well sharpened saber will lop off a healthy piece of flesh if it’s got enough speed behind it. And an unsharpened saber will leave a fantastic welt behind, speed be damned. :)

  • P. Elfman

    I was not aware of the possibility of septic infection like that. My initial thought (having had a few fencing lessons) was that wearing at least a bind of some sort would have been the practical move. That’s fascinating as hell.

  • Geoff Holt

    I have a very rare gilt bronze dish dating to circa 1840 depicting 2 women swordfighting in a dual.  The dish is surrounded by a serpent emblematic of envy and, at the bottom, an image of cupid, his bow and arrow fallen to the floor, emblematic of fallen love. I’ve uploaded the picture here;  
    Contact me if you have any questions.

  • Anonymous

    Yep, lustful wretch. She knew I’d read this.

  • Fenix Fotography

    The whole point of a duel is that you aren’t wearing armor. They are usually fought to the drawing of first blood, submission–rarely, though occasionally, they’d be fought to the death. Injuring and permanently scarring an opponent is desirable.

    The Dr was right though, scraps of cloth pushed deep into puncture wounds or bullet wounds was a common cause of deadly infection from battle wounds.

  • Alexandria Web

    See now that I’ve noticed that part of me wants Madam Vastra to get in on the topless dueling.
    INB4 someone writes fanfiction :D