Chevalier de Saint-Georges vs. Chevalier d’Éon

28

October
2010

At first sight, you can’t help but to ask: Is that a woman in a fencing bout with a man?

Yes, that’s correct. (Almost.)

The woman in question is, in fact, a man in female clothing of the period. His name is Charles de Beaumont, Chevalier d’Éon, a French diplomat and spy who personally worked for Louis XV as a member of Le Secret du Roi. He was an exceptional fencer, as well. Beaumont spent the latter half of his life dressed as a woman.

The opponent is none other than Chevalier Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges, a distinguished French composer and violinist of African matrilineal descent from the late 18th Century. He was also a fine swordsman.

The image is a depiction of actual events which took place on April 9, 1787, at Carlton House, London, in front of the Prince of Wales (standing in the background), future George IV, and guests. Many accounts of the bout survive, as do engravings like the one above—all based on a painting by Charles Jean Robineau currently in the Royal Collection.

And the winner?

Multiple accounts give Chevalier d’Éon the victory.

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