The Infamous Hot Air Balloon Duel

Samuel Reason - April 24th, 2020

It sounds crazy but the French have always had that flair for the dramatic to settle a dispute. There is always a thirst to defend one’s honor it was very regular for murders to be pardoned if it was associated with duels. Louis XIII granted over 8,000 pardons for murders that came out of a duel following a dispute. In 1808 there may have been the craziest duel of them all, it took place way up above Paris, in the skies. But they were not using fighter planes, they were standing in hot air balloons.

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The duel involved two gentlemen: Monsieur de Grandpré and Monsieur de Pique. They had both been sleeping with the same woman in secret: Mademoiselle Tirevit who danced at the Paris Opera. And both relationships were kept secret from one another until the men figured it out. So it was decided that the winner of this duel would win the hand of Mademoiselle Tirevit. Or if you would like it written how it was at the time, she would smile upon the survivor.

With the contest taking place over 2,000 feet in the air, with each man firing at their balloon. They were not even aiming at each other, they were shooting at the balloon trying to make the other fall to his death. The story goes that the Frenchmen were too proud for an ordinary duel, they said it had to be spectacular. They believed this airborne showdown would be perfect and cement their place in history. It is one of the first records of a mid-air dogfight taking place.

The idea was that shooting the balloon would cause the gas to escape and thus the victim would fall to the ground. Perhaps if they were lucky it would fall slowly and they would escape death. The duel started above Paris’s Tuileries Gardens, they were both allowed a shotgun and a co-pilot. Kind of crazy that the co-pilot would agree to such a job, but perhaps they were very good friends.

Curious spectators from all around Paris gathered to watch the duel and cheered the men on. The balloons went up to eighty yards and the signal was given to start the duel, with the lines anchoring the balloons cut. De Pique was able to take the first shot with speed, but incredibly, he missed the enormous target. This allowed Grandpre to aim calmly and hit his mark, causing De Pique’s balloon to collapse. As you could expect the result was not pretty with them being dashed to pieces on a housetop.

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