Louis Napoleon’s coup d’état of 1848 caused a hive of activity among France’s socialist fractions - small groups of political dissidents who tried in vain to bring about counter revolutions against the late Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew.
Among these disgruntled people was a large course man who had only been released from prison a year earlier. This man had killed a gendarme in 1839. His name was Emmanuel Barthelemy and he was a member of the Blanquist society – a French socialist movement. Among such members was Karl Marx. Barthelemy had a strong dislike of Marx and even plotted to have him killed. This was when many of the French dissidents had come to England as political refugees.
Emmanuel Barthelemy spent the first few years, in England, among his fellow countrymen in exile, but many of these left wing groups squabbled with one another more than they did against the French government in power that had brought about their exile. Barthelemy was regarded as one of the most argumentative of them all. He was tall and a brash bully. Many regarded him as a loose cannon and a murderer too.
By 1852 he had been in England a few years and his unruly reputation as a bully with a short fuse grew all the more. He picked an argument with another French dissident from a different political fraction. An ex-naval officer called Lieutenant Frederic Cournet. He had read out Victor Hugo’s proclamation during a botched attempt at overthrowing the Napoleon III government in 1851.
Cournet had been in England for only a matter of weeks when Barthelemy challenged him to a duel to settle a difference of opinion. Barthelemy claimed that the ex-navy officer had said something detrimental about a former girlfriend. Lieutenant Frederic Cournet accepted the challenge with great confidence. He had fought a number of duels and had won them all. It was also a chance to put the unscrupulous bully to rights.
Each man selected two seconders and decided upon a field outside London close to a place called Engle field Green in Surrey. The field area was known as Priest Hill. The group of men set off aboard a train and travelled to their destination of Windsor Rail station and thence to Englefield Green. Six men in all, including the two duellists. It was 19th October 1852.
Once upon the secluded field, the seconders gave each man a pistol. Frederic Cournet had won the toss of the coin and got to choose weapons. The choice of pistols was not to Barthelemy’s liking as he felt more competent with a sword. Also Cournet was said to be a marksmen with other duelling victories under his belt. He also got to take the first shot as he had won the flick of the coin when the duel had been decided.
Both men stood sideways to present as small a target as possible. Then against all odds Lieutenant Frederic Courbet fired and missed Barthelemy completely. The ruthless Emmanuel Barthelemy may have grinned as he raised his pistol, but as he took aim and pulled the trigger the pistol jammed. The entire affair came to a brief halt as Cournet came forward and offered the use of his own recently fired pistol. One of Barthelemy’s seconders reloaded the pistol that Courbet had used. The ex-navy Lieutenant resumed his stance with ill deserved, or perhaps misplaced, courtesy and awaited Emmanuel Barthelemy’s second attention.
This time the pistol worked and Frederic Courbet let out a cry of pain as the musket ball ripped into his chest. He fell a victim to his gallant consideration and Barthelemy’s sure aim. As the mortally wounded man hit to the ground, Barthelemy and his two seconders took the pistols and re-packed them. They made off immediately for the rail station and a train back to London. Also one of Cournet’s seconders hastened away too. The stricken duellist’s other seconder, Edmund Allain, remained to try and get help. He left the field and ran out onto a country lane to stop an approaching horse and trap. By chance it was being driven by Doctor Hayward who went to the stricken Cournet’s aid. The doctor and Edmund Allain managed to get Cournet onto the trap and then to the village pub called the Barley Mow. The police were called amid the village excitement and Superintendent William Biddlecombe was soon at the scene. He wasted no time in alerting the police at London upon hearing that the other duellist and seconders had boarded a train for bound for Waterloo station.
Upon getting off the train at Waterloo station Barthelemy and seconders, save one, were arrested and brought back to Windsor. One managed to evaded capture and saunter off into the crowd while disembarking from the train. His name was Brissot and he had the two pistols that he returned to the gun shop to reclaim his deposit. He made his way back to France and evaded capture for his part in the duel.
Despite Doctor Hayward’s efforts he was unable to save Lieutenant Frederic Cournet. After several hours the Frenchman died of his wounds in considerable discomfort.
Some months later, Emmanuel Barthelemy went to court with two others and it was he who stood trail for the murder of Lieutenant Frederic Cournet. The French custom of honour and duelling was not recognised by English law. However, during the course of the trial, Emmanuel Barthelemy and his legal team managed to convince the jury with eloquent speeches of being ignorant of English law as far as European duelling was concerned. The jury was won over and they returned a verdict of manslaughter which only covered a term of seven months in prison. Five months of which they had already spent on remand. They served a further two months and were released as free men.This was the last recoded fatal duel in England.
There would be a further twist to Emmanuel Barthelemy’s story, however. Two years later, the unruly man would try to blackmail an employer. Barthelemy visited the man’s home to execute his blackmail plan, but it did not work. During the altercation and fight that preceded the attempted blackmail, Barthelemy would shoot his employer dead. As he tried to make his way out of the back yard of the house, another man would try to apprehend him and he would also be fatally shot. As Barthelemy continued with his escape attempt from his botched blackmail attempt, he would be stopped by another witness and then more would wrestle and hold him to the ground until the police arrived to arrest him.
During his second trail there would be no smooth talk to the jury. He was found guilty of murder and hanged publicly outside Newgate prison in January of 1855.