The Naked Duel: Cocked and Loaded

In July 1806, two MPs (Members of Parliament) got into a drunken kerfuffle over cards in Brighton, England. Henry Barry, the 8th Earl of Barrymore (1770-1823), accused Humphrey Howarth of cheating him at whist. Howarth responded with his fists and blackened the Earl of Barrymore’s eye.  

The Earl of Barrymore did not engage in fisticuffs with the accused cardsharp. Instead, he challenged Howarth to a duel, and the man accepted. They agreed to meet on Brighton’s racetrack early the next morning with their pistols ready. 

While its not an illustration of Humphrey Howarth and the Earl of Barrymore dueling, this illustration (by William Sams, c. 1823) is an example of what a Regency era duel would look like. Credit: Public Domain, Wellcome Collection

These men barely got much shuteye—or time to sober up a bit—as they met roughly four hours later. However, they did manage to find their pistols and their seconds before meeting at the racetrack. Word had gotten around Brighton that a duel was to take place, so the rapscallions had an audience. 

However, Humphrey Howarth managed to confuse everyone present when he stripped naked on the track. Only his smalls remained. He then grabbed his pistol, cocked and ready to go. 

At this stage in his life, Howarth was an obese man from years of indulgence. At the sight of this aging, rotund man stripped to near nothingness, the crowd started to hoot with laughter. Perhaps embarrassed, his second chided him for his wildly outrageous behavior, but Howarth had some surprising logic behind his actions. 

An example of dueling pistols from close to the year 1806. French cased duelling pistols by Nicolas Noël Boutet. Single shot, flintlock, rifled, .58 caliber, blued steel, Versailles, 1794-1797. Credit: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Howarth explained that when he was much younger, he was employed as a surgeon for the British East India Company. During his employment, he treated many gunshot wounds. He learned that the majority of deaths didn’t come from bullets but from wound infections. Bullets, Howarth explained, forced shreds of dirty clothing into the wounds, which then led to infection. Howarth had removed his clothing to increase his chances of living in the event the Earl of Barrymore was a good shot. 

Some sources say that the duel took place and that both men were still so drunk, they both missed their mark. However, and perhaps in the entertainingly more popular version of events, even the inebriated Earl of Barrymore saw the ridiculousness in dueling with a naked man. The Earl of Barrymore waited for Howarth to take his shot, which missed, and discharged his bullet into the air. The duel was then declared over and everyone returned home after what must have been one of history’s most bizarre duels. 


10 Most Bizarre Duels in History by Alexander Meddings, History Collection 

How to win a duel from the National Archives

The Naked Duel by Kathryn Kane, The Regency Redingote

Unusual Duels: Five Strange, Bizarre and Hilarious Fights from History by Kimberleigh Roseblade

2 thoughts on “The Naked Duel: Cocked and Loaded

Add yours

  1. If the popular version of events is true, it sounds like the Earl of Barrymore was relying more on luck than Howarth’s drunkeness. I suppose the moral of the story is don’t assume that an apparent sign of drunkeness isn’t actually a sign of soberness.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: