Duel (Lady Mary Villiers's Duel)
An amateur gentlewoman duelist of female romantic rivals is a creature of high color. We observe the combustible personality of Ephelia in her poems to female rivals and to various courtesans, for whom she had a special animus. Addressing her cousin, Barbara Villiers, the King's principal mistress in the early 1660s, for example, Ephelia writes boldly:
Imperious Fool! think not because you're Fair,
That you so much above my Converse are!
Since then my Fame's as great as yours is, why
Should you behold me with a Loathing Eye?
If you at me cast a disdainful Eye,
In biting Satyr I will Rage so high,
Thunder shall pleasant be to what I'le write,
And you shall Tremble at my very Sight;
Warn'd by your Danger, none shall dare again,
Provoke my Pen to write in such a strain.
("To A Proud Beauty," Female Poems...by Ephelia, 54-5;
see also"Proud Beauty," Appendix B)
And in the English edition of D'Aulnoy's Mémoires, discussed in the link "Sources - Character Profile," we find a reference to the quick temper and histrionic behavior of Mary Villiers, a reference which may refer to the duel which Burghclere only mentions. Thus, D'Aulnoy: "Her [Lady Mary's] jealousy of Lady Shrewsbury, whom Mr Howard had loved... had caused her [Mary Villiers] to break out in such a way as to destroy in one moment all the measures she had carefully taken to guard her secret [her clandestine romance and eventual marriage to Howard in 1664]" (234).
Dueling was not foreign to Lady Mary's experience. Her father, brother, and last two husbands were capable duelists; in fact, her husband, Colonel 'Tom' Howard and her brother, George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham, were fatal duelists, who fought their romantic rivals to the death. From childhood, Mary Villiers was raised in a masculine universe of glamorous, charismatic men. The tradition of her duel intersects with her temperament, her delight in male masquerade, discussed a bit later in this essay, and with the heavy masculine cast of her upbringing.
For locations on the vogue of fencing and dueling among gentlewomen of the Restoration court, see Allan Fea's chapter on the captivating bisexual adventuress and short-lived mistress of Charles II in 1675, Hortense de Mancini, Duchesse de Mazarin, whose skill in fencing was matched by her expertise as a shootist and gambler; Charles called this dark beauty the finest woman he had ever met (Some Beauties of the Seventeenth Century , 1-26; Hutton 336-337).