On the 29th of November 1668, a momentous event shook the noble House of Solms. The brothers Johann Heinrich Christian and Ludwig zu Solms-Hohensolms-Lich were visiting their uncle, Count Wilhelm the Second zu Solms-Greifenstein. After lunch, Johann Heinrich Christian and his uncle Wilhelm became involved in an argument. Depending on which report you choose to believe, the quarrel was either about Johann Heinrich Christian's conversion to the Roman Catholic faith, or about the failure to return a borrowed weapon. Be that as it may, Johann Heinrich Christian believed that his honour had been called into question. He abused and insulted his uncle Wilhelm to the point where the latter felt obliged to accept his challenge to a duel. The younger man should have left well alone – he would have fared better. The duel was fought with pistols on horseback. Wilhelm remained unharmed, but Johann Heinrich Christian died at the hands of his uncle.
The red table cabinet contains three different pairs of duelling pistols, allthough none of them were used during the momentous quarrel in the House of Solms. They’re of a later date, made in the 18th and early 19th century. Duelling pistols have a unique quality: as a pair, they had to be identically designed and manufactured, to ensure that the duellists had an equal chance of winning or losing.
There was a long tradition of duelling. From the 18th century onwards, the rules became ever more detailed. Nobles and military officers, in particular, saw duelling with pistols or rapiers as a way to restore their wounded honour. Although duels were punishable by law, duellists were hardly ever penalised, because the practice was in keeping with a code of honour that was tolerated by society. Win or lose, the courage displayed was enough to restore a man’s honour.
All depictions: © Schloss Braunfels