How a Princess and a Countess Duelled Topless in 1892

The story goes that in the summer of 1892, Princess Pauline von Metternich and Countess Anastasia Kielmansegg had a disagreement over the flower arrangements for an upcoming Vienna Musical Theatrical Exhibition. The argument escalated to unbelievable levels. The two women could not let it go. They decided to have a duel with rapiers.

But the strangest part of the story was yet to come. Baroness Lubinska, the Warsaw-based medic securing the duel, recommended that it be held topless to prevent wounds from becoming contaminated by contact with clothing. 

The duel took place in August in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. Both opponents took off their clothes from the waist up and fought until the first minor injury. In the third round, the Princess suffered a cut on her nose, but in return, the Countess was seriously injured on her arm. The balance of the fight shifted in favor of the Princess. Finally, both women were persuaded by their seconds to agree to end the duel.

Both ladies strongly denied that they took part in such an event, but the newspapers carried this story throughout Europe. There are even many paintings inspired by the duel. Note, however, that the definition of topless was very different from today's. Back then, it could simply mean the absence of an upper layer of clothing.