The rules of upper class masculine society meant that insults, perceived or deliberately issued, had to be 'satisfied' by means of a duel. Thinking that Prince Andrei has insulted him, Rostov rashly attempts to provoke a duel to soothe his wounded pride.
Duels were traditionally provoked by the insulted party throwing a glove down in front of the insulter (hence 'throwing down the gauntlet'). They were a feature of Western society from the middle ages until the beginning of the twentieth century, and developed into highly ritualised occasions with strict rules. Perceived insults resulted in one man demanding 'satisfaction' from another, challenging them to an engagement in which they would have matching weapons, usually swords or, after the eighteenth century, pistols. The aim was to defend one's honour, so refusing a duel, or failing to demand one after an insult, caused deep disgrace.
Once a duel was inevitable, both combatants would appoint 'seconds' to arrange the time, place, choice of weapon and other details between them. Later the seconds were also charged with attempting a reconciliation between the parties. Duelling was banned in most countries, including Russia, although this did little to deter potential combatants. As time passed, the ritual aspect of duelling became more and more apparent, so that the aim often became to salvage the honour of the parties involved with the minimum of bloodshed. Having said that, people could still be killed in duels, as was Alexander Pushkin, Russia's foremost nineteenth century poet. Somewhat prophetically, in his most famous work, Eugene Onegin, the protagonist Onegin kills his best friend Lensky in a duel.
Tsar Alexander I was married to Louise of Baden in 1793. The match was made by his grandmother, Catherine the Great, and was not a happy one. Alexander had many affairs during his time on the throne, and many illegitimate children. His only two legimate children, both girls, died early. His heir was therefore his brother, the Grand Duke Constantine.
Constantine would often publicly disagree with his brother's policies, a habit which endeared him to the Russian people, but he never had any real political ambitions. He led a chaotic life. His marriage, another match arranged by Catherine, was even less successful than Alexander's: his wife fled back to her home in Germany after five years of wedlock. He was never a successful military leader, and was eventually sent away from the war against Napoleon due to disorderly conduct.
In 1819 Constantine became the Governor of Poland, which was then under Russian rule. Constantine became increasingly attached to his adopted land, although his rule was harsh and unpopular. Although he renounced his claim to the Russian throne in 1821, Constantine was briefly proclaimed tsar after Alexander's death in 1825. The resulting confusion led to the Decembrist Uprising, the event Tolstoy originally planned to be at the heart of War and Peace. Constantine's younger brother, Nicholas, ascended the throne and brutally crushed the rebellion.
Tsar Alexander I of Russia (1777-1825) had a mixed reign. Raised by his grandmother, Catherine the Great, he came to the throne in 1801 after his eccentric father Paul I was murdered, with Alexander's tacit approval, although this caused him to feel great shame and guilt. At first he introduced a number of liberal reforms, earning himself the title 'Alexander the Blessed', the so-called 'angel' of Russia. However, in the latter part of his reign, after the Napoleonic Wars, he reversed a number of these policies, relying on more reactionary advisors.
Towards the end of his life Alexander became increasingly strange and paranoid. His liberal views were shaken by an attempted coup in 1818, and later, when he was almost kidnapped whilst travelling to Aachen. In 1825, whilst in Taganrog in the south of Russia, Alexander developed typhus and died quite suddenly. The obscure location of his death led to rumours that it had been staged in order to allow the emperor to escape from his duties; many thought he was living out the rest of his life in pious obscurity somewhere in Siberia.
Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski (1770-1861) was a prominent member of the Russian court in Alexander I's time. Due to the shifting nature of national borders and ethnic identities in Eastern Europe at this time, although he was a high-ranking official in the Russian government, he was actually of Lithuanian and Polish descent. Because of this, he was to achieve the unusual distinction of governing two mutually antagonistic nations (Russia and Poland) although obviously not at the same time.
In 1805 Prince Czartoryski had been Foreign Affairs Minister for a year. He was a close personal friend of the tsar, one of a group of advisors who helped Alexander I to govern. As Foreign Minister, he was instrumental in forging the alliances that formed the Allies of the Third Coalition, negotiating with the British, the Austrians, and the Prussians over their response to Napoleon. Czartoryski was then promoted to Chief Minister, the head of the Russian government, but he fell from power two years later in 1807. He remained friends with Alexander I, even though there were later rumours that he was having an affair with the tsar's wife, and might even be the father of their first child, the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna.
He retired from public life after the wars and moved to Poland, only to become the head of the Polish National Government after the Uprising of 1830. After the Uprising was crushed by the Russians, he was sentenced to death; the sentence was then commuted to exile, and he moved to England, then France, where he died.
A verst is an old-fashioned Russian unit for measuring distance, the equivalent to 1.0668 kilometres or 3500 feet. The basic unit of length is the cubit, or arshin, which is 71.1 cm or 28 inches. Next comes the sazhen at 2.1336 m or 7 ft, and then the verst. These measurements were abandoned in 1924, under the Soviet Union, when Russia moved to the metric system.
The Battle of Austerlitz was one of the major turning points of the Napoleonic Wars. It was a significant victory for the French, who named a railway station in Paris after it.
On 2nd December 1805, Napoleon's army met those of Tsar Alexander I and Emperor Francis II of Austria at Austerlitz, now known as Slavkov, near Brno in what is now the Czech Republic. It is estimated that Napoleon had around 65-75,000 men, and the combined Russian and Austrian armies 73-85,000. The Allies, under Weyrother, decided to attack Napoleon's right flank, to clear a path south to Vienna. Napoleon, anticipating this, made the right flank look all the more tempting by thinning out the troops massed there. When the Allies attacked, the French countered against their weakened centre. The village of Sokolnitz, in the middle of the enormous battlefield, changed hands several times during the course of the day. Eventually the French pushed the Russians and Austrians back, forcing them to retreat. While the French lost 1,305 killed, 6,940 wounded, and 573 captured, the Allied casualties were far greater: 15,000 killed and wounded, as well as 12,000 captured.
On 2nd December 2005 over 4,000 enthusiasts from 23 different countries gathered in Slavkov to reenact the battle to celebrate its bicentennial anniversary.
A gripping account of the lead up to the battle, and the conflict itself