The Top 10: Feuds

A league table of prolonged and bitter quarrels

John Rentoul
Friday 14 August 2020 20:21
Smile like you mean it: the current and previous Oval Office incumbent certainly have their differences
Smile like you mean it: the current and previous Oval Office incumbent certainly have their differences

With thanks to Jon Davis: he and I were talking about Gordon Brown and Robin Cook, and about how even they couldn’t remember why they didn’t get on. Andy McSmith butted in to say: “I hope you will distinguish between a disagreement and a feud, in which the mutual antagonism outlasts and outgrows the initial disagreement. Thatcher and Lawson, for example, was not a feud; it was a dispute over policy.”

1. George Osborne and Theresa May. She sacked him and advised him to “go away and get to know the Conservative Party better”; he said he would not rest until she was “chopped up in bags in my freezer”.

2. Pierre Dupont de l’Étang and François Fournier-Sarlovèze. Napoleonic French officers who fought 30 duels over 19 years. Inspired The Duel by Joseph Conrad, which was made into a film, The Duellists, by Ridley Scott. Nominated by Andy McSmith.

3. Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. “The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: if Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune; and if anybody pulled him out, that, I suppose, would be a calamity,” said Disraeli. Thanks to David Herdson.

4. Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi played 43 games of chess without a handshake. Nominated by Cole Davis.

5. Donald Trump and Barack Obama. Trump promoted the conspiracy theory that Obama wasn’t born in the USA; Obama roasted Trump at the White House Correspondents’ dinner in 2011; Trump had his revenge. Thanks to Steven Fogel.

6. The Cochrane and Ellenborough families. “A multi-generational feud over the fairness of the 1814 trial presided over by Lord Ellenborough which saw the naval hero Lord Cochrane convicted of involvement in the Great Stock Exchange Fraud. He was imprisoned and stripped of his knighthood, but as doubts grew, he was reinstated in the navy and regained his honour – the only person ever to do so. Not being a man to let things go, Cochrane insisted until his death that he had been the victim of bias, whereupon the cause was taken up by his descendants. The grandson of the judge sought to defend his ancestor in 1914 with the book The Guilt of Lord Cochrane in 1814: A Criticism,” said Stewart Slater.

7. Stalin and Trotsky. “Some people say it ended when Trotsky was assassinated. Others say it is still going on,” said Graham Kirby.

8. Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney. Rooney tried to discover who was selling stories from her Instagram account, so restricted access to just one account, in the name of Vardy, and reported that stories continued to be leaked. Vardy said she was hacked and is suing for defamation. Nominated by Star Man.

9. Viscount Castlereagh and George Canning. Members of the same cabinet but fought a duel, with Castlereagh shooting Canning in the thigh. Thanks to the Church Mouse. Aaron Burr actually killed Alexander Hamilton in their duel (thanks to Simon Cook and Bert Leitch).

10. Noel and Liam Gallagher. We ought to have at least one same-family and one music feud, and the Gallagher brothers provide two in one. Thanks to Charles A Lescott and Chris Barraclough.

No room, then, for literary feuds – Paul Theroux and VS Naipaul; Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal; Antonia Byatt and sister Margaret Drabble – or actors – Joan Crawford and Bette Davis (thanks to John Nicolson and John Peters). Ernest Bevin (“not while I’m alive he ain’t”) and Herbert Morrison is too obvious, I think.

Honourable mention for Lee “Budgie” Barnett, who quoted one of his favourite bits of dialogue from A Bit of a Do, by David Nobbs: “I feel that events have forced us to become enemies. What a pity we couldn’t have got to know each other under happier circumstances. Then we could have become enemies of our own free will.”

Stewart Slater also suggested a companion Top 10 of enemies who buried the hatchet. Which reminded me of one of Abraham Lincoln’s stories: “I felt a good deal like the sick man in Illinois who was told he probably hadn’t many days longer to live, and he ought to make peace with any enemies he might have. He said the man he hated worst of all was a fellow named Brown, in the next village ... So Brown was sent for, and when he came the sick man began to say, in a voice as meek as Moses’s, that he wanted to die at peace with all his fellow creatures, and he hoped that he and Brown could now shake hands and bury all their enmity. The scene was becoming altogether too pathetic for Brown, who had to get out his handkerchief and wipe the gathering tears from his eyes ... After a parting that would have softened the heart of a grindstone, Brown had about reached the room door when the sick man rose up on his elbow and called out to him: ‘But see here, Brown; if I should happen to get well, mind, that old grudge stands.’”

Next week: Things given the wrong names, such as killer whales or the Parthenon, which was actually the name of a smaller temple that no longer exists.

Coming soon: Famous modern people whose faces are unknown, such as Dr Seuss.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

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