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Honor and Dueling

A duel was a prearranged combat with lethal weapons between two people, usually taking place under formal arrangements. Each side had a witness, called seconds. The usual cause of a duel is an insult given by one person to the other or over a question of honor. The challenged person has the right to set the place, time, and weapons. Duels have generally been fought early in the morning in secluded places. (Encarta “Duel”)

Dueling to avenge one’s honor has never been legal, dueling has been marked by laws opposing it. The practice became popular in Europe after the famous challenge between King Charles V of Spain and Francis I of France. When war was declared on Spain in 1528 by Francis, he annulled the treaty between the two countries, Francis was challenged to a duel after being accused of ungentlemanly conduct by the Spanish ruler. The duel never did take place because making arrangements was to difficult, but this incident influenced the manners of Europeans so that gentlemen everywhere thought they were entitled to avenge slights on their honor by having similar challenges. (Encarta “Duel”)

Duels involving honor were so prevalent in France that Charles IX issued an ordinance in 1566 that was death to anyone participating in a duel. This became a model for later edicts against dueling. Dueling however did survive longer than monarchy in France. Dueling became a technique for resolving political disputes. (Britannica “Duel) The duel was intensely popular in England, during Restoration. Legislation during the 17th century had little effect on suppressing the practice. The English Common Law declares that killing in a duel to be held as murder, but juries rarely convicted in cases of dueling until the custom had ceased to be popular during the reign of Queen Victoria. (Encarta “Duel”)

The earliest form of dueling was the judicial duel or trial by battle. The judicial duel was established because solemn affirmation, or swearing of oaths, in legal arguments had led to extensive perjury and the ordeal has too much of a chance of being manipulated by the priests. If one man declares before a judge that his opponent was guilty of a crime and the accused said that his accuser is lying, the judge would order the two to meet in a duel. The judge then stipulated the conditions as to the place, time, and weapons. The combatants had to guarantee their participation...

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