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The Romance of Duelling in all Times & Countries


Andrew Steinmetz (1868)

In this short excerpt, Steinmetz reviews the common protocols of the duel. The similarities between them and the protocols of the fencing match are obvious. Indeed, the principal distinction between the two is the difference between blunt and sharp.

  • In duels with the sword, the seconds mark the standing spot of each combatant, leaving a distance of two feet between the points of their weapons.
  • The standing ground is drawn for by lots.
  • The swords are measured to ascertain that they are of equal length, and in no case must a sword with a sharp edge or a notch be allowed.
  • The combatants are requested to throw off their coats and to lay bare their breasts, to show that they do not wear any defence or cuirass that could ward off a thrust. A refusal to submit to this proposal is to be considered a refusal to fight.
  • If, on comparing weapons, the swords are found to differ, the choice must be decided by chance, unless the disproportion is of a material nature.
  • The hand may be wrapped in a handkerchief, but an end of it is not allowed to hang down, lest the point of the opponent’s sword might catch in it, and so entrap him.
  • At the word ALLEZ, "commence," they set to, the seconds holding a sword or a cane, with the point downwards, and standing close to each combatant, and prepared to stop the fight the moment the rules agreed upon are transgressed.
  • Unless previously stipulated, neither of the combatants is allowed to turn off the sword of his opponent with the left hand; should a combatant persist in thus using his left hand, the seconds of his adversary may insist that the hand shall be tied behind his back.
  • Of course the combatants are allowed to stoop, to rise, to vault to the right or to the left, and turn round each other, as practised in the fencing lessons and depicted in the various treatises on the art.
  • When one of the parties exclaims that he is wounded, or a wound is perceived by his second, the combat is stopped; but with the consent of the wounded man it may be renewed. If the wounded man, although the combat is ordered to be stopped, continues to press upon his opponent, this act is equivalent to his express desire to continue the conflict; but he must be stopped and reprimanded. If, in the same circumstances, the combatant that is not wounded continues to press on his antagonist, although ordered to stop by the seconds, he must be immediately checked by them, and considered to have infringed the rules.
  • The signal to stop is given by one second raising his sword or cane, when the other second cries out "stop," and then the combatants recede one step, still remaining in guard.
Duels with Sabres
  • In these duels the short sabre is preferred by the seconds, its wounds being less fatal than those of long.
  • The combatants are posted at the distance of one foot from the sabre-points.
  • In general, these duels are fought with duff-gloves. But otherwise the parties may wrap a handkerchief round their hand and wrist, provided that no end is allowed to hang down.
  • Of course the same precautionary steps are taken to ascertain, as in a sword duel, that no defence is worn by either party.
  • At the word ALLEZ, the combatants advance on each other, and either give point or cut, vaulting, advancing or retreating at pleasure. To strike an opponent when disarmed, to seize his arm, his body, or his weapon, is a foul proceeding. A combatant is disarmed when his sabre is either wrenched from him or dropped.
  • uels with the sabre may be stipulated to take place without giving point, when blunt sabres are used. In this case, to give point and kill an opponent is considered an assassination.
  • These duels are always considered ended on the first loss of blood.
  • When soldiers fight, the maitre d’armes, or fencing-master of the regiment, stands by, ready to parry any very ugly cut or thrust, as the form of the duel may be, and otherwise to see that everything is done properly according to the regulations. A disabling wound in a duel, with permission of his Colonel, is considered equivalent to a wound in battle, and entitled to a like pension.

It is evident from all these details that the fancy of duellists must have run mad in devising such a multiplicity of methods of fighting, --many of them calculated to place a man in an extremely ridiculous situation, veritably making the affair a monstrous tragicomedy. Such, however, were the various modes of duelling sanctioned for the vindication of injured honour, and we have now to inquire into the nature of the offences entailing such tremendous retribution.

According to the French code of honour there are three sorts of offences;

  • (1) A simple offence;
  • (2) an offence of an insulting nature; and
  • (3) an offence with personal violence.
  • With regard to the first, if in the course of a discussion an offence is offered, the person who has been offended is the injured party.

    If this injury is followed by a blow, of course the party struck is the injured one.

    To return one blow with another of a more serious nature—severely wounding, for instance, after a slap in the face—does not constitute the person who received the second blow, however severe it may be, the party originally insulted.

    If in the course of a discussion, during which the rules of politeness have not been transgressed, but in consequence of which expressions have been used which induce one of the party to consider himself offended, the man who demands satisfaction cannot be considered the aggressor, or the person who gives it the offended; the case must be submitted to the trial of chance.

    But if a man sends a message without a sufficient cause, he becomes the aggressor; and the seconds, before they allow a meeting to take place, must insist upon a sufficient reason being manifestly shown.

    All these are insisted on because the selection of the weapons and the kind of duel rests with the offended party.

    A son may espouse the cause of his father if he is too aged to resent an insult, or if the age of the aggressor is of great disparity; but the son cannot espouse the quarrel of his father if he has been the aggressor. As Dr. Millingen observes, this is a very judicious rule. Some of your old men are particular crusty and inconsiderate, and if this rule were not enforced any old gentleman might grievously offend another, screening himself by his age and infirmities, and sending some vigorous, active, and practised "big boy" to do the brave for him. Consequently he should be made personally responsible for his conduct, and obliged to make a most humble apology, if he cannot give personal satisfaction. Besides, the rule prevents the sacrifice of life to which filial affection might expose a generous youth, who in his conscience may condemn his father’s conduct.

    If the offence has been attended by acts of violence, the offended party has the right to name, not only his duel, his arms, the distance, but may also insist upon the aggressor not using his own arms, to which he may have become accustomed by practice; but in this case the offended party must also use weapons with which he has not practised.

    Honour can never be compromised by the offending party admitting that he was in the wrong. If the apology of the offending party is deemed sufficient by the seconds of the offended, if the seconds express their satisfaction and are ready to affirm this opinion in writing, or if the offender has tendered a written apology considered of a satisfactory nature, --in such a case the party that offers to apologize ceases to be the offender, and if his adversary persists the arms must be decided by lot.

    However, no apology can be received after a blow. Such an offence has often led to a mortal combat.

    If the seconds of the offending party come to the ground with an apology instead of bringing forward their principal, it is only to them that blame can be attached, as the honour of their principal was placed in their hands.

    No challenge can be sent by collective parties. If any body or society of men have received an insult, they can only send an individual belonging to it to demand satisfaction. A message collectively sent may be refused, but the challenged party may select an antagonist from the collection, or leave the nomination to chance.

    All duels should take place during the forty-eight hours that succeed the offence unless it is otherwise stipulated by the seconds. As Dr. Millingen remarks, this rule is of importance; forty-eight hours may be considered a fair time to reflect upon the painful necessity of a hostile meeting, and there is in general reason to suppose that a challenge sent long after a provocation has been the result of the interference of busy friends.

    It is the duty of the seconds to decide upon the necessity of the duel and to state their opinions to their principals. After having consulted with them in such a manner as not to allow any chance of avoiding a duel to escape, they must again meet, and exert their best endeavours to settle the business amicably.

    The seconds of a young man shall not allow him to fight an adversary above sixty years of age, unless this adversary had struck him, and in this case his challenge must be accepted in writing. His refusal to comply with this rule is tantamount to giving satisfaction, and the young man’s honour is thereby satisfied.

    If any unfair occurrence takes place in a duel, it is the duty of the seconds to commit the circumstance to paper, and follow it up before the competent tribunals, when they are bound to give evidence.

    Such are the chief rules and regulations of the French code of honour. These new pandects were authorized and signed by eleven peers, twenty-five general officers, and fifty superior officers. Nearly all the maires and prefets gave in their adhesion, and even the minister of war, being restrained by a pardonable delicacy and the awkwardness of official position from attaching his signature, took the trouble of writing a formal letter, signifying his approval of the entire arrangement.

    Many of the regulations however, are transparently borrowed from the Irish constitutions before mentioned. The important axiom of a blow admitting of no verbal apology whatever, and the almost casuistical theories as to what constitutes "the insulted party," are common to both.

    Strange as may appear such exalted sanction according by the leading men of France to the practice of duelling, we must not forget the very wise remark of Bentham:

    • "If the legislator had always applied a proper system of satisfaction for offences, there would have been no duelling, which has been, and is still, but a supplement to the insufficiency of the laws."

    Of all the accounts of duels, ordinary and extraordinary, this is certainly one of my favorites. If you know and love dogs as I do, it will not surprise you in the least. Perhaps this is why dogs enjoy such liberty in France. In any case, it’s a tale with the wag of truth in it. This account is taken from The Romance of Duelling in All Times and Countries, Vol. 1, by Andrew Steinmetz, 1868. Republished by The Richmond Publishing Co., Ltd., Surrey, 1971.

    At the close of the thirteenth century, Philip the Fair, having justly entertained at that early period a refined sense of the evil attending the judicial combat, used his best means to put a restraint on its practice. But the state of the times militated so much against his good intention that all he was able to effect was the publication of an edict of regulation, whereby nothing was to be brought to that bloody issue which could be determined by any other means. In consequence of this was adopted that singular ordeal, for want of other evidence, which took place in the Isle of Notre Dame, in the reign of Charles V. of France.

    The Chevalier Maquer, in the sight of all Paris, entered the lists, with a dog, in mortal combat. The spot which was the scene of this singular encounter is still shown. The following are the circumstances that gave rise to it.

    Aubry Mondidier, whilst taking a solitary walk in the neighbourhood of Paris, was murdered and buried under a tree. His dog, which he had left at home, went out at night to search for his master, whom at length he traced to the forest, and discovered his grave. Having remained some days on the spot, till hunger compelled him to return to the city, he hastened to the Chevalier Ardilliers, a friend of the deceased, and by his melancholy howling gave him to understand that their common friend was no longer in existence.

    Ardilliers offered the dog some food, and endeavoured to quiet him by caresses; but the distressed animal continued to howl pitiably, and, laying hold of his coat, led him significantly towards the door.

    Ardilliers at length complied with the dog’s apparent request, and was led by the sagacious and affectionate animal from street to street, and conducted from the city to a large oak in the forest, where he began to howl louder, and to scratch the earth with his feet. Aubry’s friend could not help surveying the sport with melancholy foreboding, and desired the servant who accompanied him, to fetch a spade and dig up the earth, --when, in a short time, he discovered the body of his murdered friend.

    Some time after, the dog accidentally met the murderer of his master, barked, rushed upon him, and attacked him with such ferocity that the spectators could not, without great difficulty, extricate him. The same circumstance occurred several times. The faithful animal, which was in general as quiet as a lamb, became like a raging tiger every time he saw the person who had murdered his master.

    This circumstance excited great astonishment; and strong suspicions having arisen, it was remembered that Maquer, on several occasions, had betrayed symptoms of enmity against Aubry; and various other circumstances being combined, brought the matter almost to a certainty.

    The King, hearing of this affair, was desirous of being convinced with his own eyes whether or not the dog was in the right. The parties were brought before him; the dog fawned upon everybody else, but attacked Maquer with the utmost violence as soon as he saw him enter. The King, considering this to be a fair occasion for the ordeal, --which was at the time customary upon less important occasions, --ordered the fate of Maquer to be determined by single combat with the dog. Charles instantly appointed the time and place.

    Maquer entered the list armed with his lance; the dog was let loose upon him, and a most dreadful contest ensued. Maquer made a thrust, but the dog, springing aside, seized him by throat, and threw him down. Thereupon the villain confessed his crime, and Charles, in order that the remembrance of the faithful animal might be handed down to posterity, caused to be erected to him, in the forest where the murder was committed, a marble monument, with a suitable inscription.

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    The Naked Truth | If I Had a Hammer
    The Sabre's Edge | Swordfight at the OK Corral
    How to Defend a Monopoly | A Propos d'un Accident
    The Dubious Quick Kill part 1 | The Dubious Quick Kill part 2
    Review and Commentary | Duels with the Sword | Starting with Foil
    Liancour's Tercentenary | The Manuel d'escrime of 1877 | The Military Masters Fencing Program
    Analysis of the Patton Fencing Manual | The Red Court Fencing's Royal Connection
    | The Practical Saviolo part 1 | Saddle, Lance and Stirrup
    Demystification of the Spanish School 1 | Demystification of the Spanish School 2
    Demystification of the Spanish School 3
    | A Brief Look at Joseph Swetnam
    | Ithacan Retains Title | Third Time's a Charm
    Cross-Training Not Cross-Purposes | Riposte Direct | Use of the Word "Sparring"
    Chivalry Makes a Come-back | Teachings of Marozzo |

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