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Code duello

A code duello is a set of rules for a one-on-one combat, or duel.

Code duellos regulate "fair fights" and thus help prevent vendettas between families and other social factions. They assure that nonviolent means of reaching agreement have been exhausted, that harm is limited by both limiting the terms of engagement, and providing medical care. Finally, they assure that the proceedings have a number of witnesses. The witnesses both assure grieving members of factions of the fairness of the fight, and help provide testimony if legal authorities become involved.

Table of contents
1 Renaissance France
2 Irish Code Duello
3 Marquess of Queensberry

Renaissance France

A morally-aceptable duel would start with the challenger issuing a traditional, public, personal grievance, based on an insult, directly to the single person who offended the challenger.

The challenged person had the choice of a public apology or other restitution, or choosing the weapons for the duel. The challenger would then propose a place for the "field of honor," and the challenged man must either accept or propose an alternate. The location had to be a place where the opponents could duel without being arrested. It was common for the guardia to set aside such places and times and spread the information, so "honest people can avoid unpatrolled places."

At the field of honor, each side would bring a doctor and seconds. The seconds would try to reconcile the parties by acting as go-betweens to attempt to settle the dispute with an apology or restitution. If reconciliation succeeded, all parties considered the dispute to be honorably settled, and went home.

Each side would have at least one second; three was the traditional number.

If one party failed to appear, he was accounted a coward. The appearing party would win by default. The seconds and sometimes the doctor would bear witness of the cowardice.

If reconciliation failed, the seconds would help their friend prepare for the duel, and keep alert for cheating and the authorities. Cheating would cause the cheater to be shot (usually) out of hand. Honorable seconds sometimes shot their own friend if they found him cheating.

Swords were the typical weapon of the time, although guns and more unusual items have been selected.

The two parties would start on opposite sides of a square twenty paces wide. Usually the square was marked at the corners with dropped handkerchiefs. Leaving the square was accounted cowardice.

The opponents agreed to duel to an agreed condition. While many modern accounts dwell heavily on "first blood" as the condition, manuals of honour from the day universally deride the practice as dishonorable and unmanly. Far more common was a duel until either one party was physically unable to fight or the physician called a halt. While explicit duels to the death were rare, many duels ended in death of one or both combatants as a result of wounds sustained.

When the condition was achieved, the matter was considered settled with the winner proving his point and the loser keeping his reputation for courage.

Irish Code Duello

Dueling with firearms grew in popularity in the 18th century, especially with the adoption of the Irish Code Duello, "adopted at the Clonmel Summer Assizes, 1777, for the government of duellists, by the gentlemen of Tipperary, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon, and prescribed for general adoption throughout Ireland." This proved especially popular in America. The basics were similar to the renaissance french method.

Typical weapons were cased dueling pistols which were tuned for identical appearance, reliability and accuracy. In America, the Irish code eventually supplanted the usual method of brutal hand to hand combat, and gave the combat a respectable feel. However, since the combatants could not control guns as precisely as swords, gun duels had a greater chance of being fatal.

Some duels miscarried because the starting signal was not be heard or seen by both opponents. Agreeing to a signal was helpful.

A custom had grown before the Irish code of deloping, discharging one's fire-arm in the air (usually to one side) when two friends had quarreled and one wished to end the duel without any harming his friend. Far too often, this custom resulted in accidents. It was thus forbidden by the Irish Duello.

Marquess of Queensberry

After just a few years, many persons wrote, rather forcefully, that the Irish Code was far too deadly for the necessary business of discovering social positions among the military gentry. Those objecting to the Code Duello included such luminaries as Benjamin Franklin, Queen Victoria (in whose day and realm the duel was already nearly extinct) and more than one Pope.

English pugilism had been growing in popularity and technique since 1615, when a London armsmaster began offering public lessons in fisticuffs to the gentry. After many years, and several attempts by other men to write acceptable rules, John Graham Chambers wrote the Marquess of Queensberry rules in 1865. They were published in 1867.

He intended them solely for amateur matches, a thinly veiled reference to bouts of fisticuffs between gentlemen. The authorities began to allow prize matches and amateur boxing under this new rule system when John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry endorsed its use.

The new rules had three minute limits on rounds, required gloves, and forbade grappling and wrestling. The rules prevented permanent mutilation: No punches were permitted to the temples, neck or below the belt. Grappeling, kicking, biting and eye-gouging were forbidden as well.

The result was a viscerally satisfying fight with far less actual hazard than either a sword or gun fight. In other words, it became a nearly perfect vehicle for addressing matters of pride and insult.

As a practical matter, the perfectly legal sport of pugilism replaced dueling for most English gentlemen near this time. Only the involved gentlemen need ever know the points of honor at stake.

Dueling thereby moved underground, to 'sport' and has stayed there. As late as 1960, small town police forces in the U.S. would often take fighting youths to a public square, hand them boxing gloves, and referee the fight.


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