While there have been fights about insults since antiquity, the idea of a formalized structure for such fights as a matter of honour grew out of the medieval legal concept of trial by combat. This became a respectable way of controlling violent disputes between gentlemen.
Authorities such as the Catholic Church and heads of state denounced the practice and outlawed it. Some authorities tacitly permitted it if the forms were followed, as a way to reduce vendettas between families and social factions.
Prominent people sometimes took part in duels, or at least ran the risk of being called out. The famous fatal duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and that of the Duke of Wellington and the 10th Earl of Winchilsea are among the most famous, but there was opposition to dueling. This included Benjamin Franklin, who denounced dueling as bloody and useless and George Washington, who encouraged his officers to refuse challenges.
Dueling began to lose public favour as the practice was more abused to commit legal murder. A classic case occurred in 1806 when Andrew Jackson shot an opponent in cold blood immediately after the duel was technically concluded. By the late 19th century, this shift in public mood allowed the authorities to discourage dueling and the practice of it dropped to near extinction.
Some authorities believe that the English aristocracy adopted boxing as a replacement for dueling. As late as 1960, it was still common for police departments in small U.S. towns to take two brawling youths, force them to don boxing gloves, and make them "fight it out fairly" in a public square with observers.