Military Wiki

Drawing of a duel fought with foils in the Bois de Boulogne in 1874.

Depiction of the pistol duel of Alexander Pushkin vs. Georges d'Anthès, January 1837

A duel is an arranged engagement in combat between two individuals, with matched weapons in accordance with agreed-upon rules.

Duels in this form were chiefly practised in Early Modern Europe, with precedents in the medieval code of chivalry, and continued into the modern period (19th to early 20th centuries) especially among military officers. During the 17th and 18th centuries (and earlier), duels were mostly fought with swords (the rapier, later the smallsword, and finally the French foil), but beginning in the late 18th century and during the 19th century, duels were more commonly fought using pistols; fencing and pistol duels continued to co-exist throughout the 19th century. Pistol duelling was employed many times in the Colonial United States until it fell out of favor in Eastern America in the 18th century. It was retained however in the American Old West for quite some time due to the absence of common law.

The duel was based on a code of honour. Duels were fought not so much to kill the opponent as to gain "satisfaction", that is, to restore one's honour by demonstrating a willingness to risk one's life for it, and as such the tradition of duelling was originally reserved for the male members of nobility; however, in the modern era it extended to those of the upper classes generally. From the early 17th century duels became illegal in the countries where they were practised.


German students of a Burschenschaft fighting a sabre duel, around 1900, painting by Georg Mühlberg (1863–1925)

In Western society, the formal concept of a duel developed out of the mediaeval judicial duel and older pre-Christian practices such as the Viking Age holmgang. Judicial duels were deprecated by the Lateran Council of 1215. However, in 1459 (MS Thott 290 2) Hans Talhoffer reported that in spite of Church disapproval, there were nevertheless seven capital crimes that were still commonly accepted as resolvable by means of a judicial duel. Most societies did not condemn duelling, and the victor of a duel was regarded not as a murderer but as a hero; in fact, his social status often increased. During the early Renaissance, duelling established the status of a respectable gentleman, and was an accepted manner to resolve disputes. Duelling in such societies was seen as an alternative to less regulated conflict.

The first published code duello, or "code of dueling", appeared in Renaissance Italy. The first formalised national code was France's, during the Renaissance. In 1777, Ireland developed a code duello, which was the most influential in American duelling culture.

According to Ariel Roth, during the reign of Henry IV, over 4,000 French aristocrats were killed in duels "in an eighteen-year period" whilst a twenty-year period of Louis XIII's reign saw some eight thousand pardons for "murders associated with duels". Roth also notes that thousands of men in the Southern United States "died protecting what they believed to be their honor."[1]

Duels could be fought with swords, the rapier and later the smallsword, or between cavalry officers with military swords such as the broadsword or the sabre, and from the 18th century onward, increasingly with pistols.[2] Special sets of duelling pistols were crafted for the wealthiest of noblemen for this purpose.

Rules and weapons

Offense and satisfaction

The traditional situation that led to a duel often happened after the offense. Whether real or imagined, one party would demand satisfaction from the offender.[3] One could signal this demand with an inescapably insulting gesture, such as throwing his glove before him. This is the origin of the phrase "throwing down the gauntlet". This originates from medieval times, when an individual was knighted. The knight-to-be would receive the accolade of three light blows on the shoulder with a sword and, in some cases, a ritual slap in the face, said to be the last affronts he could accept without redress.[4] Therefore, anyone being slapped with a glove was, like a knight, considered obliged to accept the challenge or be dishonoured. Contrary to popular belief, hitting one in the face with a glove was not a challenge, but could be done after the glove had been thrown down as a response to the one issuing the challenge.

Each party would name a trusted representative (a "second") who would, between them, determine a suitable "field of honour". It was also the duty of each party's second to check that the weapons were equal and that the duel was fair. Although generally demanded by custom, similarity of weapons is not essential; neither are witnesses, seconds, etc. In the 16th and early 17th centuries, it was normal practice for the seconds as well as the principals to fight each other. Later the seconds' role became more specific, to make sure the rules were followed and to try to achieve reconciliation,[5] but as late as 1777 the Irish code still allowed the seconds an option to exchange shots.

Field of honour

The chief criteria for choosing the field of honour were isolation, to avoid discovery and interruption by the authorities; and jurisdictional ambiguity, to avoid legal consequences. Islands in rivers dividing two jurisdictions were popular duelling sites; the cliffs below Weehawken on the Hudson River where the Hamilton-Burr duel occurred were a popular field of honour for New York duellists because of the uncertainty whether New York or New Jersey jurisdiction applied. Duels traditionally took place at dawn, when the poor light would make the participants less likely to be seen, and to force an interval for reconsideration or sobering-up. For sometime before the mid-18th century, swordsmen duelling at dawn often carried lanterns to see each other. This happened so regularly that fencing manuals integrated lanterns into their lessons. An example of this is using the lantern to parry blows and blind the opponent.[6] The manuals sometimes show the combatants carrying the lantern in the left hand wrapped behind the back, which is still one of the traditional positions for the off hand in modern fencing.[7]


At the choice of the offended party, the duel could be fought to a number of conclusions:

  • To first blood, in which case the duel would be ended as soon as one man was wounded, even if the wound was minor.
  • Until one man was so severely wounded as to be physically unable to continue the duel.
  • To the death (or "à l'outrance"), in which case there would be no satisfaction until one party was mortally wounded.
  • In the case of pistol duels, each party would fire one shot. If neither man was hit and if the challenger stated that he was satisfied, the duel would be declared over. If the challenger was not satisfied, a pistol duel could continue until one man was wounded or killed, but to have more than three exchanges of fire was considered barbaric and, on the rare occasion that no hits were achieved, somewhat ridiculous.

A fictional pistol duel between Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky

Under the latter conditions, one or both parties could intentionally miss in order to fulfill the conditions of the duel, without loss of either life or honour. However, doing so, known as deloping, could imply that your opponent was not worth shooting. This practice occurred despite being expressly banned by the Code Duello of 1777. Rule 13 stated: "No dumb shooting or firing in the air is admissible in any case... children's play must be dishonourable on one side or the other, and is accordingly prohibited."

Practices varied, however, and many pistol duels were to first blood or death. The offended party could stop the duel at any time if he deemed his honour satisfied. In some duels, the seconds would take the place of the primary dueller if the primary was not able to finish the duel. This was usually done in duels with swords, where one's expertise was sometimes limited. The second would also act as a witness.

Participation in a duel could be honorably refused on account of a major difference in age between the parties and, to a lesser extent, in cases of social inferiority on the part of the challenger. Such inferiority had to be immediately obvious, however. As author Bertram Wyatt-Brown states, "with social distinctions often difficult to measure," most men could not escape on such grounds without the appearance of cowardice.[8]


For a pistol duel, the parties would be placed back to back with loaded weapons in hand and walk a set number of paces, turn to face the opponent, and shoot. Typically, the graver the insult, the fewer the paces agreed upon. Alternatively, a pre-agreed length of ground would be measured out by the seconds and marked, often with swords stuck in the ground (referred to as "points"). At a given signal, often the dropping of a handkerchief, the principals could advance and fire at will. This latter system reduced the possibility of cheating, as neither principal had to trust the other not to turn too soon. Another system involved alternate shots being taken, beginning with the challenged firing first.

Many historical duels were prevented by the difficulty of arranging the "methodus pugnandi". In the instance of Dr. Richard Brocklesby, the number of paces could not be agreed upon;[9] and in the affair between Mark Akenside and Ballow, one had determined never to fight in the morning, and the other that he would never fight in the afternoon.[9] John Wilkes, "who did not stand upon ceremony in these little affairs," when asked by Lord Talbot how many times they were to fire, replied, "just as often as your Lordship pleases; I have brought a bag of bullets and a flask of gunpowder."[9]

Unusual duels

In 1808, two Frenchmen are said to have fought in balloons over Paris, each attempting to shoot and puncture the other's balloon; one duellist is said to have been shot down and killed with his second.[10]

In 1843, two other Frenchmen are said to have fought a duel by means of throwing billiard balls at each other.[10]

In the 1860s, Otto von Bismarck was reported to have challenged Rudolf Virchow to a duel. Virchow, being entitled to choose the weapons, chose two pork sausages, one infected with the roundworm Trichinella; the two would each choose and eat a sausage. Bismarck reportedly declined.[11] The story could be apocryphal, however.[12]

Prominent duels

To decline a challenge was often equated to defeat by forfeiture, and sometimes regarded as dishonourable. Prominent and famous individuals were especially at risk of being challenged.

The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin prophetically described a number of duels in his works, notably Onegin's duel with Lensky in Eugene Onegin. The poet was mortally wounded in a controversial duel with Georges d'Anthès, a French officer rumoured to be his wife's lover. D'Anthès, who was accused of cheating in this duel, married Pushkin's sister-in-law and went on to become a French minister and senator.

Alexander Hamilton fights his fatal duel with Vice President Aaron Burr, July 1804

In 1598 the English playwright Ben Jonson fought a duel, mortally wounding an actor by the name of Gabriel Spencer. In 1798 HRH The Duke of York, well known as "The Grand Old Duke of York", duelled with Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Lennox and was grazed by a bullet along his hairline. In 1840 the 7th Earl of Cardigan, the officer in charge of the now infamous Charge of the Light Brigade, fought a duel with a British Army officer by the name of Captain Tuckett. Tuckett was wounded in the engagement, though not fatally.

Four Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom have engaged in duels, although only two of them – Pitt and Wellington – held the office at the time of their duels.

In 1864, American writer Mark Twain, then a contributor to the New York Sunday Mercury, narrowly avoided fighting a duel with a rival newspaper editor, apparently through the quick thinking of his second, who exaggerated Twain's prowess with a pistol.[13][14][15]

The most notorious American duel was the Burr-Hamilton duel, in which notable Federalist and former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was fatally wounded by his political rival, the sitting Vice President of the United States Aaron Burr. Another American politician, Andrew Jackson, later to serve as a General Officer in the U.S. Army and to become the seventh president, fought two duels, though some legends claim he fought many more. On May 30, 1806, he killed prominent duellist Charles Dickinson, suffering himself from a chest wound which caused him a lifetime of pain. Jackson also reportedly engaged in a bloodless duel with a lawyer and in 1803 came very near duelling with John Sevier.

On September 22, 1842, future President Abraham Lincoln, at the time an Illinois state legislator, met to duel with state auditor James Shields, but their seconds intervened and persuaded them against it.[16][17]

On 30 May 1832, French mathematician Évariste Galois was mortally wounded in a duel at the age of twenty, the day after he had written his seminal mathematical results.

Irish political leader Daniel O'Connell killed John D'Esterre in a duel in February, 1815. O'Connel offered D'Esterre's widow a pension equal to the amount her husband had been earning at the time, but the Corporation of Dublin, of which D'Esterre was a member, rejected O'Connell's offer and voted the promised sum to D'Esterre's wife themselves.[18] However, D'Esterre's wife consented to accept an allowance for her daughter, which O'Connell regularly paid for more than thirty years until his death. The memory of the duel haunted him for the remainder of his life.[19]

The last known fatal duel in Canada, in Perth, Ontario in 1833, saw Robert Lyon challenge John Wilson to a pistol duel after a quarrel over remarks made about a local school teacher, whom Wilson married after Lyon was killed in the duel. The last fatal duel in England took place on Priest Hill, between Englefield Green and Old Windsor, on 19 October 1852, between two French refugees, Cournet and Barthelemy, the former being killed.[20]

Regional traditions


German-speaking countries

In Early Modern High German, the duel was known as Kampf, or Kampffechten. The German duelling tradition originates in the Late Middle Ages, within the German school of fencing. In the 15th century, duels were fought between members of the nobility wearing full plate armour. During the late 16th and the 17th century, this tradition was gradually replaced with the modern fencing with the rapier following the Dardi school, while at the same time the practice of duelling spread to the bourgeois classes, especially among students. The term Kampf is replaced by the modern German Duell during the same period, attested in the Latin form duellum from ca. 1600, and as Duell from the 1640s.[21] A modern remnant of German duelling culture is found in the non-lethal Mensur tradition in Academic fencing.

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth

In Poland duels have been known since the Middle Ages. The method of duelling in early medieval Poland was described in detail in the "Book of Elbing" containing the oldest record of the Polish common law (13th–14th century). Later, Polish duelling codes were formed based on Italian, French and German codes. The best known Polish code was written as late as 1919 by Władysław Boziewicz. At this time duels were already forbidden in Poland, but the "Polish Honorary Code" was quite widely in use. Punishments for participation in duels were rather mild – up to a year's imprisonment if the outcome of the duel was death or grievous bodily harm.[22]

In the subordinated state of Ukraine, a part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, duelling rights varied widely depending on the nobles' pro-Polish or anti-Polish stance. Native Ukrainian landlords stood in a lesser position in comparison with their Polish-descended neighbours. Even among the Ukrainian natives there was a wide gap in their rights and opportunities, depending on their partiality to Poland. For example, the prominent Ukrainian politician and military leader Bohdan Khmelnytsky was humiliated by his pro-Polish neighbour Daniel Czapliński, who seized Khmelnytsky's patrimony, killing one of his sons with a whip and raping his wife. After Khmelnytsky returned his place and discovered what had happened, he fought Czapliński in a sabre duel, but was stunned from behind and thrown into a dungeon. Later, because Czapliński was higher ranked and far more privileged than he, Khmelnytsky appealed legally to the king, whose response was merely "You have your sabre" (see "The Uprising").

Great Britain and Ireland

The duel arrived at the end of the sixteenth century with the influx of Italian honour and courtesy literature – most notably Baldassare Castiglione's Libro del Cortegiano (Book of the Courtier), published in 1528, and Girolamo Muzio's Il Duello, published in 1550. These stressed the need to protect one's reputation and social mask and prescribed the circumstances under which an insulted party should issue a challenge. Soon domestic literature was being produced such as Simon Robson's The Courte of Ciuill Courtesie, published in 1577. Duelling was further propagated by the arrival of Italian fencing masters such as Rocco Bonetti and Vincento Saviolo. By the reign of James I duelling was well entrenched within a militarised peerage – one of the most important duels being that between Edward Bruce, 2nd Lord Kinloss and Edward Sackville (later the 4th Earl of Dorset) in 1613, during which Bruce was killed.[23] James I encouraged Francis Bacon as Solicitor-General to prosecute would-be duellists in the Court of Star Chamber, leading to about two hundred prosecutions between 1603 and 1625. He also issued an edict against duelling in 1614 and is believed to have supported production of an anti-duelling tract by the Earl of Northampton. Duelling however, continued to spread out from the court, notably into the army. In the mid-seventeenth century it was for a time checked by the activities of the Parliamentarians whose Articles of War specified the death penalty for would-be duellists. Nevertheless, duelling survived and increased markedly with the Restoration. Not least amongst the difficulties of anti-duelling campaigners was that although monarchs uniformly proclaimed their general hostility to duelling, they were nevertheless very reluctant to see their own favourites punished. In 1712 both the Duke of Hamilton and Charles 4th Baron Mohun were killed in a duel induced by political rivalry and squabbles over an inheritance. Duels at this time were indiscriminate affairs fought with swords and with the main protagonists bringing their own assistants to join in the fray.

By about 1770 however, the duel had undergone a number of important changes. Firstly, unlike their counterparts in many continental nations, English duellists had enthusiastically adopted the pistol and few duels were now being fought with the sword. Secondly, the office of 'second' had developed into 'seconds' or 'friends' being chosen by the aggrieved parties to conduct their honour dispute. These friends would attempt to resolve a dispute upon terms acceptable to both parties and, should this fail, they would arrange and oversee the mechanics of the encounter. By this time the values of the duel had spread into the broader and emerging society of gentlemen. Research shows that much the largest group of later duellists were military officers, followed by the young sons of the metropolitan elite (see Banks, A Polite Exchange of Bullets). Duelling was also popular for a time amongst doctors and, in particular, amongst the legal professions. Quantifying the number of duels in Britain is difficult, but there are about 1,000 attested between 1785 and 1845 with fatality rates running at at least 15% and probably somewhat higher. The last duel in England was fought in 1852.[20]

In 1777, at the Summer assizes in the town of Clonmel, County Tipperary, a code of practice was drawn up for the regulation of duels. It was agreed by delegates from Tipperary, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon, and intended for general adoption throughout Ireland. A copy of the code, known generally as 'The twenty-six commandments', was to be kept in a gentleman's pistol case for reference should a dispute arise regarding procedure.[24] An amended version known as 'The Irish Code of Honor', and consisting of 25 rules, was adopted in some parts of the United States. The first article of the code stated:

Rule 1.—The first offence requires the apology, although the retort may have been more offensive than the insult.
—Example: A. tells B. he is impertinent, &C.; B. retorts, that he lies; yet A. must make the first apology, because he gave the first offence, and then, (after one fire,) B. may explain away the retort by subsequent apology.[25]

The 19th-century statesman Daniel O'Connell took part in a duel in 1815. Following the death of his opponent, John D'Esterre, O'Connell repented and from that time wore a white glove on his right hand when attending Mass as a public symbol of his regret.[26] Despite numerous challenges, he refused ever to fight another duel.[27]

In 1862, in an article entitled Dead (and gone) Shots, Charles Dickens recalled the rules and myths of Irish duelling in his periodical All the Year Round.[28]


In the Ionian Islands in the 19th century, there was a practice of formalised fighting between men over points of honour. Knives were the weapons used in such fights. They would begin with an exchange of sexually related insults in a public place such as a tavern, and the men would fight with the intention of slashing the other's face, rather than killing. As soon as blood was drawn onlookers would intervene to separate the men. The winner would often spit on his opponent and dip his neckerchief in the blood of the loser, or wipe the blood off his knife with it.

The winner would generally make no attempt to avoid arrest and would receive a light penalty, such as a short jail sentence and/or a small fine.[29]


The tradition of duelling and the word duel itself were brought to Russia in the 17th century by adventurers in Russian service. Duelling quickly became so popular – and the number of casualties among the commanding ranks so high – that, in 1715, Emperor Peter the First was forced to forbid the practice on pain of having both duellists hanged. Despite this official ban, duelling became a significant military tradition in the Russian Empire with a detailed unwritten duelling code – which was eventually written down by V. Durasov and released in print in 1908.[30] This code forbade duels between people of different ranks. For instance, an infantry captain could not challenge a major but could easily pick on a Titular Counsellor. On the other hand, a higher ranked person could not stoop to challenge lower ranks; so, it was up to his subordinates or servants to take revenge on their master's behalf.

Duelling was also common amongst prominent Russian writers, poets, and politicians. Russian poet Alexander Pushkin fought 29 duels, challenging many prominent figures[31] before being killed in a duel with Georges d'Anthès in 1837. His successor Mikhail Lermontov was killed four years later by fellow Army officer Nikolai Martynov. The duelling tradition died out in the Russian Empire slowly from the mid-19th century.

The Americas

European styles of dueling established themselves in the colonies of European states in America. Duels were to challenge someone over a woman or one's honour. In the US, dueling was used to deal with political differences and disputes, particularly during the Civil War. Dueling in the US was not uncommon, even after 1859, when 18 states outlawed it, but it became a thing of the past in the United States by the start of the 20th century.[32]

"Teenage duels were not uncommon, at least in South Carolina and New Orleans... Three ironies emerged from the dueling custom. First, though confined to a segment of the upper classes, dueling served essentially the same purpose as the lowest eye-gouging battle among Tennessee hog drivers. Second, because of this congruence between upper and lower concepts of honor, dueling was not at all undemocratic. It enabled lesser men to enter, however imperfectly, the ranks of leaders, and allowed followers to manipulate leaders to their taste. Third, the promise of esteem and status that beckoned men to the field of honor did not always match the expectation, but often enough dueling served as a form of scapegoating for unresolved personal problems."[33]

The duel at high noon is a stereotypical aspect of a gunfighter story in the American Western film genre.

Duels were common in much of South America during the 20th century,[34] although generally illegal.

  • In Argentina, during the 18th and 19th century, it was common for gauchos—cowboys—to resolve their disputes in a fight using working knives called facones. After the turn of the 19th century, when repeating handguns became more widely available, use of the facón as a close-combat weapon declined. Among the gauchos, many continued to wear the knife, though mostly as a tool. However, it was occasionally still used to settle arguments "of honor". In these situations two adversaries would attack with slashing attacks to the face, stopping when one could no longer see clearly through the blood.
  • In Peru there were several high-profile duels by politicians in the early part of the 20th century including one in 1957 involving Fernando Belaúnde Terry, who went on to become President. In 2002 Peruvian independent congressman Eittel Ramos challenged Vice President David Waisman to a duel with pistols, saying the vice president had insulted him. Waisman declined.[35]
  • Uruguay decriminalised dueling in 1920, and in that year José Batlle y Ordóñez, a former President of Uruguay, killed Washington Beltran, editor of the newspaper El País, in a formal duel fought with pistols. In 1990 another editor was challenged to a duel by an assistant police chief.[36] Although not forbidden by the government, the duel did not take place. Duelling was once again prohibited in 1992.[37]
  • 1952: Chile. Senator, and future President of Chile, Salvador Allende was challenged to a duel by his colleague Raúl Rettig (who later headed a commission investigating human rights violations committed during the 1973–1990 military rule in Chile). Both men agreed to fire one shot at each other, and both fired into the air.[38] At that time, duelling was already illegal in Chile.
  • There is a frequently quoted, (albeit dubious), claim that dueling is legal in Paraguay if both parties are blood donors.[39][40][41]

Duelling traditions in Asia


Depiction of the duel of Miyamoto Musashi vs. Sasaki Kojirō

In Edo period Japan, there was a tradition of duelling (決闘?, kettō) among the Samurai class. On April 14, 1612 the famous Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi dueled his rival Sasaki Kojiro on the island of Funajima. Musashi is said to have fought over 60 duels and was never defeated, although this is a conservative estimate, most likely not accounting for deaths by his hand in major battles.

In May 2005, twelve youths aged between fifteen and seventeen were arrested in Japan and charged with violating a duelling law that came into effect in 1889. Six other youths were also arrested on the same charges in March.[citation needed]


Bolo duels or bolo fights are hand-to-hand duels prominent in North and Central Philippines, common in Spanish-influenced areas, farmlands, and places where machete-like bolo knives are commonly used. People who engage in bolo fights are often farmers and fisherman who use bolos. Records of such bolo fights were kept during Spanish and American colonialism.[42] A duel reported internationally occurred in 14 April 1920 by Prescott Journal Miner which was known as "The First Bolo Duel in Manila since the American Occupation". It happened when Ángel Umali and Tranquilino Paglinawan met with friends in a vacant lot near the city centre before dusk to settle a feud; Paglinawan lost his left hand. With no law against bolo fights, Umali was charged for a petty crime.[43] Bolo fights are still seen today, albeit rarely, and have become part of Filipino rural culture. On 7 January 2012, two middle-aged farmers were wounded after a bolo duel over the harvest of rice in a village in Zamboanga City. Geronimo Álvarez and Jesús Guerrero, were drinking, and at the height of their arguing, Álvarez allegedly pulled out his bolo and hacked Guerrero. Guerrero also pulled his bolo and repeatedly hacked Álvarez, and their relatives immediately intervened and rushed them to hospital.[44]

In the Visayas, there is a tradition of duelling where the offended party would first hagit or challenge the offender. The offender would have the choice whether to accept or decline the challenge. In the past, choice of weapons was not limited. But most often, bolos, rattan canes, and knives were the preferred weapons. Duels were either first-blood, submission, or to the last man standing. Duels to death were known as "huego-todo" (without bounds).[citation needed]

Widely publicised duels are common in Filipino martial arts circles. One of those very controversial and publicised duels was between Ciriaco "Cacoy" Cañete and Venancio "Ansiong" Bacon. It was rumoured that Cacoy won in this match by executing an illegal manoeuvre, but this rumour has not been proven to this day. Another match was between Cacoy and a man identified only by his name "Domingo" in the mountain barangay of Balamban in 1948, which was also controversial. Some claimed that this event was just a hoax.[45]

Opposition to dueling

The Roman Catholic Church was critical of duelling throughout medieval history, frowning both on the traditions of judicial combat and on the duel on points of honour among the nobility. During the Early Modern period, there were also various attempts by secular legislators to curb the practice. But as the tradition was deeply rooted in feudal society, and a prerogative of the upper classes, such attempts largely failed until the advent of the Age of Enlightenment and modern civil society. Duelling still remained commonplace among military officers, but the practice became commonly frowned upon in the course of the 19th century. By the outbreak of World War I, duelling was not only illegal almost everywhere in the western world, but also widely seen as an anachronism. Military establishments in most countries began to frown on dueling because officers were the main contestants. Officers were often trained at military academies at government's expense; when officers killed one another it imposed an unnecessary financial and leadership strain on a military organization, making dueling unpopular with high-ranking officers.[46]

With the end of the duel, the dress sword also lost its position as an indispensable part of a gentleman's wardrobe, a development described as an "archaeological terminus" by Ewart Oakeshott, concluding the long period during which the sword had been visible attribute of the free man, beginning as early as three millennia ago with the Bronze Age sword.[47]

United Kingdom

Under the United Kingdom law, to kill in the course of a duel was formally murder, but for much of the history of the duel the courts were very lax in applying the law, since the legal professions were themselves sympathetic to the culture of honour.[48] The Anglican Church was generally hostile to duelling, although some clergymen duelled, but non-conformist sects were relentlessly hostile. The sovereigns generally opposed duelling but rarely were active in suppressing it. Even towards the end of duelling Queen Victoria expressed the hope that Lord Cardigan, prosecuted for wounding another in a duel, "would get off easily". The reasons for the disappearance of the duel are controversial, but include the emergence of a new middle class hostile to honour culture, the development of collective imperialist ideologies rather than individualistic ideals and finally the need of the higher orders to present a law-abiding front in the face of the increasing challenges to the traditional order of society offered by those from below.[citation needed]

The prohibition on duelling in the military was more rigidly observed (though exceptions were not unheard of), due to the ease by which a skilled but unscrupulous individual could gain rapid promotion by challenging senior officers to duels, killing them, and thus gaining promotion by seniority. It would also be bad for discipline, as officers could query any orders they did not agree with and contradict officers on important points, backed up by the threat of duels.


King Louis XIII of France outlawed duelling in 1626, and duels remained illegal in France ever afterwards. At least one noble was beheaded for fighting a duel during Louis's reign, and his successor Louis XIV intensified efforts to wipe out the duel. Despite these efforts, duelling continued. Between 1685 and 1716, French officers fought 10,000 duels, leading to over 400 deaths.[49]

The last duel in France took place in 1967 when Gaston Defferre insulted René Ribière (fr) at the French parliament and was subsequently challenged to a duel fought with swords. René Ribière lost the duel, having been wounded twice. He escaped relatively uninjured, however.[50]


Duelling is illegal in Canada, pursuant to section 71 of the Criminal Code of Canada which states:[51]

Everyone who:
(a) challenges or attempts by any means to provoke another person to fight a duel,
(b) attempts to provoke a person to challenge another person to fight a duel, or
(c) accepts a challenge to fight a duel,
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

United States


Duelling began to fall out of favor in America in the 18th century, and the death of former United States Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in a duel against the sitting Aaron Burr in 1804 did not help its declining popularity. Benjamin Franklin denounced the practice as uselessly violent, and George Washington encouraged his officers to refuse challenges during the American Revolutionary War because he believed that the death by duelling of officers would have threatened the success of the war effort.

In 1820, the American naval hero Stephen Decatur was killed in a duel with fellow naval officer James Barron. Between 1798 and the Civil War, the US Navy lost two-thirds as many officers to dueling as it did in combat at sea. Many of those killed or wounded were midshipmen or junior officers. Despite prominent deaths, such as that of Decatur, duelling persisted because of contemporary ideals of chivalry, particularly in the South, and because of the threat of ridicule if a challenge was rejected.[52][53] Among the lower classes in this period, gouging was a form of fighting that combatants also engaged in to defend their honor.[54]

By the end of the 19th century, legalised duelling was almost extinct in most of the world. Some U.S. states do not have any statute or constitutional provision prohibiting duelling as such, though the party causing injury in a duel may be prosecuted under the applicable laws relating to bodily harm or manslaughter.

Article 114 of the federal laws for the conduct of servicemen, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, makes duelling by a member of the armed forces a military crime.

State constitutional provisions and military laws prohibiting duelling

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Several states have very high-level bans laid against duelling, with stiff penalties for violation. Several United States state constitutions ban the practice, the most common penalty being disenfranchisement or disqualification from all offices.

State constitutions prohibiting dueling specifically are those of Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and the Session law of Texas. In 2008 a West Virginia man was arrested in a shooting death under an 1849 anti-deulling Virginia law incorporated into the West Virginia constitution.[55]

The Constitution of Kentucky, adopted in 1891, prohibits anyone from holding any state office who has ever participated in a duel.[56] The gubernatorial oath of office contains a line that affirms at the time of inauguration that the incoming governor of Kentucky has never participated in a duel.[57]

State and territorial laws prohibiting duelling

Twenty states, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have some statute(s) (including constitutional provisions) specifically prohibiting duelling. The remaining 30 states either have no such statute or constitutional provision, or limit their duelling prohibition to members of their state national guard. This does not necessarily mean, however, that duelling is legal in any state, as assault and murder laws can apply. Where dueling is specifically prohibited, these statutes are often accompanied by further statutes against leaving the jurisdiction in order to participate in a duel, and against public denunciation of the other party for not fighting.

States which specifically prohibit members of the state national guard from duelling are Arizona, Arkansas,[58] Connecticut,[59] Georgia,[60] Iowa,[61] Kansas,[62] Missouri,[63] Hawaii,[64] Ohio,[65] Oregon,[66] Pennsylvania,[67] Washington[68] and New York.[69]

States and territories which have statutory prohibitions on duelling for all citizens are Colorado,[70] District of Columbia,[71] Idaho,[72] Kentucky,[73] Massachusetts,[74] Michigan,[75] Mississippi,[76] Nevada,[77] New Mexico,[78] New York,[79] North Dakota,[80] Oklahoma,[81] Puerto Rico,[82] Rhode Island[83] and Utah.[84] California previously prohibited duelling, but this was repealed in 1994.[85]

Virginia passed the Anti-Dueling Act in 1810, creating civil and criminal penalties for the most usual causes of duelling, rather than for the act itself. It is still on the books. Virginia Code §8.01-45 creates a Civil Action for insulting words. Virginia Code §18.2-416 makes it a crime to use abusive language to another under circumstances reasonably calculated to provoke a breach of the peace. Virginia Code §18.2-417 makes certain slander and libel a crime.[86]

Anti-duelling pamphlets

Duels in film and literature

In cinema, duelling has provided themes for such motion pictures as Ridley Scott's 1977 The Duellists, itself adapted from Joseph Conrad's 1908 short story "The Duel". The 1943 film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp shows two main characters becoming friends after fighting a duel, the preparations for which are shown in great detail. The climactic duel in 1952's Scaramouche is reputed to be the longest in cinema at over six minutes. Perhaps most notable is the career of Max Ophüls, who employs duels to resolve passionate conflicts in a number of his films. Other duels include:

  • The Big Country (1958), with duelling pistols
  • The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), between James Bond and Scaramanga, each armed with his favorite pistol
  • Barry Lyndon (1975), pistols and swords
  • The Duellists (1977), sabres and pistols
  • Highlander (1986), swords
  • Rob Roy (1995), swords
  • Hamlet (1996), rapiers
  • The Skulls (2000), pistols

Alexander Pushkin was a real-life practitioner, fighting in no fewer than 29 instances and dying at the hands of an army officer in his last. His most famous character Onegin duels in the eponymous novel. A very famous and comical treatment of duelling etiquette and practice comes from Alexandre Dumas in the story of the Three Musketeers - d'Artagnan in his youthful exuberance challenges more than one opponent, scheduling the duels at the same time. The initial conflicts are resolved and the men become companions-in-arms.

William Makepeace Thackeray includes duels in the plots of novel, The Luck of Barry Lyndon and A Shabby Genteel Story. In the latter a duel between two men is rendered farcical when the pistols are shown to be unloaded.

See also


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  3. "The Mystic Spring (1904) by D.W. Higgins". Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  4. Will and Ariel Durant (1950), The Age of Faith, p. 573.
  5. Lynn, p. 255, 257.
  6. "How to Defend a Monopoly". 2006-03-26. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
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  8. Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. Southern Honor: Ethics & Behavior in the Old South. Oxford University Press, 2007, p.355-356
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "Eccentric medical men". 1 April 1839 – 30 September 1839. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Smithsonian Magazine". Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  11. USA (2012-05-24). "Rudolf Virchow". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  12. Genocide, War, and Human Survival - Charles B. Strozier, Michael Flynn - Google Books. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  13. "Mark Twain, A Biography by Albert Bigelow Paine: Part I A Comstock Duel". Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  14. "Chapters from my Autobiography by Mark Twain: Chapter VIII". Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
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  16. "Abraham Lincoln Prepares to Fight a Saber Duel", originally published by Civil War Times magazine
  17. Carnegie, Dale (1982). How to Win Friends & Influence People. New York, NY: POCKET BOOKS. pp. 9. ISBN 0-671-72365-0. 
  18. Baldick, Robert (1965). The duel: a history of duelling. Chapman & Hall. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  19. Dennis Gywnn, Daniel O'Connell The Irish Liberator, Hutchinson & Co. Ltd pp 138–145
  20. 20.0 20.1 "The common is steeped in history, at Keep Englefield Green - The Heritage". Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  21. "Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache : Kluge, Friedrich, 1856-1926 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". 2001-03-10. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  22. Marek Adamiec. "Polski kodeks honorowy". Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  23. Baldick, Robert (1965). The duel: a history of duelling. Chapman & Hall. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  24. Hamilton, Joseph (1829). The only approved guide through all the stages of a quarrel ((Internet Archive) ed.). Dublin: Millikin. Retrieved 29/June/2009. 
  25. Wilson Lyde, John (1838 (reprint 2004)). "Appendix". The Code of Honor, Or, Rules for the Government of Principals and Seconds in Duelling. reprinted by Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4191-5704-2.,+Or,+Rules+for+the+Government+of+Principals+and+Seconds+in+Duelling. 
  26. Gwynn, Denis (1947). Daniel O'Connell. Cork University Press. p. 126. 
  27. O'Faolain, Sean King of the Beggars- a life of Daniel O'Connell 1938 Mercier Press edition p.198
  28. Dickens, Charles; Chapman and Hall, (May 10, 1862). "All the year round". Dickens & Evans (Firm). pp. 212–216. 
  29. Thomas W. Gallant. "| Honor, Masculinity, and Ritual Knife Fighting in Nineteenth-Century Greece | The American Historical Review, 105.2". The History Cooperative. Archived from the original on 2012-06-29. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  30. V. Durasov "The Dueling Code" ISBN - 5-7905-1634-3, 5-94532-010-2
  31. (Russian)"Pushkin duels. Full list". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  32. "Politics And Pistols: Dueling In America". History Detectives. PBS. Retrieved 2012-07-22. 
  33. Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. 1982. Southern honor: ethics and behavior in the old South. New York: Oxford University Press. Pages 167 and 350-351.
  34. David S. Parker. "DAVID S. PARKER | Law, Honor, and Impunity in Spanish America: The Debate over Dueling, 1870–1920 | Law and History Review, 19.2". The History Cooperative. Archived from the original on 2012-08-01. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  35. "Americas | 'Insulted' politician wants a pistol duel". BBC News. 2002-09-26. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  36. Where There's Life, There's Lawsuits ... - Google Books. 2003-04-25. ISBN 978-1-55022-501-3. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  37. "URUGUAY RESCINDS LAW ALLOWING DISPUTES TO BE SETTLED BY DUEL". Deseret News. Associated Press. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  38. Nick Caistor (5 May 2000). "Raúl Rettig (obituary)". 
  40. Selling Destinations: Geography for the Travel Professional. By Marc Mancini p236
  41. The Southron's Guide to Living in Uruguay By R David Finzer
  42. "Philippine Martial Arts Institute - Traditional Filipino Weapons". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  43. "Bolos Weapons in Filipino Duel: One Hand Cut Off".,3703863. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  44. "Argument over rice harvest leads to bolo duel in Zamboanga City". Sun.Star. 2012-01-07. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  45. "Bandalan Martial Arts". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  46. Holland, Barbara. "Gentlemen's Blood: A History of Dueling" New York, NY. (2003)
  47. R. E. Oakeshott, European weapons and armour: From the Renaissance to the industrial revolution (1980), p. 255.
  48. Banks, S. "Very little law in the case: Contests of Honour and the Subversion of the English Criminal Courts, 1780-1845"
  49. Lynn, p. 257.
  50. Friday, Apr. 28, 1967 (1967-04-28). "Time Magazine".,9171,843669,00.html?iid=chix-sphere. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  51. "Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, s. 71". Retrieved 2009-11-27. 
  52. "The American Experience | The Duel | Dueling, American Style". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  53. Drake, Ross (March 2004). "Duel! Defenders of honor or shoot-on-sight vigilantes? Even in 19th-century America, it was hard to tell". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  54. Greenberg, Kenneth S. (February 1990). "The Nose, the Lie, and the Duel in the Antebellum South". pp. 57–74. 
  55. "Murder by Duel", Humiliation, Challenge, and Homicide, 2009: A Historian's Dilemma of Judgement
  56. Johnson, "Kentucky Duels Over Oath Of Office"
  57. "Section_239". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  58. A.R.S. 26-1114
  59. Conn. Gen. Stat. 27-251
  60. O.C.G.A. 38-2-546
  61. Iowa Code 29B.108
  62. K.S.A. 48-3036
  63. 40.385, R.S.Mo.
  64. H.R.S. 124A-147
  65. O.R.C. Ann. 5924.114
  66. O.R.S. 398.393
  67. 51 Pa.C.S. 6036
  68. Rev. Code Wash. 38.38.768
  69. N.Y. Mil. Law 130.108
  70. C.R.S. 18-13-104
  71. D.C. Code 22-1302
  72. Idaho Code 19-303
  73. K.R.S. 437.030
  74. G.L.Mass. ch. 265, sections 3–4
  75. M.C.L.S. 750.171–750.173a; M.C.L.S. 750.319 and 750.320
  76. Miss. Code Ann. Title 97, Chapter 39
  77. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. 200.430 through 200.450
  78. N.M. Stat. Ann. 30-20-11
  79. Penal Law section 35.15(1)(c), which provides that the permitted use of physical force in defense of a person does not apply to "the product of combat by agreement"
  80. N.D. Cent. Code 29-03-02
  81. 21 Okl. St., Chapter 22
  82. 33 L.P.R.A. 4035
  83. R.I. Gen. Laws, Title 11, Chapter 12
  84. Utah Code Ann. 76-5-104 (homicide includes duelling and other "consensual altercations")
  85. California Penal Code Sections 225 through 232
  86. 1 VA. CODE REV. § 8 (1819), quoted in Chaffin v. Lynch, 1 S.E. 803, 806 (Va. 1887)


  • Baldick, Robert. The Duel: A History of Duelling. London: Chapman & Hall, 1965.
  • Banks, Stephen. Duels and Duelling, Oxford: Shire, 2012.
  • Banks, Stephen. A Polite Exchange of Bullets; The Duel and the English Gentleman, 1750–1850, (Woodbridge: Boydell 2010)
  • Banks, Stephen. "Very little law in the case: Contests of Honour and the Subversion of the English Criminal Courts, 1780-1845" (2008) 19(3) King's Law Journal 575-594.
  • Banks, Stephen. "Dangerous Friends: The Second and the Later English Duel" (2009) 32 (1) Journal of Eighteenth Century Studies'' 87-106.
  • Banks, Stephen. "Killing with Courtesy: The English Duelist, 1785-1845," (2008) 47 Journal of British Studies 528-558.
  • Bell, Richard, “The Double Guilt of Dueling: The Stain of Suicide in Anti-dueling Rhetoric in the Early Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic, 29 (Fall 2009), 383–410.
  • Cramer, Clayton. Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic: Dueling, Southern Violence, and Moral Reform
  • Freeman, Joanne B. Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001; paperback ed., 2002)
  • Freeman, Joanne B. "Dueling as Politics: Reinterpreting the Burr-Hamilton Duel." The William and Mary Quarterly, 3d series, 53 (April 1996): 289–318.
  • Frevert, Ute. "Men of Honour: A Social and Cultural History of the Duel." trans. Anthony Williams Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995.
  • Greenberg, Kenneth S. "The Nose, the Lie, and the Duel in the Antebellum South." American Historical Review 95 (February 1990): 57–73.
  • James Kelly. That Damn'd Thing Called Honour: Duelling in Ireland 1570–1860" (1995)
  • Kevin McAleer. Dueling: The Cult of Honor in Fin-de-Siecle Germany (1994)
  • Morgan, Cecilia. "'In Search of the Phantom Misnamed Honour': Duelling in Upper Canada." Canadian Historical Review 1995 76(4): 529–562.
  • Rorabaugh, W. J. "The Political Duel in the Early Republic: Burr v. Hamilton." Journal of the Early Republic 15 (Spring 1995): 1–23.
  • Schwartz, Warren F., Keith Baxter and David Ryan. "The Duel: Can these Gentlemen be Acting Efficiently?." The Journal of Legal Studies 13 (June 1984): 321–355.
  • Steward, Dick. Duels and the Roots of Violence in Missouri (2000),
  • Williams, Jack K. Dueling in the Old South: Vignettes of Social History (1980) (1999),
  • Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. Honor and Violence in the Old South (1986)
  • Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South (1982),
  • Holland, Barbara. "Gentlemen's Blood: A History of Dueling" New York, NY. (2003)

Popular works

  • Duels and Duelling (Stephen Banks) 2012.
  • The Code of Honor; or, Rules for the Government of Principals and Seconds in Duelling, John Lyde Wilson 1838
  • The Field of Honor Benjamin C. Truman. (1884); reissued as Duelling in America (1993).
  • Savannah Duels & Duellists, Thomas Gamble (1923)
  • Gentlemen, Swords and Pistols, Harnett C. Kane (1951)
  • Pistols at Ten Paces: The Story of the Code of Honor in America, William Oliver Stevens (1940)
  • The Duel: A History, Robert Baldick (1965, 1996)
  • Dueling With the Sword and Pistol: 400 Years of One-on-One Combat, Paul Kirchner (2004)
  • Duel, James Landale (2005). ISBN 1-84195-647-3. The story of the last fatal duel in Scotland
  • Ritualized Violence Russian Style: The Duel in Russian Culture and Literature, Irina Reyfman (1999).
  • A Polite Exchange of Bullets; The Duel and the English Gentleman, 1750-1850, Stephen Banks (2010)


  • Marek Żukow-Karczewski, Pojedynki w dawnej Polsce (Duels in the old Poland), "Przekrój" (1987) 2204.

External links

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