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Duels in this form were chiefly practiced 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 in England, duels were more commonly fought using pistols; fencing and pistol duels continued to co-exist throughout the 19th century.
Dueling largely fell out of favor in England by the mid-19th century and in Continental Europe by the turn of the 20th century. Dueling declined in the Eastern United States in the 19th century and by the time of the American Civil War broke out, dueling had begun an irreversible decline, even in the South. Public opinion, not legislation, caused the change.
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 practiced.
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.
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 honour."
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, a code of practice was drawn up for the regulation of duels, at the Summer assizes in the town of Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland. A copy of the code, known as 'The twenty-six commandments', was to be kept in a gentleman's pistol case for reference should a dispute arise regarding procedure.
Dueling became popular in the United States - the former United States Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel against the sitting Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804. Between 1798 and the Civil War, the US Navy lost two-thirds as many officers to dueling as it did in combat at sea, including naval hero Stephen Decatur. Many of those killed or wounded were midshipmen or junior officers. Despite prominent deaths, dueling persisted because of contemporary ideals of chivalry, particularly in the South, and because of the threat of ridicule if a challenge was rejected.
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 underwent a number of important changes in England. Firstly, unlike their counterparts in many continental nations, English duelists enthusiastically adopted the pistol and sword duels dwindled. Special sets of dueling pistols were crafted for the wealthiest of noblemen for this purpose. Secondly, the office of 'second' 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.
The Roman Catholic Church was critical of dueling 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. Queen Elizabeth I officially condemned and outlawed duelling in 1571, shortly after the practice had been introduced to England.
However, the tradition had become deeply rooted in European culture as a prerogative of the aristocracy, and these attempts largely failed. For example, King Louis XIII of France outlawed dueling in 1626, a law which remained in force for ever afterwards, and his successor Louis XIV intensified efforts to wipe out the duel. Despite these efforts, duelling continued unabated, and it is estimated that between 1685 and 1716, French officers fought 10,000 duels, leading to over 400 deaths.
In the United Kingdom, to kill in the course of a duel was formally judged as murder, but generally the courts were very lax in applying the law, as they were sympathetic to the culture of honour. This attitude lingered on - Queen Victoria even expressed a hope that Lord Cardigan, prosecuted for wounding another in a duel, "would get off easily". The Anglican Church was generally hostile to duelling, but non-conformist sects in particular began to actively campaign against it.
By the late 18th century, Enlightenment era values began to influence society with new self-conscious ideas about politeness, civil behaviour and new attitudes towards violence. The cultivated art of politeness demanded that there should be no outward displays of anger or violence, and the concept of honour became more personalized.
By the 1770s the practice of dueling was increasingly coming under attack from many sections of enlightened society, as a violent relic of Europe's medieval past unsuited for modern life. As England began to industrialize and benefit from urban planning and more effective police forces, the culture of street violence in general began to slowly wane. The growing middle class maintained their reputation with recourse to either bringing charges of libel, or to the fast-growing print media of the early nineteenth century, where they could defend their honour and resolve conflicts through correspondence in newspapers.
Influential new intellectual trends at the turn of the nineteenth century bolstered the anti-duelling campaign; the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham stressed that praiseworthy actions were exclusively restricted to those that maximize human welfare and happiness, and the Evangelical notion of the "Christian conscience" began to actively promote social activism. Individuals in the Clapham Sect and similar societies, who had successfully campaigned for the abolition of slavery, condemned dueling as ungodly violence and as an egocentric culture of honour.
By 1840, dueling had declined dramatically; when the 7th Earl of Cardigan was acquitted on a legal technicality for homicide in connection with a duel with one of his former officers, outrage was expressed in the media, with The Times alleging that there was deliberate, high level complicity to leave the loop-hole in the prosecution case and reporting the view that "in England there is one law for the rich and another for the poor" and The Examiner describing the verdict as "a defeat of justice".
The last duel between Englishmen in England occurred in 1845, when James Alexander Seton had an altercation with Henry Hawkey over the affections of his wife, leading to a fatal duel at Southsea. However, the last fatal duel to occur in England was between two French refugees, Cournet and Barthelemy near Old Windsor in 1852; the former was killed.
Duelling also began to be criticized in America in the late 18th century; 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. However, the practice actually gained in popularity in the first half of the nineteenth century especially in the south and on the lawless Western Frontier. Duelling began an irreversible decline in the aftermath of the Civil War. Even in the South, public opinion increasingly came to regard the practice as little more than bloodshed.
On the European continent, duelling survived in some places until the early 20th century. 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. However, this incident was an exception to the rule, and by the outbreak of World War I, duelling had not only been made illegal almost everywhere in the western world, but was also widely seen as an anachronism. Military establishments in most countries frowned on duelling 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 duelling unpopular with high-ranking officers.
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.
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. 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. 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, but as late as 1777 the Irish code still allowed the seconds an option to exchange shots.
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 some time 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. 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.
At the choice of the offended party, the duel could be fought to a number of conclusions:
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 XII 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, but unless the challenger was of a higher social standing, such as a baron or prince challenging a knight, the person being challenged was allowed to decide the time and weapons used in the duel. 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.
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; 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. 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."
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. 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.
By the 1780s, 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.
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. 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.
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. Despite numerous challenges, he refused ever to fight another duel.
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. A modern remnant of German duelling culture is found in the non-lethal Mensur tradition in Academic fencing.
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.
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 Wladyslaw 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.
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 Czaplinski, 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 Czaplinski in a sabre duel, but was stunned from behind and thrown into a dungeon. Later, because Czaplinski 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").
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. 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 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.
European styles of duelling 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, duelling was used to deal with political differences and disputes, particularly during the Civil War. Duelling 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.
"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 honour, 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 honour did not always match the expectation, but often enough dueling served as a form of scapegoating for unresolved personal problems."
The quick draw duel is a stereotypical aspect of a gunfighter story in the American Western film genre, although real life Wild West duels did happen such as the Wild Bill Hickok – Davis Tutt shootout, Doc Holliday and Mike Gordon duel, and Luke Short – Jim Courtright duel. (See: Real-life Wild West duels) Fatal duels were often fought to uphold personal honor in the rural American frontier. Cities such as Tombstone and Dodge City prevented these duels by prohibiting civilians from carrying firearms in the city by local ordinance.
Duels were common in much of South America during the 20th century, 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 honour". 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.
Uruguay decriminalised duelling 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. Although not forbidden by the government, the duel did not take place. Duelling was once again prohibited in 1992.
A 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) in 1952. Both men agreed to fire one shot at each other, and both fired into the air. At that time, duelling was already illegal in Chile.
Duels were held in ancient India (including modern-day Pakistan and Bangladesh) for various reasons. Many kshatriya considered it a shame to die in bed, and in their old age often arranged for a yuddha-dhan, literally meaning "combat charity". According to this practice when a warrior felt he did not have much time to live, he would go along with a few attendants and ask another king for a duel or a small scale battle. In this way he chooses his own time and manner of death and is assured that he will die fighting. Duels to the death were legal in some periods, and punishable by execution in others. The Portuguese traveller Duarte Barbosa tells that duelling was a common practice among the nobles of the Vijayanagara Empire, and it was the only legal manner in which "murder" could be committed. After fixing a day for the duel and getting permission from the king or minister, the duellists would arrive at the appointed field "with great pleasure". Duellists would wear no armour and were bare from the waist up. From the waist down they wore cotton cloth tightly round with many folds. The weapons used for duelling were swords, shields and daggers which the king would appoint them of equal length. Judges decided what rewards would be given to duellists; the winner may even acquire the loser's estate. In Kerala, duels known as ankam were fought by the kalari-trained Chekavar caste on behalf of their local rulers. The Manusmriti tells that if a warrior's topknot comes loose during such a fight or duel, the opponent must give him time to bind his hair before continuing.
Duels in Manipur were first recorded in the Chainarol-Puya which details the ethics of duelling. The fights took place under strict rules of conduct, and to violate them was both shameful and sinful. When a fighter is challenged, the day for the bout would be fixed to allow for time to prepare the weapons. Allowing the opponent the first chance to fire an arrow or hurl a spear was considered particularly courageous. The duel itself was not necessarily to the death, and usually ended once first blood has been drawn. However, the victor was still expected to behead the loser. Either before the duel or before the beheading, the fighters would share the meals and wine prepared by their wives. If it had been so requested beforehand, the loser's body may be cremated. Heads were taken as trophies, as was custom among the headhunters of northeast India. Various taboos existed such as not killing an opponent who runs, begs or cries out of fear, or anyone who pleads for protection.
Weapons and rules for duelling in the Indonesian archipelago vary from one culture to another. In Madura, duelling is known as carok and is typically practiced with the sickle or celurit. The Madurese people imbue their sickles with a khodam, a type of mythical spirit, by a way of prayer before engaging in a duel.
The traditional form of duelling among the Bugis-Makassar community was called sitobo lalang lipa in which the duellists fight in a sarong. The challenger stands with a loosened sarong around him and respectfully invites the other man to step into the sarong. The sarong itself is kept taut around both their waists. When both men are inside, an agreement to fight til death and thereafter shall be no hereditary grudge nor will any party be allowed to question the duel, shall be made. If both fighters agree, they then engage each other within the confined space of a single sarong. Unlike the more typical kris duel of Javanese and Malay culture, the Bugis-Makassar community instead wield badik, the local single-edge knife. Because avoiding injury is near-impossible even for the victor, this type of duel was considered a sign of extraordinary bravery, masculinity and the warrior mentality. Although true sitobo lalang lipa are no longer practiced, enactments of these duels are still performed at cultural shows today.
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.
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.
Bolo duels or bolo fights are hand-to-hand duels prominent in North and Central Philippines, common in 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. 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
In 1843, two other Frenchmen are said to have fought a duel by means of throwing billiard balls at each other.
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. The story could be apocryphal, however.
In cinema, duelling has provided themes for such motion pictures as Ridley Scott's 1977 movie 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:
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. Duels are described in many other Russian books, such as The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev.
A very famous and comical treatment of duelling etiquette and practice comes from Alexandre Dumas in his novel The Three Musketeers. The protagonist d'Artagnan, in his youthful exuberance, accidentally insults three men on the same morning and schedules the duels that afternoon, one after the other. The initial conflicts are resolved and the four men become companions-in-arms. William Makepeace Thackeray includes duels in the plots of Vanity Fair, 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.
In cartoons, a duel appeared in Chuck Jones's Mississippi Hare, when a riverboat gambler challenges Bugs Bunny to a pistol duel. Also in the 1953 Popeye cartoon titled Ancient Fistory, an anachronistic pistol duel comically occurs in a medieval setting.
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