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  • Writer's picturePaullett Golden

Dueling at Dawn in the 18th Century

Publication Date: Jan 1, 2019

With this glove, I challenge you to a duel at dawn!

Sketch of 18th century men dueling

In The Duke and The Enchantress there are several scenes involving fencing and, not to give away spoilers, dueling. More research than I expected went into learning about dueling because I needed to understand duel etiquette, fencing moves, and the sabre.

Believe it or not, there were strict rules for dueling, complete with handbooks that were updated through the years. Each country had its own set of rules, typically adapted from another country's existing rules. A few handbooks: Joseph Hamilton's The Duelling Handbook, John Lyde Wilson's The Code of Honor, A. Traveller's The Art of Duelling, and many more. One of the earliest known written manuals on dueling was the Flos Duellatorum by Fiore dei Liberi in 1410. The dueling code likely closest in adaptation to what we might see our late 18th century and early 19th century heroes follow would be Sir Jonah Barrington's reiteration of 1777 Code Duello. Should you have the time, compare Hamilton's depiction of dueling with Barrington's, for it would seem the Irish were more interested in the duel, while the English were more interested in the negotiations.

Sketch of A Swordsman Parries A Thrust
A Swordsman Parries A Thrust

A duel was a gentleman's means of restoring honor, not a havy cavy affair of brawling. Typically, a duel was a complex and drawn out affair involving multiple parties and possibly weeks of preparation--to the point of visiting the family barrister to prepare the final will in the event things didn't go as planned. The planning and communication took place between the mediators, namely the seconds. The seconds begged apologies more than planned in hopes of coming to some sort of resolution without the need of the actual duel. If the challenged wouldn't apologize or if the challenger wasn't satisfied by the apology, the seconds made the arrangements, which involved choosing the time, location, surgeon (yes, there should be a surgeon on scene or a form of conveyance to take the injured to a physician), and other such details.

Duels were not dramatically carried out at the moment of offense in the courtyard. There were also specific reasons why a gentleman could challenge another in a duel, as well as reasons why a gentleman could not challenge another, all depending on the offense. The duel in The Duke and The Enchantress breaks quite a few etiquette rules. I won't list every broken rule (what fun is that?), but I will allude to a couple.

Painting of 18th century men fencing

First and foremost, one of the most ungentlemanly actions a person can take is to strike someone with their hand (aka punch in the face! Or as we like to say in the canon, plant a facer). This action alone could ruin a man's reputation. The person being punched wouldn't, in turn, challenge the offender to a duel because only gentlemen fight duels, and the offender would no longer be considered a gentleman. It would sully the person's own reputation to be known to have dueled with an offender who uses his fists to fight.

Second, at all times before, during, and after the duel, the two gentlemen must be civil and polite to each other or risk the tarnish of their reputations, the forfeit of the challenge, or the receipt of a counter challenge. Name calling, snide remarks, and the like, were all in poor taste and against the honor code, not to mention a one-way ticket to being ostracized by society for ungentlemanly behavior.

To learn the intricacies of dueling rules and etiquette, I recommend looking into the actual manuals listed above. Of all of them, I'd suggest getting the Hamilton manual. It was written in 1829 and is a must own. Yes, it's available on Amazon. While waiting for your copy to arrive, check out this brief but fun on dueling.


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