Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The British Code of Duel

Tuesday, August 14, 2012
From The English Spy. Illustration by Robert Cruikshank
Loretta reports:

To mark the release of the print edition of Royal Bridesmaids, containing my short story, “Lord Lovedon’s Duel,” I offer an excerpt from The British Code of Duel,* a book my characters refer to a few times.

"The British Code of Duel," a little work professing to give the necessary instructions for man-killing according to honour, lays down the following rules as indispensable for the practice of principals and seconds in the pleasant and humane amusement of shooting at each other. "1. To choose out a snug sequestered spot, where the ground is level, and no natural, terrestrial, or celestial line presenting itself to assist either party in his views of sending his opponent into eternity. 2. To examine the pistols; see that they are alike in quality and length, and load in presence of each other. 3. To measure the distance; ten paces of not less than thirty inches being the minimum, the parties to step to it, not from it. 4. To fire by signal and at random; it being considered unfair to take aim at the man whose life you go out to take. 5. Not to deliver the pistols cocked, lest they should go off un-expectedly; and after one fire the second should use his endeavours to produce a reconciliation. 6. If your opponent fire in the air, it is very unusual, and must be a case of extreme anguish when you are obliged to insist upon another shot at him. 7. Three fires must be the ultimatum in any case; any more reduces duel to a conflict for blood," says the code writer; "if the parties can afford it, there should be two surgeons in attendance, but if economical, one mutual friend will suffice; the person receiving the first fire, in case of wound, taking the first dressing. 8. It being always understood that wife, children, parents, and relations are no impediment with men of very different relative stations in society to their meeting on equal terms." The consistency, morality, justice, and humanity of this code, I leave to the gratifying reflection of those who have most honourably killed their man.Bernard Blackmantle, The English Spy (p. 214), courtesy Project Gutenberg.

For women duelists, please see this Intrepid Women post.

*The book itself, which is quite rare, has not yet turned up in my searches for an online version.


Hels said...

Thank you for that (I think).

It was as if codifying the custom down to the nth degree made it normal, even admirable. "The consistency, morality, justice, and humanity of this code, I leave to the gratifying reflection of those who have most honourably killed their man".... hmm

Anonymous said...

I would love to find a copy of that code as it has some differences with the code as usually presented. The mid 19th century book on the Duello or Up the River abouyt a duel in the American south includes copies of codes of Ireland and France, while that of the story is American. he trouble with this code as given in the English Spy, is that is doesn't appear to have been formulated when the men fought with swords. Most sources think that the code was just amended slightly when pistols became the weapons of choice instead of swords
hanks . his is interesting.

Romance Author, Donna Hatch said...

I didn't realize there was an official book for dueing. Was there a booklet for dueling with swords, too, or just pistols?

Grace Burrowes said...

Interesting! I thought you weren't supposed to challenge somebody of any but your own station, and certainly not anybody of lesser station, but this suggests otherwise. In any case, glad fisticuffs came into fashion instead.

MaryJeanAdams said...

There is a much longer form of the code that anonymous references called code duello. A PBS website has the full code if you're interested - http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/duel/sfeature/rulesofdueling.html

Even though it's listed under the title The American Experience, I believe this is specifically the Irish code (but also followed in England). They mention that Americans, as usual, tend to break the English rules, but I have yet to find any detailed references to which rules they broke.

The only one I know of for certain is that firing in the air, while not allowed in Britain, was admissable in America. It's rumored, for example, that Alexander Hamilton fired in the air in his duel with Aaron Burr. Burr, as students of Am history know, did not.

Mary Jean Adams

Margaret Porter said...

I've got a copy and had no idea it was so rare. Nowadays I simply assume that all or most of my painstakingly collected antiquarian stuff has become readily available online.

Chris Woodyard said...

Super post, Loretta! This struck me as less of an actual code than a subtle parody. I especially like the note about economizing with one surgeon.

LorettaChase said...

Bill Plummer asked, offline:

What time frame are you talking about?

For Bill and for those who want to hunt down this book—
Google lists (but has not yet scanned and posted online) The British Code of Duel: a Reference to the Laws of Honour, and the Character of Gentleman ...: An Appendix, in which is Strictly Examined, the Case Between the Tenth Hussars and Mr. Battier; Capt. Calla'n, Mr. Finch, &c. Noted. Publisher: Knight and Lacey, Paternoster Row, 1824
Length 85 pages

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