Regency Dueling Protocol by Donna Hatch
In England, dueling was part of a long-standing code of honor, far beyond a mere tradition. Gentlemen took their dueling very seriously; they would rather die than be dishonored.
Does your heart go pitter patter just at the sound of that? I admit, at times, mine does.
How many man that honorable do you know? Okay, maybe we’d call it misplaced pride, or an overdeveloped sense of vengeance, but hey, that was a different world with a different set of rules. And yeah, I’m glad they don’t do it these days.
By the Regency Era, dueling was outlawed. However, duels still happened more frequently than many people knew. The problem was, because courts were made up of peers, they were reluctant to charge another peer with murder as a result of a duel.
There is a case where one nobleman was charged with murder and tried, but used the defense that his behavior was gentlemanly and honorable, meaning that he acted within the proper code of conduct. He was acquitted by his peers.
If they were socially equal, or at least similar, the gentleman who was offended would tell the man who’d wronged him that he should choose his “second,” a close friend or family member who would look out for his best interests. If he was really incensed, he might slap him with his glove, but that was considered extreme and beneath gentlemanly behavior, as it was the ultimate insult and probably resulted in a fight then and there.
The procedure for issuing a challenge was very specific. A gentleman never challenged a social inferior. For instance, a gentleman of significance with ties to the aristocracy or nobility would never challenge a commoner, such as a blacksmith or a farmer. Also, if there was a significant age difference, the duel would not be extended.
After the verbal challenge – or perhaps warning would be a better word – was issued, depending on the severity of the offense, the other might have a choice; he could either apologize, or he could accept. Sometimes, the apology would not be accepted, often if there were a third person who’d been wronged such as a lady’s honor. (Okay, call me crazy but that almost makes me want to swoon.)
The next day, supposedly after heads had cooled, the wronged man who wished to duel would send his “second” with a written letter challenging the duel. The other may chose to apologize or accept the challenge. If accepted, he would choose swords or pistols and name the time and the place. In my humble opinion, swords was a more more gentlemanly way to duel. If they used pistols, they only used one shot which seems too much like cold-blooded murder. I’m sure they didn’t always shoot to kill, but there was some unwritten rule about the shot purposely going wide and that being bad form. *shrug*
When the allotted day arrived, they met, probably in a remote place where they wouldn’t be caught by the law, and the seconds inspected the weapons to be used. A final opportunity for an apology could be given. If not, the seconds decided if the duel should be fought to (a) first blood, or (b) until one can no longer stand, or (c) to the death. Once that was decided, the opponents dueled and the seconds watched to insure that nothing dishonorable happened.
If during a duel fought by swords, one of the duelers becomes too injured to continue, occasionally the second would step in and duel. Sometimes, the seconds were hot-headed or very angry (loyal?) and ended up dueling each other as well. To my knowledge, this never happened is the duel were fought with pistols.
As horrible as it sounds to our modern selves, these gentlemen took their honor very seriously, and considered death preferable to living with the label of a coward, a label that would follow them and their families for years.
And, maybe it’s me, but there a certain romance about a gentleman brave enough and protective enough to be willing to risk death defending my honor from another man who’d besmirched it.
A duel is what leads to all the trouble for my hero in my Regency Romance novel, “The Stranger She Married” and causes events he wishes desperately he could change, especially when the duel goes awry and causes pain to an entire family.
Posted with the kind permission of The Beau Monde author Donna Hatch, Romance Novelist.
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