Tuesday, August 23, 2016
A History of Duelling, 1913 Article
History of Duelling, article in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 5 1913
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Duelling was unknown to the civilized nations of antiquity. The contests of the Roman gladiators were not, like the duels of to-day, a means of self-defence, but bloody spectacles to satisfy the curiosity and cruelty of an effeminate and degenerate people. On the other hand the custom of duelling existed among the Gauls and Germans from the earliest era, as Diodorus Siculus (Biblioth. histor., Lib. V, ch. xxviii), Velleius Paterculus (Histor. rom., II, cxviii), and others relate. The duel is, therefore, undoubtedly of heathen origin, and was so firmly rooted in the customs of the Gauls and Germans that it persisted among them even after their conversion. The oldest known law of Christian times that permitted the judicial duel is that of the Burgundian King Gundobald (d. 516). With few exceptions the judicial duel is mentioned in all old German laws as a legal ordeal. It rested on a twofold conviction. It was believed, first, that God could not allow the innocent to be defeated in a duel; hence it was held that the guilty party would not dare primarily to appeal to the judgment of God in proof of his innocence and then enter upon the fight under the weight of perjury; the fear of Divine wrath would discourage him and make victory impossible.
The Church soon raised her voice against duelling. St. Avitus (d. 518) made an earnest protest against the law of the above-mentioned Gundobald, as is related by Agobard (d. 840), who in a special work on the subject points out the opposition between the law of Gundobald and the clemency of the Gospel; God might very easily permit the defeat of the innocent. The popes also at an early date took a stand against duelling. In a letter to Charles the Bald, Nicolas I (858-67) condemned the duel (monomachia) as a tempting of God. In the same century his example was followed by Stephen VI, later by Alexander II and Alexander III, Celestino III, Innocent III and Innocent IV, Julius II, and many others. In addition to the judicial, nonjudicial combats also occurred, in which men arbitrarily settled private grudges or sought to revenge themselves. The tournaments, especially, were often used to satisfy revenge; on account of this misuse the Church early issued ordinances against the excesses committed at tournaments, although these were not always obeyed. The more the judicial combat fell into disuse, the more the old instinct of the Germanic and Gallic peoples, by which each man sought to gain his rights with weapon in hand, showed itself in personal contests and at tournaments. From the middle of the fifteenth century duelling over questions of honour increased so greatly, especially in the Romance countries, that the Council of Trent was obliged to enact the severest penalties against it. It decreed that "the detestable custom of duelling which the Devil had originated, in order to bring about at the same time the ruin of the soul and the violent death of the body, shall be entirely uprooted from Christian soil" (Sess. XXIV, Dc reform., c. xix). It pronounced the severest ecclesiastical penalties against those princes who should permit duelling between Christians in their territories. According to the council those who take part in a duel are ipso facto excommunicated, and if they are killed in the duel they are to be deprived of Christian burial. The seconds and all those who advised the duel or were present at it are also excommunicated. These ecclesiastical penalties were at a later date repeatedly renewed and even in parts made more severe. Benedict XIV decreed that duellists should also be denied burial by the Church, even if they did not die on the duelling ground and had received absolution before death. All these penalties are substantially in force to-day. Pius IX in the "Constitutio Apostólicae Sedis" of 12 October, 1869, decreed the penalty of excommunication against "all who fight duels, or challenge to a duel or accept such challenge; as well as against all who are accessory to the duel or who in any way abet or encourage the same; and finally against those who are present at a duel as spectators [de industria spectantes], or those who permit the same, or do not prevent it, whatever their rank, even if they are kings or emperors".
Like the Church, the State also took steps against the evil of duelling. In 1608 an edict against the practice was issued by Henry IV of France. Whoever killed his opponent in a duel was to be punished with death; severe penalties were also enacted against the sending of a challenge and the acceptance of the same. Unfortunately transgressors against this law were generally pardoned. In 1626, during the reign of Henry's successor, Louis XIII, the laws against duelling were made more stringent and were strictly carried out. Notwithstanding these measures the custom of duelling increased alarmingly in France. The great number of French noblemen who fell in duels about the middle of the seventeenth century, is shown by the statement of the contemporary writer Théophile Raynaud that within thirty years more men of rank had been killed in duels than would have been needed to make up an entire army. Olier, the founder of the Congregation of Saint-Sulpice, with the aid of St. Vincent de Paul, formed an association of distinguished noblemen, the members of which signed the following obligation: "The undersigned publicly and solemnly make known by this declaration that they will refuse every form of challenge, will for no cause whatever enter upon a duel, and will in every way be willing to give proof that they detest duelling as contrary to reason, the public good, and the laws of the State, and as incompatible with salvation and the Christian religion, without, however, relinquishing the right to avenge in every legal way any insult offered them as far as position and birth make such action obligatory. Louis XIV aided these efforts at reform by the severe enactment against duelling which he issued early in his reign. For a long time after this duelling was infrequent in France.
In other countries too severe measures were taken against the constantly spreading evil. In 1681 the Emperor Leopold I forbade the fighting of duels under the severest penalties; Maria Theresa ordered not only the challenger and the challenged but also all who had any share in a duel to be beheaded, and in the reign of the Emperor Joseph II duellists received the punishment of murderers. Frederick the Great of Prussia tolerated no duellists in his army. The present penal code of Austria makes imprisonment the punishment of duelling; the penal code of the German Empire commands confinement in a fortress. The penalty is, without doubt, entirely insufficient and constitutes a form of privilege for the person who kills his adversary in a duel. Theoretically these penal laws are also applicable to the respective armies, but unfortunately in the case of officers they are not carried out; indeed, up to the present time, an officer who refuses to fight a duel in Germany and Austria is in danger of being dismissed from the army. In 1896 when, in consequence of the fatal issue of a duel, the Reichstag by a large majority called upon the Government to proceed by all the means in its power against the practice of duelling, as opposed to the criminal code, the emperor issued a cabinet order on 1 January, 1897, which established courts of honour to deal with disputes in the army concerning questions of honour. Unfortunately the decree leaves it open to the court of honour to permit or even to command a duel to take place. Furthermore, on 15 January, 1906, General von Einem, Prussian Minister of War, stated that the principle of the duel was still in force, and Chancellor von Billow added to this: "... .the corps of army officers can tolerate no member in its ranks who is not ready, should necessity arise, to defend his honour by force of arms". In the army, as a result of this principle, a conscientious opponent of duelling is constantly exposed to the danger of being expelled for refusing to fight. In England duelling is almost unknown, and no duel has occurred, it is said, in the British army for the last eighty years. English jurisprudence contains no special ordinances against duelling; the wounding or killing of another in a duel is punishable according to common law. On the Continent also public opinion on the subject of duelling seems to be gradually changing. The demand for the abolition, even in the army, of this abuse is growing louder and louder. Some years ago, at the instance of the Infante Alfonso of Bourbon and Austria-Este, an anti-duelling league was formed in order to carry on systematically the opposition to duelling. A preliminary convention, held at Frankfort-on-the-Main in the spring of 1901, issued an appeal for support in its struggle against this evil. In a few weeks a thousand signatures were received, mostly those of men of influence from the most varied ranks of society. A convention to draw up a constitution met at Cassel 11 January, 1902, and Prince Carl zu Lowenstein was elected president. A committee was also appointed to direct affairs and to conduct the agitation. The league has made most satisfactory progress; in 1908 it established a permanent bureau at Leipzig. Concerning the aims of the league the declaration subscribed by the members states the following: "The undersigned herewith declare their rejection, on principle, of duelling as a custom repugnant to reason, conscience, the demands of civilization, existing laws, and the common good of society and the State."