What were sandbags used for in medieval duels?

What were sandbags used for in medieval duels?

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I was hesitant whether to ask this question in history or Shakespeare This Site, but I eventually decided it is more of a historical question. In the play "King Henry The Sixth" there is a fragment concerning a duel between an apprentice and his master, where their entrance is described in such a way:

[Enter at one door, HORNER the Armourer, and his Neighbours, drinking to him so much that he is drunk; and he enters with a drum before him and his staff with a sand-bag fastened to it; and at the other door PETER, his man, with a drum and sandbag, and Prentices drinking to him.]

What was the sandbag for? What was the sandbag?

The sandbag is from a quintain, a "jousting dummy" if you will:

On Offham green there stands a Quintain, a thing now rarely to be met with, being a machine much used in former times by youth, as well to try their own activity as the swiftness of their horses in running at it. The cross piece of it is broad at one end, and pierced full of holes; and a bag of sand is hung at the other and swings round, on being moved with any blow. The pastime was for the youth on horseback to run at it as fast as possible, and hit the broad part in his career with much force. He that by chance hit it not at all, was treated with loud peals of derision; and he who did hit it, made the best use of his swiftness, least he should have a sound blow on his neck from the bag of sand, which instantly swang round from the other end of the quintain. The great design of this sport was, to try the agility both of horse and man, and to break the board, which whoever did, he was accounted chief of the day's sport.

This tests the ability of horse and rider to not just hit the target end cleanly, but to do so without losing speed so as to outrun the sandbag coming for the back of the would-be knight's head.

In addition to this honourable use of sandbags, there seems to have been a long, but forgotten, use of sandbags as both a duelling and street-fighting weapon. Robert Excobar details these forgotten uses in his book Saps, Blackjacks and Slungshots: A history of Forgotten Weapons. The sandbag tied to a pole is a sandbag flail, and is a quite deadly weapon as Shakespeare himself notes in the continuation of the scene (Part 2; Act 2, Scene 3):

These sandbags are not the thin flat ones we think of as entrenchments against both bullets and water, but rather long round ones about the length of an arm and slightly bigger round than one's fist.

Before the proliferation of handguns and their stocks, familiar to us from the term pistol-whip of pulp fiction, variations of the sand club and sand flail were an aggressor's favoured means of rendering someone senseless for several minutes, with a minimum of deadly intent.

In the duel described by Shakespeare, the duel pits a sand flail (sandbag attached to a pole) against a sand club (long tubular sleeve filled with sand).

Single combat

Single combat is a duel between two single warriors which takes place in the context of a battle between two armies.

Instances of single combat are known from Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The champions were often combatants who represented larger, spectator groups. Such representative contests and stories thereof are known worldwide.

Typically, it takes place in the no-man's-land between the opposing armies, with other warriors watching and themselves refraining from fighting until one of the two single combatants has won. Often, it is champion warfare, with the two considered the champions of their respective sides.

Single combat could also take place within a larger battle. Both ancient and medieval warfare did not always rely on the line or phalanx formation. The Iliad notably describes the battles of the Trojan war as a series of single encounters on the field, and the medieval code of chivalry, partly inspired by this, encouraged the single combat between individual knights on the battlefield, in which the loser was not usually killed but taken captive for ransom. This tradition ended in the 14th century due to the use of the longbow and the pike square against mounted knights (Battle of Crécy, Battle of Laupen), and the tradition of single combat was continued away from the battlefield, with the pas d'armes and the early modern duel.

What were sandbags used for in medieval duels? - History

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Duel, a combat between persons, armed with lethal weapons, which is held according to prearranged rules to settle a quarrel or a point of honour. It is an alternative to having recourse to the usual process of justice.

The judicial duel, or trial by battle, was the earliest form of dueling. Caesar and Tacitus report that the Germanic tribes settled their quarrels by single combat with swords, and with the Germanic invasions the practice became established in western Europe early in the Middle Ages. The judicial duel was adopted because solemn affirmation, or swearing of oaths, in legal disputes had led to widespread perjury and because the ordeal seemed to leave too much to chance or to manipulation by priests. If a man declared before a judge that his opponent was guilty of a certain crime and the opponent answered that his accuser lied, the judge ordered them to meet in a duel, for which he established the place, time, and arms both combatants had to deposit sureties for their appearance. The throwing down of a gauntlet was the challenge, which the opponent accepted by picking it up. As it was believed that in such an appeal to the “judgment of God” the defender of the right could not be worsted, the loser, if still alive, was dealt with according to law.

This form of trial was open to all free men and, in certain cases, even to serfs. Only ecclesiastics, women, the sick, and men under 20 or over 60 years of age could claim exemption. In certain circumstances, however, persons under trial could appoint professional fighters, or “champions,” to represent them, but the principal as well as his defeated champion was subjected to the legal punishment.

In most countries duels also served to decide impersonal questions. In Spain, for example, a duel was fought in 1085 to decide whether the Latin or the Mozarabic rite should be used in the liturgy at Toledo: the Mozarabic champion, Ruiz de Mastanza, won. The procedure of these duels was laid down in great detail. They took place in champs clos (lists), generally in the presence of the court and high judicial and ecclesiastical dignitaries. Before combat each participant swore that his case was just and his testimony true and that he carried no weapons other than the stipulated ones and no magical aids. When one of the combatants was wounded or thrown, his opponent usually placed a knee on his chest and, unless asked for mercy, drove a dagger through a joint in the armour.

William I introduced the judicial duel to England in the 11th century it was finally abolished in 1819. In France, fatal judicial duels became so frequent that, from the 12th century, attempts were made to reduce them. The last one to be authorized by a French king took place on July 10, 1547.

Duels of honour were private encounters about real or imagined slights or insults. The practice, considerably facilitated by the fashion of wearing a sword as part of everyday dress, seems to have spread from Italy from the end of the 15th century. Men fought on the slightest pretext and often, at first, without witnesses as this secrecy came to be abused (e.g., by ambushes), it soon became usual for duelists to be accompanied by friends or seconds. Later, these seconds also fought, to prove themselves worthy of their friends.

Duels of honour became so prevalent in France that Charles IX issued an ordinance in 1566 whereby anyone taking part in a duel would be punished by death. This ordinance became the model for later edicts against dueling. However, the practice survived longer than did the monarchy in France. From the Revolutionary period onward, it was a feature of political disputes, and political duels were frequent in the 19th century. In the 20th century, duels still took place occasionally in France—though often only for form’s sake, with precautions such that neither sword nor pistol could prove fatal, or even for publicity, the last recorded duel occurring in 1967. In Germany duels of honour were authorized by the military code up to World War I and were legalized again (1936) under the Nazis. The Fascist regime in Italy also encouraged dueling. The Mensur (student duel) is still a feature of German university life as a form of sporting event. Most German universities have long-established Verbindungen (fighting corps) with strict rules, secret meetings, distinctive uniforms, and great prestige. In such duels, which involve a method of swordplay distinct from that of normal fencing, students can obtain scars on the head and cheek that are prized as marks of courage.

The history of duelling

Duelling is intrinsically associated with the chivalric code of honour practised by medieval knights. Although often linked with the royal courts of France and England, duelling is also known in the ancient world and is depicted in Greek and Egyptian iconography.

Once engaged, duellists rarely actually killed their opponents. Bound by a strict code of conduct, a gentleman would use the duel to defend his honour and demand satisfaction. A duel was proposed when an individual deliberately insulted someone of the same rank, or possibly to defend a woman’s reputation.

The time and place was arranged by a second appointed by each individual – they also agreed upon a suitable location. The duel would be undertaken in a remote area during the early morning or late evening, ensuring that the event remained unchallenged by the authorities and free from legal consequences if death ensued.

In ancient Egypt duels took place in temples as entertainment. The weapons used included sledgehammers, maces and chains. But the most dramatic duels took place in ancient Rome. The Retiarius was armed with a net and a trident, his only protection a shoulder guard. He used his weapon to create a distance between himself and his opponent. His attack was designed so that he could snare his opponent in the net.

In medieval times, various swords were used during duelling matches – the most common weapons being basket-hilted swords. However, many gentlemen were trained with the rapier and short sword which were designed as thrusting weapons. The duellists used cutting and thrusting actions that enabled them to lunge at their opponent’s body. The contestants aimed at vulnerable areas of the body, namely the neck and the thigh.

After the invention of firearms, duels were fought with pistols. This was dangerous and often resulted in serious injury. Participants employed prized single-shot flintlock pistols kept in pairs, and no respectable Englishman travelled without his guns for protection. The two men select a gun, which they held upright in their hand, and are asked to walk a short distance until they reached a marker in the ground. Here they would turn, advance and shoot. Although the dishonoured party was able to stop the duel at any point it was often the drawing of first blood that ended the proceedings.

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Trial by Combat, or Medieval Divorce Court

Adrian &mdash February 16, 2016

Traditional Trial by Combat

Now that the romance of Valentine’s Day has passed, it’s time for the breakups to start. Studies have shown that breakups and divorces spike after “expectation holidays” such as V-Day. If you’re more interested in ending your relationship than waiting for that Corpse Flower to bloom, you might want to consider this medieval process couples used to resolve their differences.

A professor at the University of Oklahoma, Kenneth Hodges, has found an old German manuscript, complete with illustrations, detailing the proper procedure and battle techniques for when husbands and wives have no choice but to have a trial by combat.

This method of judgment was usually undertaken by men, but women weren’t immune to participating. If a woman was accused of a crime and wanted her fate to be determined impartially, she could demand a trial by combat and designate a champion to fight in her place. In cases where women were fighting for themselves, their opponents appear to be their husbands perhaps because the person she would normally choose as her champion is the person she’s currently fighting.

The Process

According to the manuscript, the husband was placed in a hole that came up to his waist, and he was armed with a club. The wife would stand at the edge of the hole, and she would be given a cloth with a four or five pound stone in one end of it. His club and her sling were both the same length. Presumably, the man was in the hole in an attempt to even the playing field.

In spite of the perceived advantage of the man’s strength, the manuscript is sure to present ways either combatant might be successful.

Here she has broken away from him and attempts to strangle him.

Here he has pulled her to him and thrown her down and wishes to strangle her.

Short of death or dismemberment, it’s unclear how a winner would be decided. But it is possible that either of the following situations might have resulted in one or the other party being named the victor.

Here she has laid him on his back and wishes to strangle him and drag him out of the hole.

Here he has pulled her to him and thrown her in the hole.

If your Valentine’s Day didn’t go as planned, we hoped you can find a more civil way to work out your differences with your loved one. But if not, make sure to follow these rules for your trial by combat and keep everything within the rules.

12 Medieval Insults For The Cox-Comb In Your Life

Humans have a lot of talents — war, cooking, bizarre sexual positions — but one that's stuck around through all human societies is the art of the insult. They've been present in every human civilization that's left records, including some hilarious Roman graffiti. The cutting wit of some of history's greatest intellectuals has lasted in their famous insults — Groucho Marx, Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill come to mind. But medieval insults are a particular brand of the florid, furious, and crazy, and they're frankly so offensive they should probably stay out of fashion, where they belong.

You can tell a lot about a society and its values by its insults. It's pretty clear-cut: if you're told your ancestors were pigs, family lineage is very important (as in modern China), and if somebody calls you a cabbage-eater, clearly there's something very morally wrong with cabbage as a foodstuff. Medieval Europe's insults lay out views along those lines: Reputation was everything, and insults were a serious concern — you could take somebody to court for slander — but they differed radically for men and women. Men were valued by their social status, women by their chastity and behavior. If you wanted to insult them, that's what you targeted.

The insults we use these days are pretty limited: they're crude, often sexual, and don't have the same poetic ring as they did in the good old days. But these medieval ones, as charming as they may seem, probably wouldn't work so well in the modern era.

1. "Base Football-Player"

Sample Sentence: "I can't believe you'd go out with such a base football-player his parents don't even own a yacht."

Meaning: Low-born. Football, back when this insult was spouted in Shakespeare's King Lear, was a game for the lower classes, and was renowned for being lawless and violent. (Yes, more than nowadays games regularly rampaged through town centers, involved hundreds of people, and caused several deaths.)

"2. Crooked-Nosed Knave"

Sample sentence: "You pretend you went to private school, but you're just a crooked-nosed knave."

Meaning: Classless and ridiculous. This actually comes from a defamation suit in England in 1555, where a man named John Bridges claimed that a dude called Warneford had called him this in public. It was clearly a serious insult.

3. "Churl"

Sample Sentence: "Fetch my slippers if you're going to act like a churl."

Meaning: Peasant-like, coarse. This comes from the Old English word ceorl, which literally meant a man one level above a slave. (It also, weirdly, evolved into the Russian word for king, korol.)

4. "Cox-Comb"

Sample Sentence: "Five selfies in thirty seconds? You're such a cox-comb, Kanye West would be jealous."

Meaning: A vain, foppish person. The cockscomb on the top of a cock's head is used for mating displays and generally strutting around looking self-important. Not a huge stretch.

5. "Doxy"

Sample Sentence: "I ain't saying she a doxy, but she seems to spend an awful lot of time with that dude with the prison tatts."

Meaning: A promiscuous woman. This was actually less an insult than a technical term in the medieval period a doxy was the wife or sexual partner of a brigand or outlaw who robbed people on the roads.

6. "Glos Pautonnier"

Sample Sentence: "You stole my chips? All of them? You glos pautonnier!"

Meaning: Gluttonous scoundrel. The words are Old French, and were thrown about with great abandon in epic stories from the medieval period. It's a smoother way of calling somebody a pizza-stealer.

7. "Puterelle"

Sample Sentence: "If you keep posting topless shots to Instagram people are going to start calling you a puterelle."

Meaning: A woman of ill repute. This comes from Old French too ("putain" remains a modern French swearword today). You'll notice that the most elaborate thing you can do to insult a woman in the medieval period is condemn her virtue it was her most important attribute.

8. "Skamelar"

Sample Sentence: "No, you skamelar, you cannot borrow $500, now get out of my house."

Meaning: Scrounger, parasite. If you ever want to spend your afternoon with some delightful archaic insults, pick up the poem this comes from, "The Flyting Of Dunbar And Kennedy," which is in Old Scots. Not only is it in rhyme, most of the insults are alliterative!

9. "Mandrake Mymmerkin"

Sample Sentence: "Nine inches? Please, I heard from Angela you were a mandrake mymmerkin."

Meaning: Little man, puppet, childlike. A mandrake, as you'll remember if you've read your Harry Potter, is a plant meant to resemble a tiny person, while a mannikin (from which we get our word "mannequin") was also a small man or child. This comes from Dunbar & Kennedy's shout-off, too.

10. "Hedge-born"

Sample Sentence: "Stop honking at women dude, what are you, hedge-born?"

Meaning: Low-born, illegitimate. It's not too difficult to parse this — if you were born in a hedge, there's a high chance your mother didn't have a nice rich marital bed to give birth in. Hey, at least it's better than a ditch, right?

11. "Levereter"

Sample Sentence: "That politician is such a levereter he'd skin his own kids for some dough."

Meaning: Literally "liver-eater," corrupt, or depriving the world of necessary nourishment. This fabulous insult dates from 1400s Ghent, and is a splendid depiction of corrupt businesspeople lining their pockets at the expense of everybody else.

12. "Ronyon"

Sample Sentence: "My ex is such a ronyon she scares babies and small dogs."

Meaning: A mangy woman, old and scabby. French in origin again, this one comes from rogneux, to be covered in scabs. Shakespeare was very fond of this one in the Elizabethan period, and it pops up in Lady Macbeth and the Merry Wives Of Windsor.


Unlike trial by ordeal in general, which is known to many cultures worldwide, trial by combat is known primarily from the customs of the Germanic peoples. It was in use among the ancient Burgundians, Ripuarian Franks, Alamans, Lombards, and Swedes. It was unknown in Anglo-Saxon law, Roman law and Irish Brehon Law and it does not figure in the traditions of Middle Eastern antiquity such as the code of Hammurabi or the Torah.

The practice is regulated in various Germanic legal codes. Being rooted in Germanic tribal law, the various regional laws of the Frankish Empire (and the later Holy Roman Empire) prescribed different particulars, such as equipment and rules of combat. The Lex Alamannorum (recension Lantfridana 81, dated to 712–730 AD) prescribes a trial by combat in the event of two families disputing the boundary between their lands. A handful of earth taken from the disputed piece of land is put between the contestants and they are required to touch it with their swords, each swearing that their claim is lawful. The losing party besides forfeiting their claim to the land is required to pay a fine.

Capitularies governing its use appear from the year 803 onwards. [1] Louis the Pious prescribed combat between witnesses of each side, rather than between the accuser and the accused, and briefly allowed for the Ordeal of the Cross in cases involving clerics.

In medieval Scandinavia, the practice survived throughout the Viking Age in the form of the Holmgang.

An unusual variant, the marital duel, involved combat between a husband and wife, with the former physically handicapped in some way. The loser was killed. [2]

Otto the Great in 967 expressly sanctioned the practice of Germanic tribal law even if it did not figure in the more "imperial" Roman law. The celebrated case of Gero, Count of Alsleben, is a good example. The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 deprecated judicial duels, and Pope Honorius III in 1216 asked the Teutonic order to cease its imposition of judicial duels on their newly converted subjects in Livonia. For the following three centuries, there was latent tension between the traditional regional laws and Roman law.

The Sachsenspiegel of 1230 recognizes the judicial duel as an important function to establish guilt or innocence in cases of insult, injury or theft. The combatants are armed with sword and shield, and may wear linen and leather clothing, but their head and feet must be bare and their hands only protected by light gloves. The accuser is to await the accused at the designated place of combat. If the accused does not appear after being summoned three times, the accuser may execute two cuts and two stabs against the wind, and his matter will be treated as if he had won the fight. [3]

The Kleines Kaiserrecht, an anonymous legal code of c. 1300, prohibits judicial duels altogether, stating that the emperor had come to this decision on seeing that too many innocent men were convicted by the practice just for being physically weak. Nevertheless, judicial duels continued to be popular throughout the 14th and 15th centuries.

Trial by combat plays a significant role in the German schools of fencing in the 15th century. Notably, Hans Talhoffer depicts techniques to be applied in such duels, separately for the Swabian (sword and shield) and Franconian (mace and shield) variants, although other Fechtbücher such as that of Paulus Kal and the Codex Wallerstein show similar material. While commoners were required to present their case to a judge before duelling, members of the nobility did have the right to challenge each other for duels without the involvement of the judiciary, so that duels of this kind were separate from the judicial duel already in the Middle Ages and were not affected by the latter's abolition in the early 16th century by Emperor Maximilian I, evolving into the gentlemanly duel of modern times which was outlawed only as late as in the 19th century.

Hans Talhoffer in his 1459 Thott codex names seven offences that in the absence of witnesses were considered grave enough to warrant a judicial duel, viz. murder, treason, heresy, desertion of one's lord, "imprisonment" (possibly in the sense of abduction), perjury/fraud and rape.

Wager of battle, as the trial by combat was called in English, appears to have been introduced into the common law of the Kingdom of England following the Norman Conquest and remained in use for the duration of the High and Late Middle Ages. [4]

The last certain trial by battle in England occurred in 1446: a servant accused his master of treason, and the master drank too much wine before the battle and was slain by the servant. [5] In Scotland and Ireland, the practice was continued into the sixteenth century. In 1446 a trial by combat was arranged between two quarreling Irish magnates, James Butler, 5th Earl of Ormonde, and the Prior of Kilmainham, but King Henry VI intervened personally to persuade them to settle their differences peacefully. [6]

The wager of battle was not always available to the defendant in an appeal of murder. If the defendant were taken in the mainour (that is, in the act of committing his crime), if he attempted to escape from prison, or if there was such strong evidence of guilt that there could be no effective denial, the defendant could not challenge. Similarly, if the plaintiff was a woman, above 60 years of age, a minor, [7] lame or blind, they could decline the challenge, and the case would be determined by a jury. Peers of the realm, priests, and citizens of the City of London (the last pursuant to their guarantee of ancient liberties under Magna Carta) could also decline the battle if challenged. If the actual battle took place, it would occur in judicial lists, 60 feet (18 m) square, following the taking of oaths against witchcraft and sorcery. If the defendant was defeated and still alive, he was to be hanged on the spot. However, if he defeated his opponent, or if he were able to fend off his opponent from sunrise to sunset, he would go free. If the plaintiff said the word craven ("I am vanquished") and gave up the fight, he was to be declared infamous, deprived of the privileges of a freeman, and was liable for damages to his successful opponent. [8]

Middle Ages Edit

The earliest case in which wager of battle is recorded was Wulfstan v. Walter (1077), [9] eleven years after the Conquest. Significantly, the names of the parties suggest that it was a dispute between a Saxon and a Norman. The Tractatus of Glanvill, from around 1187, appears to have considered it the chief mode of trial, at least among aristocrats entitled to bear arms. [10] [11]

Around 1219, trial by jury replaced trial by ordeal, which had been the mode of proof for crown pleas since the Assize of Clarendon in 1166. With the emergence of the legal profession in the thirteenth century, lawyers, guarding the safety of the lives and limbs of their clients, steered people away from the wager of battle. A number of legal fictions were devised to enable litigants to avail themselves of the jury even in the sort of actions that were traditionally tried by wager of battle. The practice of averting trial by combat led to the modern concept of attorneys representing litigants. [ citation needed ]

Civil disputes were handled differently from criminal cases. In civil cases, women, the elderly, the infirm of body, minors, and—after 1176—the clergy could choose a jury trial or could have champions named to fight in their stead. Hired champions were technically illegal but are obvious in the record. A 1276 document among Bishop Swinefield's household records makes the promise to pay Thomas of Brydges an annual retainer fee for acting as champion, with additional stipend and expenses paid for each fight. [12] In criminal cases, an "approver" was often chosen from the accomplices of the accused or from a prison to do the fighting for the crown. Approvers sometimes were given their freedom after winning five trials but sometimes were hanged anyway. [13]

In practice, a person facing trial by combat was assisted by a second, often referred to as a squire. The role of the squire was to attend the battle and to arrange the particulars of the ceremony with the opposing squire. Over time, squires would meet and resolve the disputes during negotiations over combat. Ample time was made for this by creating a process for checking the saddle and bridle of horses for prayer scrolls and enchantments and requiring litigants to exchange gloves (the origin of "throwing down the gauntlet") and sometimes to go to separate churches and give five pence (for the five wounds of Christ) to the church.

Early trials by combat allowed a variety of weapons, particularly for knights. Later, commoners were given war hammers, cudgels, or quarterstaves with sharp iron tips. The duelling ground was typically sixty feet square. Commoners were allowed a rectangular leather shield and could be armed with a suit of leather armour, bare to the knees and elbows and covered by a red surcoat of a light type of silk called sendal. [14] The litigants appeared in person. The combat was to begin before noon and be concluded before sunset.

Either combatant could end the fight and lose his case by crying out the word "craven", [4] from the Old French for "broken", which acknowledged "(I am) vanquished." The party who did so, however, whether litigant or champion, was punished with outlawry. Fighting continued until one party was dead or disabled. The last man standing won his case.

By 1300, the wager of combat had all but died out in favor of trial by jury. One of the last mass trials by combat in Scotland, the Battle of the Clans, took place in Perth in 1396. This event took the form of a pitched battle between teams of around thirty men each, representing Clan Macpherson and Clan Davidson on the North Inch in front of the king, Robert III. The battle was intended to resolve a dispute over which clan was to hold the right flank in an upcoming battle of both clans (and several others) against Clan Cameron. The Clan Macpherson is thought to have won, but only twelve men survived from the original sixty. [15]

16th century Edit

The last trial by combat under the authority of an English monarch is thought to have taken place during the reign of Elizabeth I in the inner courtyard of Dublin Castle in Ireland on 7 September 1583. The dispute was between members of the O'Connor clan (i.e., sept) in King's County (modern County Offaly), who were persuaded by two judges (referred to in the account below) to bring the matter before the Irish privy council for resolution.

The dispute probably concerned dynastic power within the territory of the O'Connors, and the parties, Teig and Conor, had accused each other of treason the privy council granted their wish for trial by combat to take place on the following day, and for another such trial between two other members of the same sept to take place on the Wednesday following. The first combat took place as appointed, with the combatants "in their shirts with swords, targetts and skulles". An account of the proceedings as observed by one of the privy councillors is given in the State papers Ireland 63/104/69 (spelling adapted):

The first combat was performed at the time and place accordingly with observation of all due ceremonies as so short a time would suffer, wherein both parties showed great courage by a desperate fight: In which Conor was slain and Teig hurt but not mortally, the more was the pity: Upon this Wednesday following Mortogh Cogge [O'Connor] appeared in the same place brought by the captains to the listes, and there stayed 2 hours making proclamation against his enemy by drum and trumpet, but he appeared not . The only thing we commend in this action was the diligent travail of Sir Lucas Dillon and the Master of the Rolls, who equally and openly seemed to countenance the champions, but secretly with very good concurrence, both with us and between themselves, with such regard of her Majesty's service, as giveth us cause to commend them to your Lordships.

The Annals of the Four Masters also refers to the trial and censures the parties for having allowed the English to entice them into the proceedings. It is also referred to in Holinshed's chronicles. This was a trial not at common law but under consiliar jurisdiction.

Modern era Edit

It is uncertain when the last actual trial by battle in Britain took place. While some references speak of such a trial being held in 1631, records indicate that King Charles I intervened to prevent the battle. [16] A 1638 case is less clear: it involved a legal dispute between Ralf Claxton and Richard Lilburne (the latter the father of the pugnacious John Lilburne). The king again stepped in, and judges acted to delay proceedings. [17] [16] No record survives of the outcome of the case, but no contemporary account speaks of the trial by battle actually taking place. [18] [19] The last certain judicial battle in Britain was in Scotland in 1597, when Adam Bruntfield accused James Carmichael of murder and killed him in battle. [20]

Proposals to abolish trial by battle were made in the 17th century and twice in the 18th but were unsuccessful. [21] In 1774, as part of the legislative response to the Boston Tea Party, Parliament considered a bill which would have abolished appeals of murder and trials by battle in the American colonies. It was successfully opposed by Member of Parliament John Dunning, who called the appeal of murder "that great pillar of the Constitution". [22] Writer and MP Edmund Burke, on the other hand, supported the abolition, calling the appeal and wager "superstitious and barbarous to the last degree". [23]

The writ of right was the most direct way at common law of challenging someone's right to a piece of real property. The criminal appeal was a private criminal prosecution instituted by the accuser directly against the accused. It was not, unlike the contemporary appeal, a proceeding in a court of superior jurisdiction reviewing the proceedings of a lower court.

Such a private prosecution was last conducted in the case of Ashford v Thornton in 1818. [24] Pronouncing judgement in favour of the accused's plea claiming the wager of battle, Justice Bayley of the King's Bench said that:

One inconvenience attending this mode of proceeding [25] is, that the party who institutes it must be willing, if required, to stake his life in support of his accusation. [26]

Parliament abolished wager of battle the following year, in February 1819, in an Act introduced by the Attorney General Samuel Shepherd. [27] At the same time, they also abolished the writ of right and criminal appeals. [28] Despite this abolition, in 2002 a Welshman in Bury St. Edmunds refusing to pay a small penalty charge for a vehicle-registration violation demanded trial by combat with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency his demand was rejected, and he was fined by a court. [29]

Judicial combat of 1386 Edit

In December 1386, one of the last trials by combat authorised by the French King Charles VI was fought in Paris. The trial was fought to decide a case brought by Sir Jean de Carrouges against squire Jacques Le Gris, whom he accused of raping his wife Marguerite when Carrouges was in Paris conducting business. After lengthy hearings at the Parlement de Paris, with Jacques LeGris claiming that he had not committed the crime and Marguerite being with child, it was decided that guilt could not be decided through a standard jury trial, and a judicial duel was ordered. The duel put three lives in the hands of fate. Those three lives being Jacques LeGris, the accused, Jean de Carrouges, and the accuser, Marguerite. In the duel, the survivor of said duel would be considered the winner of the claim. If Jacques LeGris won the duel, not only would Jean de Carrouges die but his pregnant wife would also be put to death for the crime of being a false accuser.

In late December, shortly after Christmas, the combatants met just outside the walls of the abbey of Saint-Martin-des-Champs in the northern Paris suburbs. After lengthy ceremony, battle was joined, and after a furious and bloody encounter Carrouges stabbed his opponent with a sword [30] and claimed victory, being rewarded with substantial financial gifts and a position in the royal household. The duel was watched by the royal court, several royal dukes and thousands of ordinary Parisians and was recorded in several notable chronicles including Froissart's Chronicles [31] and Grandes Chroniques de France. It has since been covered by several notable texts, including Diderot's Encyclopédie, [32] Voltaire [ citation needed ] and the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, and also by the 2004 book The Last Duel by Eric Jager. [33]

About A.D. 630, Gundeberga, wife of the Lombard King Arioald (626–636), is supposed to have been accused by a disappointed lover of a plot to poison the king and take another man. King Arioald consented that her innocence should be tested by a single combat between her accuser and a nobleman who undertook to defend her. The accuser having been slain, Gundeberga was declared innocent. [34] This was the first instance of a trial by combat in the history of Italy. [35] In the 730s, the Lombard king Liutprand (712–744) had lost confidence in the likelihood that the trial by battle would provide justice. [36] [37] He knew that the practice was subject to abuse. [38]

The jurisprudence of judicial duelling in Italy is particularly well documented in the 15th and 16th centuries. In particular, the treatises of Achille Marozzo (1536), Giovanni Battista Pigna (1554) and Girolamo Mutio (1560) have contributed to shed considerable light on the subject. [39]

The fundamental aspects of Italy's duelling customs were the following. The offended party (attore or agent) had to accuse the defendant (reo) of an injury of words or deeds he received, in matters that could not be reliably proven in a courtroom. In turn, the defendant had to issue a "mentita", meaning that he had to tell the agent "you lie", which consisted of an injury of words. After this, the agent had to issue a notarized cartello, or a notice of challenge, to the defendant, which, if accepted, would set the formal proceedings in motion.

The defendant had the important advantage of the election of weapons. This was done to ensure that the institution would not be abused by the strong to overpower the weak, although the system was gamed in many ways bordering on the illegal. [40]

The duel would take place on the land of a lord impartial to both parties, or if this was not practicable, alla macchia, meaning on public lands. The herald read the accusation out loud and gave the defendant one last chance to confess. If the latter did not do so, the duel would begin, and it was the responsibility of the issuer of the challenge to deliver (or attempt) the first blow. Incapacitating injuries or death would dictate victory, although other scenarios were possible as well. For instance, if the defendant could successfully parry all blows delivered by the agent until sundown, the defendant would be considered the victor. [41]

With the counter-reformation of the 16th century, duelling became illegal however, its customs were maintained and utilized by most middle to upper social classes until the beginning of the 19th century. [39]

At the time of independence in 1776, trial by combat had not been abolished and it has never formally been abolished since. The question of whether trial by combat remains a valid alternative to civil action has been argued to remain open, at least in theory. In McNatt v. Richards (1983), the Delaware Court of Chancery rejected the defendant's request for "trial by combat to the death" on the grounds that dueling was illegal. [42] In Forgotten Trial Techniques: The Wager of Battle, Donald J. Evans set out the possibility of a trial by battle in the setting of a lawyer's office. [43] A tongue-in-cheek motion during 2015 for trial by combat in response to a civil suit was rejected in 2016. [44]

In 2020, a man named David Zachary Ostrom requested trial by combat in response to a custody and property dispute with his ex-wife over their kids. [45] Following Ostrom requesting trial by combat, he was court-ordered to be administered a sanity test, and was temporarily restricted parenting rights with his kids. Upon successfully clearing his sanity test, David's parenting time was restored. David has since admitted that he initially made the request for trial by combat in order to get media attention around his case. [46]

On 6 January 2021, President Donald Trump's lawyer, and former New York Mayor, Rudy Giuliani called for trial by combat against political opponents who were in the US Capitol during the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol. [47] The incident made worldwide headlines for several days, resulting in many arrests, injuries and resignations. [48]

In The Fair Maid of Perth novel by Walter Scott, there is a trial by combat.

In George R. R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, and its television adaptation Game of Thrones, trials by combat are a frequent plot device.

In C.S.Lewis's Prince Caspian, Peter Pevensie fought a trial by combat with Miraz.

In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the title character fought a trial by combat with Laertes.

In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Agni Kais were trials by combat done with firebending.

In the Doctor Who episode "The Christmas Invasion", the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) defeated the Sycorax leader in a trial by combat.

In Transformers: Age of Extinction, Optimus Prime won the allegiance of the Dinobots by defeating Grimlock in a trial by combat.

In Black Panther, T'Challa fought trials by combat with M'Baku and Erik Killmonger.

In The Flash, Solovar fought a trial by combat with Grodd for the throne of Gorilla City.

In Aquaman, the title character fought trials by combat with Ocean Master.

How Duels Work

In 1777, a committee of Irishmen drew up the dueling code that would come to be used widely throughout Europe and America. The 1777 Irish code was called the Code Duello, and you can read the complete set of rules at PBS.org: Code Duello. This code was so popular that people worldwide came to see it as the "official" rules of dueling. In fact, the U.S. Navy included the text of the Code Duello in the midshipman's handbook up until dueling by naval officers was finally banned in 1862 (Holland, pg. 142).

Highlights of the rules include the steps of an apology, might call off the duel proper dueling etiquette in terms of dignified behavior the role of seconds and what constitutes the end of a duel.


An apology on the part of the challenged could avert a bloody duel if delivered properly. Keep in mind that most duels were carried out when one man offended another's honor. As such, the proper apology would logically help solve the problem, even once the duel had already begun. The Code Duello dictates a complex method of deciding who should apologize first:

The rules also dictate when an apology can be accepted, thus preventing the duel, and when no verbal apology will be sufficient:

Dueling Etiquette

A duel is not a brawl. It is a controlled battle between gentlemen of honor. As such, a certain level of dignity was expected of all participants. Rule 13 is one that describes dignified dueling behavior. It is also one that was frequently broken, since many duelists did not really want to die, kill or maim. They only wanted to defend their honor. Rule 13 states:

Since the holding of the duel itself would usually be enough to satisfy honor, duelists might use dummy bullets, or declare ahead of time that they would fire their weapon into the air or at a non-vital area of their opponent's body. The Code Duello frowned on this.

The Code also encourages duelists to sleep on their wounded pride and then duel with a calm demeanor the next day: Rule 15 states:


The role of the seconds is spelled out in several rules. (Note Rule 18's reference to smooth-bored guns as opposed to rifled weapons.)

  • Rule 18. The seconds load in presence of each other, unless they give their mutual honors they have charged smooth and single, which should be held sufficient.
  • Rule 21. Seconds are bound to attempt a reconciliation before the meeting takes place, or after sufficient firing or hits, as specified.

The Code Duello acknowledges that the seconds might get involved in the fight themselves, as mentioned in the previous section. The Code is highly specific as to how this involvement might occur:

  • Rule 25. Where seconds disagree, and resolve to exchange shots themselves, it must be at the same time and at right angles with their principals.

When a Duel is Over

Dueling "to the death" is not considered desirable in the Code Duello, although this may have been the ultimate end to many duels. Remember: Dueling is about recovering honor, not about killing. Rule 5 states:

Rule 22 addresses the issue as well:

Perhaps one of the most important rules of dueling does not involve the mechanics of the duel itself, but rather who is allowed to duel. In medieval Europe, dueling was the sport of noble-born men. Although commoners did fight and certainly did face each other in contests that could be called duels, an actual, honor-bound duel had to be conducted between two men of noble rank. One reason for this was economic -- swords are expensive weapons, and not every peasant had one. But it was also a means of distinguishing the upper and lower classes. Many countries had laws forbidding commoners to fight amongst themselves, while dukes, princes and even kings were expected to duel each other.

What reason did nobles have for constantly fighting each other to the death? Read the next section to find out.

The Code Duello largely replaced earlier codes, including the Flos duellatorum (written in 1410) and Il duello (1550), both Italian dueling codes, as well as the German dueling rules set by the Fechtshulen dueling schools (Holland, pg. 24). A challenge could be issued on the spot by casting a glove, or "gauntlet," onto the ground before your opponent.


The medieval joust has its origins in the military tactics of heavy cavalry during the High Middle Ages. By the 14th century, many members of the nobility, including kings, had taken up jousting to showcase their own courage, skill and talents, and the sport proved just as dangerous for a king as a knight, and from the 15th century on, jousting became a sport (hastilude) without direct relevance to warfare.

High Middle Ages Edit

From the 11th to 14th centuries when medieval jousting was still practised in connection to the use of the lance in warfare, armour evolved from mail (with a solid, heavy helmet, called a "great helm", and shield) to plate armour. By 1400, knights wore full suits of plate armour, called a "harness" (Clephan 28-29).

In this early period, a joust was still a (martial) "meeting", i.e. a duel in general and not limited to the lance. Combatants would begin riding on one another with the lance, but might continue with shorter range weapons after the distance was closed or after one or both parties had been unhorsed. Tournaments in the High Medieval period were much rougher and less "gentlemanly" affairs than in the late medieval era of chivalry. The rival parties would fight in groups, with the aim of incapacitating their adversaries for the sake of gaining their horses, arms and ransoms. [5]

Late Middle Ages Edit

With the development of the courtly ideals of chivalry in the late medieval period, the joust became more regulated. This tendency is also reflected in the pas d'armes in general. It was now considered dishonourable to exploit an opponent's disadvantage, and knights would pay close attention to avoid being in a position of advantage, seeking to gain honour by fighting against the odds. This romanticised "chivalric revival" was based on the chivalric romances of the high medieval period, which noblemen tried to "reenact" in real life, sometimes blurring the lines of reality and fiction.

The development of the term knight (chevalier) dates to this period. Before the 12th century, cniht was a term for a servant. In the 12th century, it became used of a military follower in particular. Also in the 12th century, a special class of noblemen serving in cavalry developed, known as milites nobiles. By the end of the 13th century, chivalry (chyualerye) was used not just in the technical sense of "cavalry" but for martial virtue in general. It was only after 1300 that knighthood (kniȝthod, originally a term for "boyhood, youth") came to be used as a junior rank of nobility. By the later 14th century, the term became romanticised for the ideal of the young nobleman seeking to prove himself in honourable exploits, the knight-errant, which among other things encompassed the pas d'armes, including the joust. By the 15th century, "knightly" virtues were sought by the noble classes even of ranks much senior than "knight". [6] The iconic association of the "knight" stock-character with the joust is thus historical, but develops only at the end of the Middle Ages.

The lists, or list field, was the arena where a jousting event was held. More precisely, it was the roped-off enclosure where tournament fighting took place. [7] In the late medieval period, castles and palaces were augmented by purpose-built tiltyards as a venue for "jousting tournaments". Training for such activities included the use of special equipment, of which the best-known was the quintain.

The Chronicles of Froissart, written during the 1390s, and covering the period of 1327 to 1400, contain many details concerning jousting in this era. The combat was now expected to be non-lethal, and it was not necessary to incapacitate the opponent, who was expected to honourably yield to the dominant fighter. The combat was divided into rounds of three encounters with various weapons, of which the joust proper was one. During this time, the joust detached itself from the reality on the battlefield and became a chivalric sport. Knights would seek opportunities to duel opponents from the hostile camp for honour off the battlefield.

As an example, Froissart [8] [9] records that, during a campaign in Beauce in the year 1380, a squire of the garrison of Toury castle named Gauvain Micaille (Michaille)—also mentioned in the Chronique du bon duc Loys de Bourbon as wounded in 1382 at Roosebeke, and again in 1386 in 1399 was in the service of the duke of Bourbon [10] [11] —yelled out to the English,

Is there among you any gentleman who for the love of his lady is willing to try with me some feat of arms? If there should be any such, here I am, quite ready to sally forth completely armed and mounted, to tilt three courses with the lance, to give three blows with the battle axe, and three strokes with the dagger. Now look, you English, if there be none among you in love.

The challenge was answered by a squire named Joachim Cator, who said "I will deliver him from his vow: let him make haste and come out of the castle."

Micaille came to meet his opponent with attendants carrying three lances, three battle-axes, three swords and three daggers. The duel began with a joust, described as follows:

When they had taken their stations, they gave to each of them a spear, and the tilt began but neither of them struck the other, from the mettlesomeness of their horses. They hit the second onset, but it was by darting their spears. [12]

The meeting was then adjourned, and continued on the next day.

They met each other roughly with spears, and the French squire tilted much to the satisfaction of the earl: but the Englishman kept his spear too low, and at last struck it into the thigh of the Frenchman. The earl of Buckingham as well as the other lords were much enraged by this, and said it was tilting dishonorably but he excused himself, by declaring it as solely owing to the restiveness of his horse. [13]

In spite of the French squire's injury, the duel was continued with three thrusts with the sword. After this, the encounter was stopped because of the Micaille's loss of blood. He was given leave to rejoin his garrison with a reward of a hundred francs by the earl of Buckingham, who stated that he had acquitted himself much to his satisfaction.

Froissart describes a tournament at Cambray in 1385, held on the marriage of the Count d'Ostrevant to the daughter of Duke Philip of Burgundy. The tournament was held in the market-place of the town, and forty knights took part. The king jousted with a knight of Hainault, Sir John Destrenne, for the prize of a clasp of precious stones, taken off from the bosom of the Duchess of Burgundy it was won by Sir Destrenne, and formally presented by the Admiral of France and Sir Guy de la Trimouille.

A knightly duel in this period usually consisted in three courses of jousting, and three blows and strokes exchanged with battle-axes, swords, and daggers. This number tended to be extended towards the end of the century, until the most common number was five, as in the duel between Sir Thomas Harpenden and Messire Jean des Barres, at Montereau sur Yonne in 1387 (cinq lances a cheval, cinq coups d'épée, cinq coups de dague et cinq coups de hache). Later could be as high as ten or even twelve. In the 1387 encounter, the first four courses of the joust were run without decisive outcome, but in the fifth Sir Thomas was unhorsed and lost consciousness. He was revived, however, and all the strokes and blows could be duly exchanged, without any further injury.

On another instance, a meeting with sharp lances was arranged to take place near Nantes, under the auspices of the Constable of France and the Earl of Buckingham. The first encounter was a combat on foot, with sharp spears, in which one of the cavaliers was slightly wounded the pair then ran three courses with the lance without further mishap. Next Sir John Ambreticourt of Hainault and Sir Tristram de la Jaille of Poitou advanced from the ranks and jousted three courses, without hurt. A duel followed between Edward Beauchamp, son of Sir Robert Beauchamp, and the bastard Clarius de Savoye. Clarius was much the stronger man of the two, and Beauchamp was unhorsed. The bastard then offered to fight another English champion, and an esquire named Jannequin Finchly came forward in answer to the call the combat with swords and lances was very violent, but neither of the parties was hurt.

Another encounter took place between John de Chatelmorant and Jannequin Clinton, in which the Englishman was unhorsed. Finally Chatelmorant fought with Sir William Farrington, the former receiving a dangerous wound in the thigh, for which the Englishman was greatly blamed, as being an infraction of the rules of the tourney, but an accident was pleaded just as in the case of the 1380 duel between Gauvain Micaille and Joachim Cator. [14]

The medieval joust took place on an open field. Indeed, the term joust meant "a meeting" and referred to arranged combat in general, not just the jousting with lances. At some point in the 14th century, a cloth barrier was introduced as an option to separate the contestants. This barrier was presumably known as tilt in Middle English (a term with an original meaning of "a cloth covering"). It became a wooden barrier or fence in the 15th century, now known as "tilt barrier", and "tilt" came to be used as a term for the joust itself by c. 1510 . The purpose of the tilt barrier was to prevent collisions and to keep the combatants at an optimal angle for breaking the lance. This greatly facilitated the control of the horse and allowed the rider to concentrate on aiming the lance. The introduction of the barrier seems to have originated in the south, as it only became a standard feature of jousting in Germany in the 16th century, and was there called the Italian or "welsch" mode. [15] Dedicated tilt-yards with such barriers were built in England from the time of Henry VIII.

Specialised jousting armour was produced in the late 15th to 16th century. It was heavier than suits of plate armour intended for combat, and could weigh as much as 50 kg (110 lb), compared to some 25 kg (55 lb) for field armour as it did not need to permit free movement of the wearer, the only limiting factor was the maximum weight that could be carried by a warhorse of the period. [16]

During the 1490s, emperor Maximilian I invested a lot of effort into perfecting the sport, for which he received his nickname of "The Last Knight". Rennen and Stechen were two sportive forms of the joust developed during the 15th century and practised throughout the 16th century. The armours used for these two respective styles of the joust were known as Rennzeug and Stechzeug, respectively.The Stechzeug in particular developed into extremely heavy armour which completely inhibited the movement of the rider, in its latest forms resembling an armour-shaped cabin integrated into the horse armour more than a functional suit of armour. Such forms of sportive equipment during the final phase of the joust in 16th-century Germany gave rise to modern misconceptions about the heaviness or clumsiness of "medieval armour", as notably popularised by Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. [17] [18] The extremely heavy helmets of the Stechzeug are explained by the fact that the aim was to detach the crest of the opponent's helmet, resulting in frequent full impact of the lance to the helmet.

By contrast the Rennen was a type of joust with lighter contact. Here, the aim was to hit the opponent's shield. The specialised Rennzeug was developed on the request of Maximilian, who desired a return to a more agile form of joust compared to the heavily armoured "full contact" Stechen. In the Rennzeug, the shield was attached to the armour with a mechanism of springs and would detach itself upon contact.

In France, the 1559 death of King Henry II of wounds suffered in a tournament led to the end of jousting as a sport. [19]

The tilt continued through Henry VIII and onto the reign of Elizabeth I. Under her rule, tournaments were seen as more of a parade or show than an actual martial exercise. [20]

The last Elizabethan Accession Day tilt was held in November 1602 Elizabeth died the following spring. Tilts continued as part of festivities marking the Accession Day of James I, 24 March, until 1624, the year before his death. [21] [22] In the early 17th century, the joust was replaced as the equine highlight of court festivities by large "horse-ballet" displays called carousels, although non-combat competitions such as the ring-tilt lasted until the 18th century.

Feudal Justice

Feudal Justice - Life in the Middle Ages - History of Feudal Justice - Information about Feudal Justice - Feudal Justice Facts - Feudal Justice Info - Middle Ages era - Middle Ages Life - Middle Ages Times - Life - Feudal Justice - Medieval - Mideval - Feudal Justice History - Information about Feudal Justice - Feudal Justice Facts - Feudal Justice Info - Middle Ages era - Middle Ages Life - Middle Ages Times - Information - Facts - Dark Ages - Medieval - Mideval - Feudal system - Manors - Middle Ages Times - Information - Facts - Dark Ages - Medieval - Mideval - Feudal system - Manors - Feudal Justice - Written By Linda Alchin

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