Dueling in Regency England
Published on April 9, 2012 by lahilden | Views: 3158
A duel is generally described as an arranged engagement of combat between two individuals, with matched weapons in accordance with agreed upon rules.

In Regency England, dueling was a standing code for honor.  Although dueling was outlawed during the Regency Era, duels still occurred behind the scenes.  A gentleman who insulted another was truly putting his life on the line.  Even with laws in place, men were not deterred from defending their honor.

To kill someone during a duel was considered murder, but for much of history, the courts were lax in applying the law, since legal professionals were sympathetic to the culture of honor.  Juries were reluctant to convict duelists if they deemed the duel fought fairly, and so duelists were often acquitted.  However, prohibiting dueling in the military was rigidly followed.  It would be bad form for a man to challenge his superior officer because he didn’t agree with him or because he hoped to gain his post once he did away with him.

Issuing challenges to others did have a certain set of rules.  Someone from the aristocracy would not challenge a commoner or someone with an age disadvantage.

If a man was wronged by another he would issue a challenge, this challenge was usually done by letter on the following day, once everyone’s tempers cooled.  In this letter, the challenged is told to choose his “second,” this was often a close friend or family member who would look out for the challenged best interests.  The seconds try to reconcile the situation before it comes to duel time, and their tactics often met with success.  You’ve likely seen men slapping each other in the face with gloves in movies when issuing this type of challenge, but this would have been very ungentlemanly at the time and likely would have resulted in instant fisticuffs.

Once you were challenged to a duel, you could apologize for your offense, but that doesn’t mean the apology would be accepted.

The next day if the apology wasn’t accepted, the parties decided upon weapons and the time and place.  The weapons chosen were either swords or pistols.  The pistol was considered the more reasonable weapon, since it could take years to master fencing and only hours to learn how to shoot a pistol.

When the day for the duel arrived, the dueling parties would meet in a remote location where they hopefully wouldn’t be caught by the law.  The seconds inspect the weapons.  An apology can still be issued and accepted, but if not, the parties then decide if the duel is fought until first blood, until one can’t stand, or to the death.  Once that was decided the opponents dueled while their seconds watched to make sure nothing dishonorable occurred.

Dueling did not survive much past the Regency Period.  Public opinion had turned against the gruesome practice, making it more likely for duelists to be tried in court, right along with their seconds, who could be tried as accessories.

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