18th Century Podcast Episode 13 Dueling

18th Century sword duel

Listen here: https://anchor.fm/cj123/episodes/18th-Century-Podcast-Episode-13-Dueling-e516uh/a-al876d


In this episode of the 18th Century Podcast we’ll take a look at dueling. First I’ll read the Code Duello, which was practically the instruction manual for duels, then we’ll take a look at a brief history of duels, then I’ll tell you a little story of a duel which may have happened in 1792 called, The Petticoat Duel.



Welcome back to the 18th Century Podcast. I am your host, Cj. In today’s episode, we’ll take a look at Dueling. We’ll kick things off by reading the Code Duello. Afterward, we’ll continue by covering some of the histories of duels and their importance to society in the 18th Century. If you’d like to read the script for this episode and its citations, go to 18thcentury.home.blog that’s 1, 8, t h, century dot home dot blog. Type the numbers don’t spell them. Let’s get into it with, the Code Duello.


I. The first offence requires the first apology, though the retort may have been more offensive than the insult. Example: A tells B he is impertinent, etc. B retorts that he lies; yet A must make the first apology, because he gave the first offence, and (after one fire) B may explain away the retort by subsequent apology.

II. But if the parties would rather fight on, then, after two shots each (but in no case before), B may explain first and A apologize afterwards.

N.B. The above rules apply to all cases of offences in retort not of a stronger class than the example.

III. If a doubt exists who gave the first offence, the decision rests with the seconds. If they will not decide or cannot agree, the matter must proceed to two shots, or to a hit if the challenger requires it.

IV. When the lie direct is the first offence, the aggressor must either beg pardon in express terms, exchange two shots previous to apology, or three shots followed by explanation, or fire on till a severe hit be received by one party or the other.

V. As a blow is strictly prohibited under any circumstances among gentlemen, no verbal apology can be received for such an insult. The alternatives, therefore, are: The offender handing a cane to the injured party to be used on his back, at the same time begging pardon, firing until one or both are disabled; or exchanging three shots and then begging pardon without the proffer of the cane.

N.B. If swords are used, the parties engage until one is well blooded, disabled, or disarmed, or until, after receiving a wound and blood being drawn, the aggressor begs pardon.

VI. If A gives B the lie and B retorts by a blow (being the two greatest offences), no reconciliation can take place till after two discharges each or a severe hit, after which B may beg A’s pardon for the blow, and then A may explain simply for the lie, because a blow is never allowable, and the offence of the lie, therefore, merges in it. (See preceding rule.)

N.B. Challenges for undivulged causes may be conciliated on the ground after one shot. An explanation or the slightest hit should be sufficient in such cases, because no personal offence transpired.

VII. But no apology can be received in any case after the parties have actually taken their ground without exchange of shots.

VIII. In the above case no challenger is obliged to divulge his cause of challenge (if private) unless required by the challenged so to do before their meeting.

IX. All imputations of cheating at play, races, etc., to be considered equivalent to a blow, but may be reconciled after one shot, on admitting their falsehood and begging pardon publicly.

X. Any insult to a lady under a gentleman’s care or protection to be considered as by one degree a greater offence than if given to the gentleman personally, and to be regarded accordingly.

XI. Offences originating or accruing from the support of ladies’ reputations to be considered as less unjustifiable than any others of the same class, and as admitting of slighter apologies by the aggressor. This is to be determined by the circumstances of the case, but always favourably to the lady.

XII. No dumb firing or firing in the air is admissible in any case. The challenger ought not to have challenged without receiving offence, and the challenged ought, if he gave offence, to have made an apology before he came on the ground; therefore children’s play must be dishonourable on one side or the other, and is accordingly prohibited.

XIII. Seconds to be of equal rank in society with the principals they attend, inasmuch as a second may either choose or chance to become a principal and equality is indispensable.

XIV. Challenges are never to be delivered at night, unless the party to be challenged intends leaving the place of offence before morning; for it is desirable to avoid all hot- headed proceedings.

XV. The challenged has the right to choose his own weapons unless the challenger gives his honour he is no swordsman, after which, however, he cannot decline any second species of weapon proposed by the challenged.

XVI. The challenged chooses his ground, the challenger chooses his distance, the seconds fix the time and terms of firing.

XVII. The seconds load in presence of each other, unless they give their mutual honours that they have charged smooth and single, which shall be held sufficient.

XVIII. Firing may be regulated, first, by signal; secondly by word of command; or, thirdly at pleasure, as may be agreeable to the parties. In the latter case, the parties may fire at their reasonable leisure, but second presents and rests are strictly prohibited.

XIX. In all cases a misfire is equivalent to a shot, and a snap or a non-cock is to be considered a misfire.

XX. Seconds are bound to attempt a reconciliation before the meeting takes place or after sufficient firing or hits as specified.

XXI. Any wound sufficient to agitate the nerves and necessarily make the hand shake must end the business for that day.

XXII. If the cause of meeting be of such a nature that no apology or explanation can or will be received, the challenged takes his ground and calls on the challenger to proceed as he chooses. In such cases firing at pleasure is the usual practice, but may be varied by agreement.

XXIII. In slight cases the second hands his principal but one pistol, but in gross cases two, holding another case ready charged in reserve.

XXIV. When the second disagree and resolve to exchange shots themselves, it must be at the same time and at right angles with their principals. If with swords, side by side, with five paces’ interval.

XXV. No party can be allowed to bend his knee or cover his side with his left hand, but may present at any level from the hip to the eye.

XXVI. None can either advance or retreat if the ground is measured. If no ground be measured, either party may advance at his pleasure, even to the touch of muzzles, but neither can advance on his adversary after the fire, unless the adversary steps forward on him.

N.B. The seconds on both sides stand responsible for this last rule being strictly observed, bad cases having occurred from neglecting it.

N.B. All matters and doubts not herein mentioned will be explained and cleared up by application to the Committee, who meet alternately at Clonmel and Galway at the quarter sessions for that purpose.”


Well continue with a brief history of dueling, and I’ll explain what I previously read for better context. The act of dueling goes back centuries and it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact location where duels began, but it is easier to trace down the origin of the word, duel. The word duel most likely derives from the Latin word, duellum, which means, war between two. This art of single combat wasn’t strictly speaking, regulated until the sixth century when the King of Burgundy incorporated trial by combat. Trial by combat was a legal duel to decide the innocence or guilt of a person through a duel. Yet private duels between two people would come to be illegal, even though trial by combat would persist for a time. Duels would become more pronounced through the upper rings of society during the Italian Renaissance, and we would see it spread through the military ranks as well. Codes of conducting duels would spring up and treatises would be written on the topic. The core idea of a duel was to preserve one’s honor. The rules of conduct would change over the centuries, but the core idea remained the same. These honor duels would spread out of Italy and into France, and the rest of Europe. Dueling in the 18th Century was officially illegal, but it didn’t stop participants. In 1777, the Irish Code Duello was written, which codified the tradition of the 18th Century. The idea of honor was staked to the idea of being a Gentleman in the 18th Century, and if you haven’t listened to the episode on being a Gentleman in the18th Century yet, I recommend that you go back and listen to it. If your honor was offended, you must seek satisfaction, or face social consequences. Regarding the weaponry used in duels, swords were the most common for the majority of dueling history. However, once the 18th Century rolled around, and due to the prevalence of firearms, pistols slowly overtook the sword. Eventually, pistols were specifically developed for dueling, and they would get the original name of, Dueling Pistols. Dueling would find a home in the Americas in the 17th Century. This tradition would cross the waters too, but it would find it’s home more in the Southern colonies rather than the Northern due to a stronger sense of honor culture in the South, which continued into the 19th Century. Even though duels were prevalent, the fatality rate was lower than one would expect, being around 20%. Now, we’re going to take a short break, and when we come back, I’ll tell you a little tale of a duel.


Welcome back. I want to wrap things up with this episode telling you a story about a duel, but not just any duel, The Petticoat Duel. I would like to note that this duel is probably fictitious, but the jury is still out on this one, no matter as it’s still an interesting story which originated close to the period. The Petticoat Duel began in 1792, England. It all began by an exchange between two ladies, Mrs. Elphinstone, and Lady Braddock. They were having a conversation over tea, and as time went on, and Mrs. Elphinstone made a comment over Lady Braddock’s age. Mrs. Elphinstone claimed that Lady Braddock was forty years old, and Lady Braddock asserted she wasn’t even thirty yet. Over such a great offense, Lady Braddock challenged Mrs. Elphinstone to a duel, they were set to meet in Hyde Park. The duel would begin with pistols between the two women. Lady Braddock would prove to be a poor shot, but Mrs. Elphinstone had fate on her side, shooting a hole through Lady Braddock’s hat. Each of their seconds begged them to end the duel, and that Mrs. Elphinstone issue an apology, which, she didn’t. Lady Braddock still demanded satisfaction over the age comment. The duel progressed to swords. They slashed at each other, and metal clashed. At some point, Lady Braddock landed a blow on Mrs. Elphinstone’s sword arm, and the duel was complete. Lady Braddock had received satisfaction, and the two women left the field. This story originally ran in a magazine called the Carlton House Magazine, in 1792.


I hope this episode brought you some insight into the world of dueling during the 18th Century. It wasn’t a pretty thing, but honor culture was highly prevalent during the time. Even if The Petticoat Duel never occurred, it’s a perfect example of how a duel could be instigated over the smallest of things, and it’s a great representation of the period. The script and citations for this episode and all other episodes can be found at https://18thcentury.home.blog that’s 1, 8, t h, century dot home dot blog. Type the numbers don’t spell them. If you’d like to support the show, please share it and leave a review. I’ve been your host Cj, and thank you for listening to this episode of the 18th Century Podcast.


Irish Code Duello, or The Twenty-Six Commandments. 7 Feb. 2007, http://www.sos.mo.gov/CMSImages/MDH/CodeDuello.pdf.

Krystal, Arthur. “En Garde!” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 18 June 2017, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/03/12/en-garde.

Chris. “Dueling History: An Affair of Honor.” The Art of Manliness, 3 Nov. 2018, http://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/man-knowledge-an-affair-of-honor-the-duel/.

Major, Joanne. “The ‘Petticoat Duellists’ of 1792.” All Things Georgian, 7 Nov. 2018, georgianera.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/the-petticoat-duellists-of-1792/.

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