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We now proceed to the history and extent of the practice of single combats.
In this part of the essay it will appear that edicts have been published and laws enacted for and against this custom, by kings, popes, and councils; and that in some countries it has been much more frequently resorted to than in others. The canon law, drawn from the writings of the ancient doctors, the decrees of councils, and the letters of popes, was almost invariably against it.
The first ordinance we meet with in opposition to dueling proceeded from the third council of Valence or Valentia, in Dauphine, which was composed of the clergy of Arles, Vienne, and Lyons, headed by Remi, the archbishop of the latter city, in 855. This body of ministers decreed, that if any person killed another in single combat, he should be forthwith excommunicated; and that he who was thus slain should not be favored with a Christian burial.
The next edict against this superstitious trial came from Pope Nicholas the First, commonly called the Great, whò obliged Louis II., one of the emperors of the west, to perform the duties of a groom, in 862. It was in substance like the other. On this occasion the good bishop, or successor of Peter, gravely maintained that the example of David and Goliah was not a sufficiently conclusive reason to justify these combats.
This decree of his holiness was followed by another from the Emperor Otho I., who ascended the throne of the German empire in 936, and died in 973. But this sovereign was in favor of dueling; and perhaps no prince by any law ever promoted this evil more successfully. It had been customary before his time, during several centuries, for every person to choose the law by which he wished to be governed and judged, and he might signify this preference publicly. There were several codes of laws in existence in the imperial dominions, as that of the Romans, the Burgundians, the Lombards, and others, either of which might be selected by an individual as the rule of his actions. But Otho ordained, contrary to the established usage of the country, and without regard to the predilection of his subjects for any particular legal code, that all persons, without exception, should thenceforth submit to the edicts which had been issued in reference to the trials by duel or battle. See Robertson's Charles V., vol. i, p. 354.
Saxo, the grammarian, a Danish historian of the twelfth century, who is good authority on this subject, states that dueling had been abolished in Denmark as early as A. D. 981. Yet this trial, in the course of time, was again practiced in that country, until it was finally abrogated, according to Dr. Clarke and others, by Christian III., who began his reign in 1535,
The first decrees we meet with against this ordeal in England were passed by Henry the First, who died in 1135. Little, however, was accomplished by a law so imperfect. He merely prohibited these trials in civil questions of a petty character.
Henry the Second, in the former part of his reign, which began in 1154, introduced into his realm, with the consent of the parliament, the alternative of the grand assize. This was a species of trial by jury; and before it was adopted the single combat was the only trial in writs of right among the English. After this the tenant could choose either the jury or battle. See Blackstone, book iii, p. 341. This was acknowledged by the ablest jurists to have been a great improvement in the law, and a great preventive of judicial dueling.
Sir Henry Spelman, in his Glossary, speaks of grants which were made to the bishops and clergy to make use of the trial by the sword, as well as by fire and water, in the days of King John, who was elevated to the throne in 1199. "Judicium ferri, aquæ, et ignis."
The last instances we have in the history of England, in which the trial by battle was awarded, are the following:-One was in 1571, in the thirteenth year of Queen Elizabeth. This was waged in the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster, and was to be conducted under the inspection of the judges of that court. The lists were marked out, as was customary, about sixty feet square; the judges attended in their scarlet robes, and all the usual ceremonies of such occasions were observed: but the good queen wisely interposed her authority, stopped the proceedings, and the matter was compounded. Spel. Gloss. voc. compus, p. 103; Robertson, vol. i, p. 358; Blackstone, book iii, p. 338.
In the seventh of Charles the First, 1631, a judicial combat was appointed in the court of chivalry and honor, in the painted chamber at Westminster, between Donald Lord Rea, or Rhee, appellant, and David Ramsay, Esq., defendant. The high constable and earl marshal of England were commissioned by his majesty to preside at the trial. The day of trial was announced by these officers; and the parties were to appear with a spear, a long sword, a short sword, and a dagger. But before the time had arrived the king prorogued the combat to a further day; and finally revoked the commission, and accommodated the quarrel. See the last authorities above, and Chitty's note (2) in Blackstone, book iv, p. 348. Another instance occurred in 1638. Rushworth's Observations on the Statutes, p. 240.
The law authorizing these singular trials continued in force in Great Britain until 1817-18, when it was abolished both in civil and criminal cases by the fifty-ninth parliament of George the Third; and yet dueling, in its modern acceptation, has prevailed to an alarming extent in England during the last and the beginning of the present centuries. According to Mr. Buckingham, who delivered an address in parliament on the subject of providing by law for the more effectual suppression of dueling, one hundred and seventy-three were fought by British subjects, from 1760 to 1820. In these "affairs of honor," some of the most distinguished men in the nation were included; such as Canning, Pitt, Fox, and Sheridan, Lords
Castlereagh, Shelburn, Townsend, and Lauderdale, and the Dukes of York, Richmond, and Norfolk, with many others.
Eugenius III., who was made pope in 1145, confirmed the edicts in favor of duels previously in existence, and declared officially that the ancient and established custom of single combat must be observed. This was the successor of St. Peter, and the vicar of Jesus Christ!
But Frederick I. and II. both opposed it by enacting laws against it, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
Pope Alexander III., who occupied the papal chair from 1159 to 1181, and who was more beloved by his subjects and respected by the world than his predecessor Eugenius, interposed also against these combats, and was followed in his pious effort in 1194 by Celestine III.
But in no country on earth was this practice of fighting out quarrels more positively interdicted, and nowhere had it, nevertheless, more extensive sway, than in chivalrous, Catholic, infidel France.
Louis VII., surnamed the Young, following the example of Henry I. of England, issued an edict in 1168, by which these trials were forbidden in all civil causes of minor importance, and limited in criminal cases to five offences-treason, rape, murder, house-burning, and theft. These restrictions were afterward entirely abolished by Louis IV., the tutelar saint of the nation, and author of the famous pragmatic sanction. But this law was confined in its operations to his own dominions or territories, and did not exert its influence on those parts of the kingdom which belonged to the powerful vassals of the crown. Soon after, however, they were likewise forbidden by the Counts d'Auvergne and Poicton, and a few other barons.
These trials were at first prohibited, and again partially restored, in 1303-6, by Philip the Fair, and grandson of the preceding. He restricted them to treason, rape, and house-burning, and prescribed the several rules and ceremonies to be observed by the combatants. The evil existed to a fearful extent during the reign of this prince. He appeared to think that, by confining this custom to a few cases which but seldom occurred, it might be gradually abolished, and the desired object finally gained. But he ought to have known that that object could only be accomplished, as the reformation of the drunkard can alone be effected, on the total abstinence principle.
The king reserved the right of challenge to himself, and forbade it to all others. If, in considering the offense of the accused, and the circumstances of the case, a duel was by him thought justifiable, a challenge was accordingly authorized, and the parties met and settled the difficulty.
Honorable dueling prevailed more dreadfully in France in the time of Henry IV. than during the reign of any other monarch. A computation was made by Leominia in 1607, by which it appears, that in the first eighteen years of Henry, from 1589 to the preceding date, four thousand Frenchmen had fallen in single combats! This is almost incredible, but most probably correct.
Three reasons may be assigned for this epidemic character of the dueling mania in the time of Henry the Great:
(1.) It is well known that this prince, from the death of Henry III. to nearly the close of his own life, had been engaged in several very sanguinary wars. Inured to scenes of carnage, the sight of blood, and the death of his subjects, ceased at length to produce the ordinary effect upon his mind. He could hear of the most horrible conflicts, and look upon the fields of battle, covered with the bodies and clotted gore of the dead, with but little emotion. The consequence was, he became almost insensible to the crying evil, which some of his best friends and wisest counselors wished him to remove. Edicts were indeed published and registered after his chief advisers had earnestly solicited them; but they were only as the morning cloud or the early dew. There is a vast difference between enacting a law for the prohibition of evil, and enforcing obedience to that law by vigorously inflicting on the offender the penalty by which it is sanctioned. Laws have been passed by the kings of France, and by almost every government on earth, for the prevention of dueling; but the infamous duelist has been permitted to trample them under his feet, with the blood of his victim, with impunity!
(2.) Another reason for the universal dominion of this custom in the reign of Henry is this:-The preceptor assigned him by his mother the queen of Navarre, who was very anxious about his education, was La Gaucherie, a man of extensive erudition, but a rigid predestinarian in principle. His religious views naturally became strongly tinctured with the characteristic peculiarities of his teacher's faith. Hence he was fully persuaded in his own mind, that God had predetermined the occurrence of every event that comes to pass. If therefore a duel was fought, and one or both of the parties were killed, not only was the combat itself, but the death of the victim, in the opinion of the prince, according to the will of Heaven. Why then, he might consistently reason, should I interpose the arm of my authority to hinder that which was foreordained by God himself? (3.) A third reason is, duels were generally fought by persons in high life, by princes and nobles; and from them the practice was copied by the plebeian. These individuals therefore, enjoying, as they often do, the favor of the king, and being of importance to the welfare of the government, easily obtained a royal pardon, though guilty of murder, and under sentence of death. And if mercy is extended to the rich and influential, and not to the inferior subject, the rebellion of the populace frequently follows as the unhappy result. In duels the law should be no respecter of persons; or, if any, it ought rather to be in favor of the very dregs of society: the greater the man, the more prompt and signal should be the punish
Henry IV., at Blois, in June, 1602, ordained that dueling should be considered high treason, and that death should be inflicted on the disobedient. By this law the power was conferred on the constables and marshals of France, for the first time, to prevent measures of violence, and to have the injury sustained by either party speedily and prudently repaired. When this edict was registered, the French parliament restricted its influence to those combats alone which arose from a principle of honor, falsely so called, and all other crimes were excepted
In 1609 the same monarch issued another edict against this relic of barbarism, in an extraordinary council called for the purpose, at Fontainbleau. In this council the duke of Sully, the confidential adviser of Henry, gave a particular account of the origin of duels, and of the forms and customs of single combat in different countries. See Memoirs of the Duke of Sully, vol. iv, p. 370.
The edict of Henry on this occasion was nearly similar to the former of 1602. Those who thought themselves wounded in a point of honor, were obliged to consult the French marshals or their lieutenants, who had authority to investigate the case, and appoint a reparation of injuries. If the person refused to apply to the proper officer of the land, and persisted to determine the righteousness of his cause by force of arms, and his antagonist failed to take his life, he was to be branded with infamy, lose his nobility, if a noble, and, in some instances, suffer death.
It is spoken to the praise of Louis XIV., that he exerted all his influence to prevent dueling in the bounds of his kingdom. And while his efforts were blessed with remarkable success, they are worthy of all imitation by every government on earth.
The last duel, of a judicial character, and of any note, was fought before Henry II. in the year 1547, between Jarnac and Chastaignerie. As it is noticed by different authors, which may be consulted by the reader, no particular account of it will be necessary here.
Michael Palæologus, who was emperor of the East in 1259, and put an end to the empire of the Latins, ordained that trials by ordeal and single combat should be forthwith abolished throughout his dominions. But before he was elevated to his high office, he offered to engage in a duel himself; yet it is evident he did not expect the interference of God. This we learn from a pleasant story recorded of this monarch by Gibbon, in his "Decline and Fall," &c., vol. iv, p. 218.
"Under the reign of Justice and Vataces, a dispute arose between two officers, one of whom accused the other of maintaining the hereditary right of the Paælologi. The cause was decided according to the new jurisprudence of the Latins, by single combat: the defendant was overthrown; but he persisted in declaring that himself alone was guilty, and that he had uttered these rash and treasonable speeches, without the approbation or knowledge of his patron. Yet a cloud of suspicion rested upon the innocence of the future emperor: he was still pursued by the whispers of malevolence; and a subtle courtier, the archbishop of Philadelphia, urged him to accept the judgment of God in the fiery proof of the ordeal. Three days before the trial the patient's arm was inclosed in a bag, and secured by the royal signet; and it was incumbent on him to bear a red hot ball of iron three times from the altar to the rails of the sanctuary, without artifice and without injury. Paælologus eluded the dangerous experiment with sense and pleasantry. 'I am a soldier,' said he, 'and will boldly enter the lists with my accusers; but a layman, a sinner like myself, is not endowed with the gift of miracles. Your piety, most holy prelate, may deserve the interposition of Heaven, and from your hands I will receive the fiery globe, the pledge of my innocence.' The archbishop