The Duelling Handbook: 1829

The Only Approved Guide Through All the Stages of a Quarrel: Containing the Royal Code of Honor; Reflections Upon Dueling; and the Outline of a Court for the Adjustment of Disputes; with Anecdotes, Documents an Cases, Interesting to Christian Moralists Who Decline the Combat; to Experienced Duellists, and to Benevolent Legislators. (Link)
by Joseph Hamilton

Want to see some primary documents relating to dueling during its golden age? Get your hands on this book. It’s a gem. Want to read a fascinating story with amazing twists and turns? Pick up a novel.

The avowed purpose of this little volume is to set down some rules for dueling. Hamilton wrote it in 1829 and had been involved in several duels, so the man knew what he was talking about. He opens with an essay that condemns dueling, but then basically says, “As long as people are going to do it, let’s at least have some order, all right?” Sixty rules later, we have a codified system that tells us exactly what must be done when dueling, from selection of seconds to distances involved.

The rest of the book contains Hamilton’s casenotes on the most outstanding cases of dueling, which makes for both tedious fascinating reading. Some of his notes extend for several pages, while he transmits some cases in a short sentence. The longer cases are generally absorbing, while the instances that essential boil down to lists are hardly riveting reading.

Hamilton notes the causes of numerous duels. Apparently, a man wearing a hat into his box in the theatre would occasion offense leading to a duel. A man walking not between a woman and the street, but a woman and the building would be cause for offense. A negative report in a newspaper often led to duels, it seems. It would be fascinating to read Hamilton’s take on modern press practices.

The author notes that duels with pistols are preferable to duels with blades. I found this fascinating, but after reading many of the anecdotes, it’s clear why: the duelists both have a higher chance of survival with pistols than with blades. They would stand at a distance and each fire a single shot. Between each volley, the seconds were supposed to urge reconciliation. No such a chance when fighting with swords!

If you’re looking for some research on duels or codes of honor, this book is indispensible. If you’re thinking of using a system of combat that involves single combat in a story, read this through. If you’re just into history, find the book!

However, as I said, if you just want a good adventure, this ain’t the book for you. Go wander the fiction section.


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