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duel,prearranged armed fight with deadly weapons, usually swords or pistols, between two persons concerned with a point of honor. The duel may have originated in the wager of battle, an early mode of trial in which an accused person fought with his accuser under judicial supervision (see ordealordeal,
ancient legal custom whereby an accused person was required to perform a test, the outcome of which decided the person's guilt or innocence. By an ordeal, appeal was made to divine authority to decide the guilt or innocence of one accused of a crime or to choose between
..... Click the link for more information. ). In 887, Pope Stephen VI prohibited the judicial duel and all forms of ordeal. Wager of battle was abolished in France in the mid-16th cent., and the duel of honor in part took its place. This institution, which emerged in the Italian Renaissance, spread to France and then to Great Britain and other European countries. It evolved in the 16th cent. and was very closely linked with the code of chivalrychivalry
, system of ethical ideals that arose from feudalism and had its highest development in the 12th and 13th cent.
Chivalric ethics originated chiefly in France and Spain and spread rapidly to the rest of the Continent and to England.
..... Click the link for more information. ). Codified in various countries in the late 18th and early 19th cents., the duel of honor became a rare practice after World War I.
To initiate a duel the offended party would present a challenge to fight, which had to be accepted or the person challenged would be dishonored. Negotiations were conducted by seconds, who also observed the combat to see that all agreements of the complex ceremony were observed. The object of a duel was not necessarily to kill, and in most cases after the firing of a prescribed number of shots or drawing blood the fight would be stopped. Although dueling was opposed by the rulers and churches of various countries, it long persisted among aristocrats, army officers, and others. German students were especially noted for their duels. Duels were quite common in the United States, some fought by prominent Americans. For example, Alexander HamiltonHamilton, Alexander,
1755–1804, American statesman, b. Nevis, in the West Indies. Early Career
He was the illegitimate son of James Hamilton (of a prominent Scottish family) and Rachel Faucett Lavien (daughter of a doctor-planter on Nevis and the estranged
..... Click the link for more information. was killed in a duel with Aaron BurrBurr, Aaron,
1756–1836, American political leader, b. Newark, N.J., grad. College of New Jersey (now Princeton). Political Career
A brilliant law student, Burr interrupted his study to serve in the American Revolution and proved himself a valiant soldier in
..... Click the link for more information. , and Andrew JacksonJackson, Andrew,
1767–1845, 7th President of the United States (1829–37), b. Waxhaw settlement on the border of South Carolina and North Carolina (both states claim him). Early Career
A child of the backwoods, he was left an orphan at 14.
..... Click the link for more information. took part in several duels. In the United States, dueling persisted longest in the Southern states and on the Western frontier. Dueling today has been made illegal by statute in most countries. Killing in the course of a duel is usually considered willful murder, and all persons aiding the principals are guilty with them.
See studies by J. Atkinson (1964), R. Baldrick (1965), V. G. Kiernan (1986), K. McAleer (1994), J. B. Freeman (2001), B. Holland (2003), and J. Landale (2006).