Our Irish ancestors certainly knew how to organize a fair fight.
During the 18th century, the tradition of dueling to settle a dispute became highly popular, either with a firearm or with a sword. Instead of entering into an immediate physical fight that had the possibility of spiraling out of control or entering into days, weeks, months, maybe even years of passive aggressive coldness with the offender (which could also spiral out of control), a gentleman could challenge another whom he felt had insulted him to a duel.
The practice of dueling was made all the more popular by the introduction of a set of rules known a Irish Code Duello to keep all challengers and all the challenged on the same page.
The rules were accepted by gentlemen from the counties of Tipperary, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon at the Clonmel Summer Assizes in 1777. Such was the regard in which these rules were held, a copy had to be kept in pistol cases at all times and no gentleman was allowed to claim that he had no knowledge of the rules.
Listed among the many requirements of the official 18th century duel was a ban on a challenge being made at nighttime unless one of the parties was set to leave the scene of the offense before the next day. It was trusted that nobody set to be challenged would slip out of town in the dead of night and wouldn’t face his actions the following day. Very noble!
Both parties – the challenger and the challenged – were to have input into the scene of the duel to ensure that nobody was completely at an advantage to their opponent. The challenged would choose the ground where the duel would take place, while the challenger chose the distance that would lie between them.
As the challenged, you were also given the opportunity to choose the weapon that would be used unless the challenger honestly said that he was not a swordsman. Once the challenger has refused once, however, he is required to accept whatever second weapon the challenged chooses.
The rules also take us back to the good old days of chivalry and valor (or gender inequality and female oppression – the choice is yours) and it outlines the punishment for those who would dare to insult a lady in any gentleman’s care of protection. Insulting a lady is even regarded as being more offensive than if the gentlemen himself was insulted.
We must admit, we still much prefer sitting down and solving the problem or simply agreeing to disagree instead of involving weapons that could possibly kill you, but at least these dueling rules bring some sense of honor to the old tradition.
You can read the full 25 rules as reported by History of the 18th and 19th centuries below.
- 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 then (after one fire) B may explain away the retort by subsequent apology.
- 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. Note: The above rules apply to all cases of offences in retort, not of a stronger class than the example.
- If a doubt exist who gave the first offence, the decision rests with the seconds; if they won't decide, or can't agree, the matter must proceed to two shots, or to a hit, if the challenger require it.
- When the lie direct is the first offence, the aggressor must either beg pardon in express terms, ex change two shots previous to apology, or three shots, followed by explanation; or fire on until a severe hit be received by one party or the other.
- As a blow is strictly prohibited under any circumstances amongst 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 own back, at the same time begging pardon ; firing on until one, or both, is disabled; or exchanging three shots, and then asking pardon, without the proffer of the cane. If swords are used, the parties engage till one is well blooded, disabled, or disarmed ; or until, after receiving a wound, and blood being drawn, the aggressor begs pardon. Note: A disarm is considered the same as a disable; the disarmer may (strictly) break his adversary's sword; but if it be the challenger who is disarmed, it is considered ungenerous to do so. In case the challenged be disarmed, and refuses to ask pardon, or atone, he must not be killed, as formerly, but the challenger may lay his own sword on the aggressor's shoulder, then break the aggressor's sword, and say, "I spare your life!" The challenged can never revive that quarrel—the challenger may.
- 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 humbly 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.) Note: Challenges for undivulged causes may be reconciled on the ground, after one shot. An explanation, or the slightest hit, should be sufficient in such cases, because no personal offence transpired.
- But no apology can be received in any case after the parties have actually taken their ground, without exchange of fires.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 regulated accordingly.
- Offences originating or accruing from the support of ladies' reputation, to be considered as less unjustifiable than any others of the same class, and as admitting of slighter apologies by the aggressor, this to be determined by the circumstances of the case, but always favorably to the lady.
- In simple unpremeditated rencontres with the small sword, or couteau-de-chasse, the rule is—first draw, first sheathe; unless blood be drawn ; then both sheathe and proceed to investigation.
- No dumb shooting or firing in the air 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 dishonorable on one side or the other, and is accordingly prohibited.
- 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.
- Challenges are never to be delivered at night, unless the party to be challenged intend leaving the place of offence before morning; for it is desirable to avoid all hot-headed proceedings.
- The challenged has the right to choose his own weapon, unless the challenger gives his honor he is no swordsman; after which, however, he cannot decline any second species of weapon proposed by the challenger.
- The challenged chooses his ground; the challenger chooses his distance; the seconds fix the time and terms of firing.
- The seconds load in presence of each other, unless they give their mutual honors they have charged smooth and single, which should be held sufficient.
- 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.
- In all cases, a miss-fire is equivalent to a shot, and a snap or a non-cock is to be considered as a miss-fire.
- Seconds are bound to attempt a reconciliation before the meeting takes place, or after sufficient firing or hits, as specified.
- Any wound sufficient to agitate the nerves, and necessarily make the hand shake, must end the business for that day.
- 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.
- In slight cases the second hands his principal but one pistol; but in gross cases two, holding another case ready charged in reserve.
- Where seconds 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.