People from all parts of society participated. It was especially prevalent for nobles and soldiers in command to settle their affairs in such a manner.
It was also noted that one could elect a stand in to fight the duel for them. This however could only be done if the participant was able to provide a notably good reason as to why they could not fight. This ranged from age, Injury or in some cases there stature in society.
Many masters of western martial arts not only taught how to fight duels but also participated in duels both legally and illegally.
One prominent account of this is noted from the English master of defense George Silver. He was not impressed with the number of Italian fencing instructors teaching within London at the time. Silver tried on many occasions to challenge one of the most prominent teachers of the time, Vincentino Saviolo, to a formal duel. Saviolo was at the time the fencing instructor to queen Elizabeth’s court.
Saviolo refused multiple times even when receiving a box to the ear from Silver.
The Italian master Fiore dei Liberi also wrote about his involvement in duels. He details meeting many unworthy masters who lacked skill in the art of arms. Fiore recounts having to fight five separate duels with longswords against such teachers because he refused to teach them. Fiore also states he won all five without injury to himself. Accounts like these give a good indication that dueling was an inherent part of everyday life even for the people who profiteered from teaching.
The study of the Duel itself.
From sources and writings left to us we have been able to piece together the general makeup of a formal duel. The structure of a duel changes depending on the circumstances surrounding the duel and also the people and the laws of the time. However, there are some universal elements common to all duels.
The primary factor in the structure of a duel was deciding upon terms. Terms make dueling very different from the soldiering aspect of western martial arts. Within a duel each participant can decide upon the amount of armor worn if any and choose their weapon(s). They also agree upon the time and place. This is important as terrain and light can make a significant difference.
There is an example of such terms within the previously mentioned account by the Italian master Fiore dei Liberi. Fiore writes about when he was faced with fighting five separate duels. Each duel was fought with sharp longswords, unarmored except for a gamberson and gloves.
Another account from Fiore tells of a duel being stopped before a death occurred. This particular account highlights a major benefit were we see a duel being stopped before one of the participants are killed. In dei Liberi’s text Flower of Battle Fior di Battaglia, Flos Duellatorum he describes this incident; “Galeazzo made the challenge when Boucicaut called into question the valor of Italians at the court of France, and the duel was ultimately set for Padua on 15 August. The duel was to begin with spears on horseback, but Boucicaut became impatient and dismounted, attacking his opponent before he could mount his own horse. Cattaneo landed a solid blow on the Frenchman’s helmet, but was subsequently disarmed. At this point, Boucicaut reached for his poleaxe but the lords overseeing the duel intervened to end the duel in time to save Cattaneo ”.
Lesson on weapons.
Studying Dueling within western martial arts allows for the student to appreciate the differences between civilian self-defense and that of soldiering. For instance when it comes to the use of weaponry and the context of its use. An example of this is with the use of the rapier, which is primarily a thrusting weapon. The rapier at times would be at a disadvantage on the battle field when against armor. Whereas the utility and weight of a cut and thrust side sword would be needed to counteract the differing situations in regards to weapons and armor used.
I tend to point this out to my students as it is often the case that people will argue over which weapon is better than the other, rather than looking at the context in which it was used. It is also important to note that this highlights that swords and other weapons did not go out of fashion, each weapon was created for a situation and out of necessity. Dueling is however the strange loop hole, if you will, that allows for a situation to develop on already agreed terms.
Till next time,
Thanks for reading.