My honour is my life - statement ascribed to numerous nobles
For a noble, or even just a proud warrior, accepting aspersions upon one's honor is simply impossible - to do so would be to imply that the aspersion is true, or that the victim is a coward, or weak. While a mere 'insult' is not cause for a duel, an 'Insult' that impugns the honour of the noble may well be. Such Insults include physical attack, aspersions on parentage, claims to the noble's station, insults cast at the noble's patron god, and the more serious slanders or thefts. Of course, for a hot-headed young noble almost any 'insult' can be an 'Insult' - while a more secure older noble might laugh off even serious aspersions or turn them aside with a witty jest.
A duel is a way that serious insults can be answered. A formal fight between the insulting and the insulted nobles that ensures 'fairplay' (or not), and a formal method of apology - or agreed point at which one party has 'won' if no apology is offered.
Most duels are not to the death, first blood is common, first wound (basically something other than a scratch) slightly less common. Duels until surrender are relatively uncommon as they are more likely to prove fatal while duels to the death are reserved for the most serious matters.

[top]Aspects of a Duelling code

[top]Who chooses the place of the duel

The choice of place is important if a duellist is concerned about the duel being discovered, or interference. Differing codes will however assign it to either the challenger or the 'defending' noble.

[top]Who chooses the time of the duel

This is generally relatively unimportant - if an insult is severe enough to provoke a duel then it warrants immediate attention, if someone declares a delayed duel date without good reason (such as war) then they are likely to be considered a coward.

[top]Who chooses the weapons

In general the duelling code will have quite a limited range of weapons - i.e. those considered 'noble'. Where the duelling code is more relaxed, the choice of weapons can be paramount - even amongst fighters choosing a rare weapon in which one is a master can provide a strong advantage. Accordingly where a wide choice of weapons can be made it is invariably the choice of the wounded party. Of course this may be either the person receiving the challenge to the duel, or the person provoked by the insult depending on the circumstances and code.

[top]Who can stop the duel

In general a father may ban thier heir from duelling, a superior officer may ban a junior officer, a leige may ban a vassal, a host may ban two guests from duelling, etc. This is no light matter - if an insult has been made then simply banning the duel leaves the insult to fester, accordingly the superior officer, liege, host etc may be required to force an apology, punish the 'wrong doer', or make reparations to the wounded party.

[top]The role of the second

Seconds tend to seek to arrange apologies to make the duel uneccesary, agreeing the exact wording needed for both sides to save face. Seconds may also often surrender on behalf of a duellist if the duellist is clearly beaten, particularly if the duellist is unable to speak for some reason (winded, throat injury, pinned and throttled, etc). Sometimes the second may fight alongside or instead of the duellist - the latter generally occurs only if the duellist is impaired in some way (such as someone very young, elderly, a non-militant woman, a priest, etc) or if the duellist is of significantly higher social rank than their challenger. Under duelling codes where substitution is possible, it is at least a major social breach to provoke a duel through insult and then retreat behind a second (particularly if the second is a noted duellist), and may be impossible. In addition to seconds many duelling codes require a 'referee' of some sort to ensure that both sides agree to the duelling code.

[top]The cooling off period

The delay before any duel may be carried out (usually a day or so - always enough time for people to sober up and calm down)

[top]The insult

The appropriate degrees of duel for any given insult - it is inappropriate to fight to the death over a spilt drink! Many codes however increase the 'degree' of the insult if the recipient is a woman, priest, etc - to insult anyone under the protection of another person is generally more serious than insulting the protector themselves (since one is insulting someone 'weak' and not someone 'strong'.)


Most duels are avoided (once hot tempers cool) by the appropriate apology - particularly when duellists are unmatched. The duelling code generally outlines the appropriate apology for the insult given, based on the relative social status of both duellists.
Who can be challenged to a duel
Fairness is a concept often noted by its absence, but most duelling codes recognize that it would be unfair to permit people to challenge the elderly, cripples, children, and other 'non-combatants'.

[top]What constitutes a challenge

Given that to a noble, honour can be a very real, tangible, thing, the duelling code may not distinguish between a physical blow and a severe insult. Similarly it may consider the one casting the insult/blow to be the challenger (they have challenged the other who must respond with a duel) or it may consider the one formally stating the demand for the duel as the challenger. Some duelling codes may automatically assume that the duellist of lower social rank is the challenger, others assign the title depending on the particular circumstances. This is important only because of the way that the duelling code will asign the choice of time/place/weapon/degree to one party of the other or because of the rules regarding apologies. Thus the challenged may always have choice of weapon, or the challenger always have choice of time.

[top]Other aspects of the code

Some duelling codes may provide for a jury to determine who issued the challenge / made the insult, whether a duel is permissible, etc. Others may ban magic, set out specified days for duels (not on godsday, only on the last day of a month). Most codes dictate that the loser of the duel cannot take vengeance on the winner, or specify a period before they can fight another duel.

[top]Duels in practice

Unsurprisingly, given that most duelling codes are specifically designed to prevent duels, or reduce how serious they are, most duels are carried out in secret under whatever rules the duellists mutually agree - or under no rules at all. The archtypal 'meet you at dawn by the old mill' demand (I have challenged you, set time and place, now pick your weapons if you dare) is typical of 'informal' duels where some or all of the restrictions will be ignored by both participants.

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