Every Rule In The Code Duello, The Stupidest Way Men Used To Settle Beef

From the medieval era up until the mid-19th century, dueling was a fixture throughout the “civilized” world. Despite the rule of law spreading through every nation for the previous three centuries, gentlemen still felt the need to protect their honor in face-to-face duels. Of course, these were soft-handed nobles, not common ruffians, and so complex rules of dueling were put in place to insure that offenses were put to bed without the involvement of larger families or factions. 

Enter the Code Duello. What is the Code Duello? It's a series of rules first crafted in Ireland in 1777 by gentlemen idiots. The goal of the code was to instill in dueling a sense of order and pragmatism, never mind that principle participants had totally thrown pragmatism to the wind when they tried to solve their problems with violence. Until dueling was finally squashed out under a pile of legislation, the rules of the Code Duello were the primary ways men used to settle beef. Each region of the world adopted their own version of the Code Duello, but they all very fairly the same.

Here, for your consideration, a modern day explanation of every rule in the Code Duello as seen through the eyes of completely made-up dispute.

Photo: Ilya Repin via Wikimedia Commons

  • Rule 1: A Series Of Possible Apologies

    One of the most common themes of the Code Duello is the opportunity to apologize. It seems the underlying goal of the code was to get these baleful dummies to shut up and apologize already. “The first offense requires the first apology, though the retort may have been more offensive than the insult,” according to the code. 

    Whoever was the first to throw a barb is the first to apologize. If they don't apologize they agree to duel and fight. 

  • Rule 2: Two Rounds Of Insults And A Brief Pause For Explanation

    If the duelers are still mad, they’re allowed to argue on for a bit more to help vent some frustration. Then, Rule 2, “if the parties would rather fight on, then after two shots each (but in no case before), B may explain first, and A apologize afterward.”

    Each person gets two free shots, then it’s on the second man to explain why his feelings are hurt, at which point the first can apologize and the quarrelers can hug it out.

  • Rule 3: What To Do When There’s Doubt

    As with any good fight, it isn’t always clear who was initially to blame. As a result, there’s Rule 3, “If a doubt exist who gave the first offense, 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.”

    In other words, if no one can decide who’s to blame, more violence is the answer.

  • Rule 4: If You're A Liar, You Can Either Apologize Or Shoot

    If the duel comes as a result of a lie - a very serious offense - the liar can choose to apologize or shoot or both. If they apologize right away, the duel can be stopped in the aggressor's apology is accepted. If not, they can try again after two and three shots respectively if no one is hit, or never apologize and shoot until someone is hit. 

    "When the lie direct is the first offense, the aggressor must either beg pardon in express terms, exchange two shots previous to apology, or three shots followed by explanation, or fire on till a severe hit be received by one party or the other."

  • Rule 5: Finally, Some Actual Violence

    When two duelers resort to physical violence, sh*t officially gets real in the Code Duello. Violence can only be remedied with more violence. Them’s the rules. Basically once someone is hit with a bullet, there's no turning back. You can't apologize for that and have to just keep shooting. That is, until someone cries uncle - then the whole thing is off. 

    Rule 5: “As a blow is strictly prohibited under any circumstances among gentlemen, no verbal apology can be received for such an insult. The alternatives, therefore - 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 are disabled; or exchanging three shots, and then asking pardon without proffer of the cane.”

  • Rule 6: There’s Mandatory Hitting

    If the first man lies to second and the latter responds by whopping the first with his cane, then the fight is locked in for two blows each - unless the second kills or disables the liar in the first shot.

    Rule 6: “If A gives B the lie, and B retorts by a blow (being the two greatest offenses), 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 offense of the lie, therefore, merges in it.”