An Article on Duels (1 of 6)

Since a few people have asked for these here are some of the articles I had put together. I’ll just send one installment every few days. I think I have about 5 of these in total. At any rate, please feel free to copy these out wherever you like, should you be so inclined.

Benvenuto tutti. Greetings everyone!

Welcome to the first installment of a short series of articles detailing some of the duels in Italy during the 16th Century. I have noticed some discussion recently concerning the validity of the “duel” when performed with armor or where multiple persons are involved, such as in a melee. As such I’ve decided to provide some documentation for anyone who might be interested in such things as they pertain to the Duel for Honor and the Duel for Glory. All of these examples can be found in The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel: A Study in Renaissance Social History by Frederick R. Bryson, Ph. D., The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL,

  1. These accounts are related from his research into primary and secondary source accounts of duels in Italy in the sixteenth-century.

A note about some of the terms you will find here. A Duel for Honor, was a duel fought over some actual or perceived slight to honor, as most of us are at least somewhat acquainted with, and is what we typically think of as a “duel”. The Duel for Glory is a duel fought to show one’s valor and courage (since honor was held to be comprised most highly and publicly of the virtues of valor and justice). The Duel for Glory, while fought with sharp weapons, was never a fight to the death, unless such was accidental. Finally the duel “alla macchia” was a duel that was informal and fought in an out of the way spot with no judge and no rules, per se. Such duels were generally highly frowned upon, but would often be resorted to because a ruling noble could not be found who would grant a dueling field or because the duel was not strictly a duel in that the parties were emotionally involved and wanted to taste each others blood. (The Italian duel was not supposed to be a fight with emotional involvement, but a measure of last resort entered into rationally and justly.) Finally Dr. Frederick Bryson also mentions that writers on the duel in the period mentioned another type of duel that was, “as sometimes in the case of tournaments, a formal combat between groups.”

All translations from Italian in the following accounts were done by Dr. Bryson. So let’s get on with the accounts.

A duel alla macchia in Naples in 1490 as recorded in Giambattista Giraldi’s Ecatommiti (1565): “Both parties were enamored of a young Neapolitan woman named Licina. She had fallen in love with Ercole, but Pandonio asked him to renounce his pretensions, and also declared that she was inconstant. Ercole thereupon gave him the lie. Since they were near the apartments of the king, they could not fight immediately, and moreover the king did not grant fields for duels. So Pandonio said that early that next morning he would be outside Naples at the place were horses were trained and that they would fight on horseback, with no armor, and only with swords.”

“Next day at the appointed place, as soon as they saw each other, they spurred their horses and attacked without a word. In the course of the fight Pandonio dropped his sword, whereupon Ercole generously drew back and invited him to dismount and recover it.” (Dr. Bryson notes here that “Such acts of generosity, which were discussed in connection with the formal duel, were perhaps rare in a duel ‘alla macchia’.”) “After Pandonio had again mounted and they had exchanged strokes, Ercole wounded his opponent twice in the head; and he would finally have killed him if some knights, who had heard of the contest, had not arrived and stopped the fight. Ercole told them that he had not sought Pandonio’s life and that he was satisfied because they had seen the victory. Pandonio wished to continue the fight, but the knights would not consent. Thereupon the king, learning that Licina loved Ercole, commanded that Pandonio should leave them in peace. After Ercole had become duke of Ferrara, when Pandonio was passing through that domain Ercole sent for him, showed him great honor, and said that he was the bravest knight against whom he had ever fought.”

I mention the above duel because it provides negative evidence suggesting that there would be no need to mention a duel without armor if duels were normally fought without armor.

Next time: A duel of twelve.

Honos Servio, Lionardo Acquistapace, Barony of Axemoor, Meridies

(mka Lenny Zimmermann, New Orleans, LA)

“A soldier uses arms merely with skill, whereas a knight uses them with virtuous intention.” - Pomponio Torelli, 1596.