Shoemaker, Robert B. (University of Sheffield)
The Historical Journal, 45, 3 (2002), pp. 525-545
Over the course of the ‘long’ eighteenth century the nature and significance of duels fought in the London area changed dramatically. Pistols replaced swords, seconds took on a new role as mediators, and new conventions reduced the violence. Consequently, injuries and fatalities decreased significantly. The purpose of fighting duels also shifted from the defeat of one’s antagonist to a demonstration of courage. Although duels continued to occur, growing opposition meant that the audience of people who supported duelling became increasingly limited and duels took place in places far from public view. At the same time, both the press and the courts provided alternative strategies for defending reputations. These changes cannot be attributed to technological developments, official attempts to prevent duelling, or the embourgeoisement of the duel. Rather, they resulted from a series of interlinked cultural changes, including an increasing intolerance of violence, new internalized understandings of elite honour, and the adoption of ‘polite’ and sentimental norms governing masculine conduct. These eighteenth-century changes shed new light on the reasons for the final end of duelling in England in 1852.