Wonderful anecdote from a book called Gentleman’s Blood: a history of dueling from swords at dawn to pistols at dusk.
In France, a splendid duel was fought in 1400 between a suspected murderer and his accuser, a dog. The Chevalier Maquer killed Aubrey de Montdidier in the Forest of Bondy, near Paris, and buried the body. The only witness was Montdidier’s greyhound. The dog went back to town to a friend of his master’s and led the friend to the spot, where he whined and scratched the ground. The body was recovered and reburied, and the greyhound moved in with the friend. Shortly thereafter, it met up with Maquer and attacked him viciously; three men had to pull it off him. The dog was an otherwise gentle and amiable sort, but it kept on flying at Maquer whenever it saw him.
This was reported to the king, who decided it was definitely an accusation and arranged for the single-combat trial. The fight took place on the Ile de France in Paris, Maquer with a lance, the greyhound with its natural weapons. The dog sprang on the man with amazing ferocity and clamped its teeth around his throat and couldn’t be shaken off. Maquer screamed that he’d confess if they’d pull off the dog.
This, in contemporary eyes, proved the justice of combat trials pretty conclusively, and Maquer was hanged and strangled on the gibbet and Montfaucon.
I found the anecdote on Musings of a Mental Magpie, which includes more information about the book and the following thought:
And I can’t help wondering, as I’m reading all this, whether a return to duelling might not be a good thing for culture. Heinlein famously wrote that “an armed society is a polite society” but it wasn’t just that everybody was armed, but that there was a whole code surrounding it of what was and was not proper. Would Ann Coulter be as publically nasty if everyone she slandered had the right to slap her in the face and demand either apology or satisfaction for her insults? Honestly, that’s what Bill O’Reilly wanted from Al Franken after his drubbing at the Book Expo. [see here
] Instead, we have slander and libel suits and things like Fox vs. Franken, which are longer and slower and involve many more people and resources.
Ick. No, thank you – I remain convinced that the weak and the craven (my people!) are not by definition wrong on every issue, even though we virtually always lose duels.