Good dog wins duel

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.

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10 Responses to Good dog wins duel

  1. 1
    JRC says:

    I remain convinced that the weak and the craven (my people!)

    Heh, that made me laugh out loud. Amp, stuff like this is why I love your site so.


  2. 2
    Lis says:

    Keep in mind that although the idea of the private duel did derive out of the tradition of trial by combat, the two are separate things. In Western Europe, trial by combat mostly ended in the mid-1500s, and customs varied. Some jurisdictions allowed people to hire professionals to fight for you. And I’m rather fond of this example from the book:

    In Denmark, their justice was held to be so perfectly calibrated that no one needed to hire a proxy and even little old ladies had to defend themselves in person, though efforts were made to level the playing field. If she was defending her case against a man, the man had to stand waist-deep in a pit while she circled around him whacking him with a stone in a leather sling and he flailed back at her with a club. If he missed her three times, she was innocent, with her honor restored.

    As far as our types always losing duels to the jocks,

    (a) that’s one of the differences between pistols and swords. Swords offer much more refinement and control (experts could settle disputes with a single scratch to the arm) but also required much more practice, which thus favored the wealthy.

    (b) that’s partly the role of the seconds, both to try to defuse the fight and to ensure fairness (with handicapping as needed (as in golf, not the Godfather)). And the book is full of many cases where two parties send letters back and forth for months — they never actually duel, but the threat of a duel is enough to keep them speaking and negotiating, just as a lawsuit holds similar threat today.

    (c) depending on the regional customs, oftentimes the person challenged set many of the terms. Even if Bill O’Reilly could challenge Al Franken, he couldn’t dictate the weapons or time and place. It would’ve be up to Al for how to respond, whether he decided to apologize, shoot it out as O’Reilly wanted, or chose some other terms (drinking contest? battle of wits?)

    I finished the book on Friday — the last third drags a little bit, but it picks up near the end with Pushkin’s life story.
    And it did confirm something else I had suspected: the Geneva Convention comes out of some of the duelling codes — I thought that gentlemanly assurance of fairness might — and the fact that America seems unwilling to abide by them only proves that fair duelling will never make a comeback.

  3. 3
    Ampersand says:

    I don’t have a response, Lis, but I want to thank you for a great post. :-)

    (And thanks to you as well for the flattery, JRC!)

  4. 4
    Echidne says:

    The dog duel is the most interesting thing I’ve read recently! Thanks for sharing that. I like to think that my dogs would do the same for me, but that would probably depend on how much food there would be in the vicinity. Still, one can dream!


  5. 5
    Lis says:

    I first heard about the dog duel on NPR’s Only a game a few months ago, and that was part of what drew me to buy the book. If you listen to the story, she also shares a great tale about two men who decided their dispute was so elevated as to require an equally elevated setting — so duelled in hot air balloons…

  6. 6
    Next to Last Samurai says:

    I would pay serious money to watch a duel between Al Franken and Bill O’Reilly.

  7. 7
    karpad says:

    now, was it Stonewall Jackson who, when challenged to a duel chose “shotguns at 5 paces?”

    the other party backed down, as I recall the story…

  8. 8
    Sempo says:

    Hi I saw you were talking about your dog ;-)
    I’m a black labrador called Sam, and im chairman of
    (a search engine club for animals)

    Please come see! We’re having soooo much fun and we’d love it if your pets would join too!


    Sam ~ Woof Woof!

  9. Pingback: 10 Paces and Turn… « The News from BardHaven

  10. 9
    Sailorman says:

    depending on the regional customs, oftentimes the person challenged set many of the terms.

    Yes: generally the challenged party could choose location and weapons as well as mechanism, provided that they were not obviously biased. This permitted the weaker party, when challenged, the opportunity to eliminate some of their opponent’s disadvantages (if they were smart enough to think about it and figure out how.)

    For those fellow nautical fiction buffs, I need point no further than the first book of the hornblower series to show an excellent example.

    In simple form this makes it difficult for the weak folks, who are then unable to challenge anyone (since they then lose their advantage.) in theory this was often handled by social dislike for people who duelled and slew those who wee obviously in an unfair fight.