A duel could result from any challenge to a gentleman's honour, from minor insult to major accusation. At a prearranged time, two men at odds would meet, armed either with swords or pistols, to engage in a formal and sometimes fatal exchange. Gentlemen considered it their prerogative to fight, despite the illegality of duelling, and figures as prominent as the Duke of Wellington and Georges Clemenceau defended their honour in this way.
Why did participants flout the law, what codes were followed, what were the changing roles of the seconds, and what were the consequences for victims and victors? Stephen Banks answers these questions and examines the evolution from Norman trials-by-combat to the formalised duel, analysing the custom's decline in England by Victorian times and its final disappearance from Europe by the twentieth century.