The Duel in European History

Honour and the Reign of Aristocracy

Victor Kiernan
With an Introduction by David Blackbourn


A fascinating history of the cultural and political impact of duelling.

For centuries, duelling played an integral role in the preservation of the aristocratic order in Europe, defying attempts by both church and state to ban the practice. Moreover, the romance and drama of the duel has made it an enduring fixture in films, literature, and the theatre.

In The Duel in European History, renowned historian Victor Kiernan writes with his characteristic wit and insight of duelling's evolution from its medieval origins – when it was regarded as a badge of rank - to the early twentieth century, by which time it was seen as an irrational anachronism. In doing so, he shows how the duelling tradition was something unique to Europe and its colonies, and, in its contribution to the development of the officer corps, played a key part in shaping European military power.

Drawing on a vast range of historical and cultural sources, this is the definitive account of a violent ritual that continues to fascinate even today.

Author Bio

Victor Kiernan (1913–2009) ranks among Britain's most distinguished historians. Over the course of his life he authored such works as The Lords of Human Kind, America: From White Settlement to World Hegemony, Shakespeare: Poet and Citizen, and numerous others, as well as translating two volumes of Urdu poetry.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction by David Blackbourn
  • 1. The Problem of the Duel
  • 2. Ancient and Primitive Analogies
  • 3. Europe of the Knights
  • 4. Emergence of the Modern Duel
  • 5. The Spread of the Duel
  • 6. The Duel at its Apogee
  • 7. Grudges and Grievances
  • 8. Procedure and Etiquette
  • 9. The Psychology of Honour
  • 10. Honour and Enlightenment
  • 11. Decline and Rebirth
  • 12. Britain: The Final Decades
  • 13. Walter Scott and Honour
  • 14. Later British Writers
  • 15. Western Europe: The Last Hundred Years
  • 16. Under the Old Monarchies
  • 17. Europe Overseas
  • 18. Epilogue and Retrospect
  • Works Cited
  • Index


'V. G. Kiernan’s great study.'
The New Yorker

'Stuffed with excellent anecdotes.'
New York Review of Books

'One can scarcely fail to be impressed by the width of Kiernan’s knowledge. This is a very entertaining and thought-provoking volume … it continues to be an excellent introduction to the duel.'


Publication Date: 15 July 2016
368 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781783608386
Hardback: 9781783608393
eBook ePub: 9781783608416
eBook PDF: 9781783608409
eBook Kindle: 9781783608423

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