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   Murder, Rape, and Treason: Judicial Combats in the Late Middle Ages
   Deeds of Arms, Volume 5
 

Price: $26.95
Item Number: FAP000054
ISBN: 978-1-937439-41-5
Dimensions: 7" x 10"
Pages: ix + 136 pp. B&W softcover w/color plates
Published: November 2019

Deeds of arms – formal, limited combats – were an important part of late medieval warrior culture, allowing men-at-arms the chance to display their identities and establish their martial worth before an audience that included their peers, their lords and captains, and the ladies who inspired them. Among the most interesting, unusual and prominent deeds of arms were the judicial duels of the late Middle Ages (14th and 15th centuries).

The word "duel" suggests to modern audiences a conflict over honor, but although medieval trials by combat were likewise concerned with issues of reputation and shame, their purpose was judicial: a method of reaching a verdict when other methods could not. If evidence or testimony was not clear or was rejected by participants in a legal case, one could always turn to God. But there was, in fact, no guarantee of clarity even in the case of the duel, and unlike their portrayal in popular media, it was rare for duels to be fought to a lethal conclusion. A settlement was often negotiated before the trial was ever fought, or halted by the judge in mid-combat before either combatant could be slain.

For a millennium, the trial by battle had been a fairly routine part of law enforcement in many parts of Europe, but by the second half of the 13th century, they were increasingly restricted to adjudicating guilt for capital crimes such as murder, rape, and treason. Yet even as such combats became increasingly rare, their scarcity lent them an aura of prestige, making the late 14th century a golden age for duels, drawing a great deal of popular, clerical and legal attention. The cases in which duels were approved were often controversial, as was the legal procedure itself. Was the result of a judicial combat truly an expression of the will of God? Medieval lawyers and ordinary observers often had their doubts. The controversies surrounding duels resulted in a number of late medieval duels being recorded in some detail. These duels are therefore among the best-known medieval deeds of arms, and accounts of some of the most sanguine, unusual or controversial are contained herein.

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