Duelling law

Tomorrow is the first of February, and not only will there be a new History Carnival at The Elfin Ethicist, it is also the day that duelling law will change in the Netherlands.

The Dutch duelling law in question was written at the close of the nineteenth century. It was decided at the time that a violent private retribution for an injury to honour should be opposed in a civilized state. However, since the practice is based on a mutual agreement between the two duellists, it was also decided that a duelist who killed his opponent should be punished mildly. This nineteenth-century law therefore did not equal such a deed with murder. Our minister of justice, Piet Hein Donner, has now decided that this exception for duellists is no longer desirable, and as of tomorrow, duellists will be judged according to regular law.

Apparently, the defence in the case against the Dutch hooligans who arranged to meet for a fight in the meadows of Beverwijk in March 1997 — with fatal consequences — attempted to bring the duelling law into effect, since supporters of soccer teams Ajax and Feyenoord called each other on their mobile phones to set a date for the violent confrontation. In the end, though, the duelling law was not applied to this case of pre-arranged violence.

Interestingly, the Dutch media reporting on this change of law seem to think that a duel is a medieval joust. A commercial channel brought us reporters dressed up as knights, complete with damsels in distress, and newspapers assume that a duel is invariably fought over a woman.


5 thoughts on “Duelling law

  1. Why thanks. I am sorry that I don’t have any information about duelling and the law in the early modern period in the Low Countries — there must have been proclamations like King James’, or cases like Francis Bacon’s in the Star Chamber. If I find the time, I’ll try to find out (perhaps Markku Peltonen says something on the Netherlands as well?). Or perhaps anyone reading this knows more about this?

    A quick search in the catalogues did turn up a work by one Boris Rousseeuw entitled Eeuwig Edict over het DuelEternal edict on the duel from 1667.

  2. An update on duelling in early modern Holland — I found the following tidbit in Kiernan’s The Duel in European History:

    Holland […] emerged from its war of independence from Spain the most middle-class country of Europe. Not until 1618 was talk heard of a duel, an outlandish borrowing from France. It was a moment of political crisis, pamphlet warfare raged, and inky salvoes between two controversialists led to a challenge. Maurice of Nassau, son and successor as stadtholder William the Silent, intervened to stop things from going further. (p. 89)

    The most middle-class country in Europe, well well… But there is a logical connection there, I think, between the lack of a strong aristocracy and the lack of a duelling practice.

  3. Pingback: {clausmoser|com} » Duell in Amsterdam

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