The Many Variations of Trial by Combat

The variations of Medieval trial by combat were enormous. For example, 13th century English law required a robber turned "kings Evidence" to pledge to convict all his accomplices before recieving his pardon. These convictions were to be obtained via trial by combat if necessary, and the accused could challenge the turncoat robber to trial by combat before that testimony was proven. The court was pledged to pay for his outfitting to do such combat by sustaining him with a stipend and equipment for battle until his freedom or death was attained. A "bill" noted from 1190 in Lincolnshire showed an expence of one thousand ducats (15s 10d) for a certain man plus fifty ducats (1s) per diem, in addition to the 300 ducats (6s) for three combats and charges for the carts and horses to bring the accused criminals from Lincoln to London for the combat.

As this was all part of the judicial process, there were many stipulations that had to be met. Each "country" or region had its own pecularities. One fairly universal requirement was the avowing that no "soceries" were employed by either combatant. In 1355 a case developed between the Bishop of Salisbury and the Earl of Salisbury, both contesting ownership of certain lands. Upon examining the combatants personages, the judges found that the champion for the Bishop had secreted many scripts and prayers into his garb. He was disqualified and the Bishop made to pay 187,500 ducats (1,500) marks for the property.

A typical pledge before combat went something like this:

"This hear you Justices, that I have this day neither eaten, drunk, nor

have upon me either bone, stone, ne glass, or any enchantment, socery or

witchcraft where-through the power of God might be strengthened or

diminished, nor the devils power increased, and that my appeal is true,

so help me God and his saints, and by this book." (circa 1571)

A curious Saxon law, allowed the victim of an assault to claim right to combat against as many men as he had wounds. But only for those wounds of a certain severity. While the Swabians would allow a victim of assault relief on the field only if permanent maiming had occurred from the injuries sustained in the attack upon himself.

The French had outlined processes for implimentation of the legal battle even after the duel was widely frowned upon by both church and "state." Judicial dueling was abolished by the saintly king Louis in the 1260's, but the good king was so busy crusading that no one paid much attention to his edicts against dueling..

Another variation in the procedure was criminal cases where the accuser could claim the Right to combat against the defendant, who had to accept or plead guilty to the charges. But the defendant could be denied the combat against his accuser, by the judge where his guilt was "too widely known".

Class was also an issue when it came to dueling. Serfs could not challenge a freeman, nor a bastard a man of legitimate birth, but two bastards could fight, or a serf could challenge another serf with his masters permission, a leper could not seek combat with a healthy man. Civil actions were not allowed combat in cases of dowery, underage orphans, guardianships, or a kinsmans right to inheritable property below a value of 12 d. Brother could not challenge brother in civil cases, but could in criminal ones. In Flanders freemen who married women beneath them lost their higher rights to combat after the passage of one year.

The Germans had more broad limitations, much more emphasis was placed on rank of challenger and accused, with the higher afforded the right to refuse combat with the lesser without penalty. Natives were granted refusal rights when the claimant was from a diffenert territory. In cases of homicide there were no refusals allowed.

The 13th century English could only bring about combat in "doubtful" cases where jury decisions were not possible. Cases of violence were settled by jury but cases of suspected poisoning had the choice of confession or combat.

Once battle was begun no withdrawl was permitted, without stiff fines placed upon the man backing out. In cases of Treason, only trial by combat was allowed. (unlike the Lombards who prohibited combat in treason cases.)

The variations were endless throughout Europe.