Chapter 20-21

Origin of the Point of Honour

March 21, 2020

The laws of the Barbarians are strange.

The law of the Frisians allows only half a sou in composition to a person that had been beaten with a stick. Yet for ever so small a wound it allows more.

By the Salic law, if a freeman gave three blows with a stick to another freeman, he paid three sous; if he drew blood, he was punished as if he had wounded him with steel, and he paid fifteen sous= thus the punishment was proportioned to the greatness of the wound.

The law of the Lombards established different compositions for one, two, three, four blows; and so on. At present, a single blow is equivalent to a hundred thousand.

The constitution of Charlemagne inserted in the law of the Lombards, ordains, that those who were allowed the trial by combat, should fight with bastons.

Perhaps this was out of regard to the clergy; or probably, as the usage of legal duels gained ground, they wanted to render them less sanguinary.

The capitulary of Lewis the Debonnaire, allows the liberty of chusing to fight either with the sword or baston.

In time, only bondmen fought with the baston.

Here I see the first rise and formation of the particular articles of our point of honour.

The accuser began with declaring, in the presence of the judge, that such a person had committed such an action; and the accused made answer, that he lied; upon which the judge gave orders for the duel. It became then an established rule, that whenever a person had the lie given him, it was incumbent on him to fight.

Upon a man’s declaring he would fight, he could not afterwards depart from his word; if he did, he was condemned to a penalty.

Hence this rule ensued, that whenever a person had engaged his word, honour sorbade him to recal it.

Gentlemen fought one another on horseback, and armed at all points; villains fought on foot, and with bastons. Hence it followed, that the baston was looked upon as the instrument of insults and affronts; because to strike a man with it, was treating him like a villain.

None but villains fought with their faces uncovered;

so that none but they could receive a blow on the face. Therefore a box on the ear became an injury that must be expiated with blood, because the person who received it, had been treated as a villain.

The several people of Germany were no less sensible than we of the point of honour; nay, they were more so.

Thus the most distant relations took a very considerable share to themselves in every affront, and on this all their codes are founded. The law of the Lombards ordains, that, whosoever goes attended with servants to beat a man by surprise, in order to load him with shame, and to render him ridiculous, should pay half the composition which he would owe if he had killed him; and if through the same motive he tied or bound him, he would pay three quarters of the same composition.

Let us then conclude that our forefathers were extremely sensible of affronts;

but that affronts of a particular kind, such as being struck with a certain instrument on a certain part of the body, and in a certain manner, were as yet unknown to them. All this was included in the affront of being beaten, and in this case the proportion of the excess constituted the greatness of the outrage.

Chapter 21= A new Reflection upon the Point of Honour among the Germans

Tacitus says=

“IT was a great infamy,” says , “among the Germans for a person to leave his buckler behind him in battle; for which reason many after a misfortune of this kind have destroyed themselves.”
Thus the ancient Salic law allows a composition of fifteen sous to any person that had been injuriously reproached with having left his buckler behind him. When Charlemagne amended the Salic law, he allowed in this case no more than three sous in composition. As this prince cannot be suspected of having had a design to enervate the military discipline; It is manifest that such a change was owing to that of arms, and that from this change of arms a great number of usages derive their origin.


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