Duelling and the Articles of War

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Duelling and the Articles of War

Post by Grammont »

Article 21 of the Articles of War states:

If any person in the fleet shall quarrel or fight with any other person in the fleet, or use reproachful or provoking speeches or gestures, tending to make any quarrel or disturbance, he shall, upon being convicted thereof, suffer such punishment as the offence shall deserve, and a court martial shall impose

Did this effectively outlaw duelling in the Royal Navy and, if so, how effective was it in practice?

In the US Navy where duelling appears to have been totally out of control, according to one report, the United States Navy lost two-thirds as many officers from duelling during the first fifty years of its history as from the wars during the period.
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Re: Duelling and the Articles of War

Post by Navclio »

That's §II, ¶23 of "An Act for amending, explaining and reducing into one Act of Parliament, the Laws relating to the Government of His Majesty's Ships, Vessels and Forces by Sea, 22 Geo. II c. 33, also known as the 1749 Naval Act. There is a less definite provision in "An Act for the Establishing Articles and Orders for the regulateing and better Government of His Majesties Navies Ships of Warr & Forces by Sea," 13 Car. II c. 9 (1661): "None shall quarrel or fight in the Ship nor use reproachfull or provokeing speeches tending to make any quarrel or disturbance upon paine of Imprisonment and such other punishment as the Offence shall deserve and the Court martiall shall impose."

I don't have any legal commentary or analysis of dueling in the British navy in the 18th century. My understanding from occasional mentions is that it was an offense to challenge a superior to a duel, because that would allow you to kill him. I do know that after the Battle of Havana (October 1, 1748), which occasioned a bitter set of courts-martial in which the seven captains were divided into three supporters of the admiral and four supporters of the captain who brought charges against him (including the accuser), a duel was fought in London between one of the captains in each faction. One of the duelists was mortally wounded. Before he expired, he forgave the other captain (I don't recall who had challenged whom). The survivor was charged with homicide, but was pardoned by King George II.

For a recent study of dueling specifically in the British navy, you could read Mark Barton, "Duelling in the Royal Navy," The Mariner's Mirror, 100:3 (August 2014). I found this with a simple Google search for "duelling royal navy". It is available on line at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00253359.2014.935142?journalCode=rmir20 but you will probably have to pay for access.

Another hit from that search, an on-line excerpt from Mark Barton and John McGrath, British Naval Swords and Swordsmanship (Barnsley, S. Yorks.: Seaforth Publishing, 2013), 12:

"Duelling was illegal in Britain from the time of James I, but the habit spread particularly amongst military officers. this meant the winner of a duel may well have been subject to criminal charges such as murder. This trait of honour had a negative side as the Royal Navy, like so many other institutions, was not immune from the habit of dueling. In 1749 two Royal Navy Captains, Clark and Innes, had a disagreement and felt that the only way they could settle it was by duel. Clark killed Innis and was charged with murder. He was sentenced to death but luckily the King pardoned him." Clark and Innis were the two Battle of Havana captains.

Dueling was widespread in the American ante bellum South, but most officers were from northern states. It may be that killing someone in a duel was legally homicide in the U.S., too, but that convictions were rare or non-existent. However, I think that former Vice-President Aaron Burr and former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton had to go to New Jersey to fight their duel (fatal for Hamilton) because if one was killed the survivor would have been prosecuted in New York (they were both residents of New York City).
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Re: Duelling and the Articles of War

Post by Wysocki »

That's an insane statistic about dueling in the US Navy. I would like to see the exact numbers. Can anyone point me to the information please?
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