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  • Writer's picturePaul


The 16th century French philosopher, Michel de Montaigne, once said of marriage that it should be between a “blind wife and a deaf husband.” Based on this quote, we can only speculate how blissful M. de Montaigne’s own marriage might have been, but what we do know for certain is that marriage can sometimes be a tough old game.

So, what do you do if your marriage heading for the rocks? Seek marriage counselling? Get divorced? Fight your spouse to the death in a convoluted duel?

If you said “duel to the death”—firstly, what the hell is wrong with you? And secondly, you’d have loved the German stretches of the twelfth century Holy Roman Empire. There, the courts of the day allowed marital disputes to be settled not through careful discussion and deliberation, but through all-out husband-versus-wife armed combat.

Hang on, you’re thinking. That’s hardly a a fair fight. Well, happily, the German courts agreed—so the husband, in disputes of this kind, was suitably handicapped by being made to stand in a pit ”buried therein up to his girdle” with “one hand bound at the elbow at the side”. The very definition of gender equality.

The correct way to load the dishwasher was a hot topic in the 12th century (Wikipedia)

Hang on, you’re still thinking. A brawl like this needs rules! Lots and lots of complicated rules! Well, happily, those German courts are still in complete agreement.

So as well as having to stand in a pit with one hand tied behind his back, any husband taking part in one of these battles would be given a trio of clubs with which to arm himself—but every time he touched the side of his girdle-deep pit, he would forfeit one of his bludgeons to the judges. As for the wife, she was given free rein to move around the pit however she pleased, and was given a sack full of rocks with which to try and hammer her hubby into acquiescence.

Precisely who (if anyone) came out of this ridiculous, raucous, divorce-baiting shambles as the victor isn’t well documented. But diagrams from around this time appear to show that at least one way in which the husband could secure victory over his spouse was by hauling his wife face-first into the hole. Naturally.

Alas, this form of duel died out sometime before the fourteenth century, and was never recorded anywhere else outside of the north-central Holy Roman Empire. Although a prime time Saturday TV slot surely awaits it.

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