Divorces are usually pretty messy: Families unravel, mutual friends are forced to choose sides and children get caught in the crossfire. Medieval Germany took “messy” to a whole new level. In 1467,German fencing master Hans Talhoffer created the “Fechtbuch” or “Fight Book.” This combat manual contained various detailed images of men and women fighting to the death. These “divorce duels” were a last resort in settling marital disputes or ensuring a judge’s impartiality.
The images, attached with specific combat instructions, are quite shocking. The images provide both genders with tips and strategies to thwart their spouse-turned-opponent.
Historical analysis shows that divorce duels were real and actually kind of common. Let’s take a look through the intense history of spousal combat!
The Origins of Judicial Duels
According to University of Oklahoma Associate Professor Kenneth L. Hodges, trial by combat started to fade out as the Middle Ages drew to a close. But, it was still a part of the accepted legal theory throughout the Renaissance.
You may be wondering: Why would an established legal system still allow duels at all? One of the reasons is that judges operated as extensions of the king. Therefore, accusations of treason pitted the defendant against the sovereign himself.
So, in order to keep things fair and square, the accused could demand trial by combat. This trial was an impartial battle against whoever the king put up to fight. Guilt or innocence was determined by the survivor.
Why Women Chose Divorce Duels
Hodges research also showed it was very common for men and women to settle marital disputes in state-sanctioned combat. But there are some skeptics who find this claim surprising, if not unlikely.
This is for a couple of reasons:First, the woman was at an obvious physical disadvantage. In addition, women were subjugated to an overwhelming amount of religious and political discrimination that would never allow them a real shot at hurting a man.
But, Talhoffer’s manual and further research revealed understandable reasons why a woman might want or have to take the risk.
For example, the man she would normally pick to fight on her behalf is the man she’d *currently* be trying to kill. So, she has to fight instead. Also, the legal system went through almost comical lengths to provide an “even” playing field.
Talhoffer’s images show the man positioned in a hole with a club and the woman standing above him with a rock-filled cloth. Sure, seems fair enough…
The idea was that both weapons would be the same length. And the woman would be given an advantage in mobility. But, Talhoffer’s descriptions of how the fights could occur were even more crazy.
Talhoffer’s Tips on Divorce Duels
As a combat expert, Talhoffer was definitely qualified to imagine and document all of the different strategic moves a battling husband and wife could use to settle a dispute. Divorce duels in medieval Germany must have been a sight to behold (as seen below in Talhoffer’s descriptions).
Scroll and take a look at these combat photos!