Traditional Trial by Combat

Now that the romance of Valentine’s Day has passed, it’s time for the breakups to start. Studies have shown that breakups and divorces spike after “expectation holidays” such as V-Day. If you’re more interested in ending your relationship than waiting for that Corpse Flower to bloom, you might want to consider this medieval process couples used to resolve their differences.

A professor at the University of Oklahoma, Kenneth Hodges, has found an old German manuscript, complete with illustrations, detailing the proper procedure and battle techniques for when husbands and wives have no choice but to have a trial by combat.

This method of judgment was usually undertaken by men, but women weren’t immune to participating. If a woman was accused of a crime and wanted her fate to be determined impartially, she could demand a trial by combat and designate a champion to fight in her place. In cases where women were fighting for themselves, their opponents appear to be their husbands; perhaps because the person she would normally choose as her champion is the person she’s currently fighting.

The Process

According to the manuscript, the husband was placed in a hole that came up to his waist, and he was armed with a club. The wife would stand at the edge of the hole, and she would be given a cloth with a four or five pound stone in one end of it. His club and her sling were both the same length. Presumably, the man was in the hole in an attempt to even the playing field.

Trial by Combat

In spite of the perceived advantage of the man’s strength, the manuscript is sure to present ways either combatant might be successful.

Trial by Combat

Here she has broken away from him and attempts to strangle him.

Trial by Combat

Here he has pulled her to him and thrown her down and wishes to strangle her.

Short of death or dismemberment, it’s unclear how a winner would be decided. But it is possible that either of the following situations might have resulted in one or the other party being named the victor.

Trial by Combat

Here she has laid him on his back and wishes to strangle him and drag him out of the hole.

Trial by Combat

Here he has pulled her to him and thrown her in the hole.

If your Valentine’s Day didn’t go as planned, we hoped you can find a more civil way to work out your differences with your loved one. But if not, make sure to follow these rules for your trial by combat and keep everything within the rules.

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