What Is “Trial By Combat”, What Does the Phrase Mean, and Where Did the Expression Come From?

Today the phrase “trial by combat” is generally used as a reference to lessons learned through experience.

For example, a soldier who has seen action in battle, but the term was, in fact, from a legitimate legal process also known as “judicial combat.”

In medieval Christian cultures it was agreed that God decided the outcome of trials, a belief that rooted such proceedings in the legal theory of “ordeals”.

Torture tests that God would see you through if you were innocent.

Trial by combat was practiced by the nobility and by military courts under the guise of chivalry while commoners were tried by ordeal.

The court determined a just outcome by sentencing the plaintiff and defendant to a trial by combat, a legal fight, often to the death, with the survivor or victor to be chosen by God.

Trial by combat, or judicial combat, was usually the settlement of one man’s word against that of another.

Most of these duels were fought over a question of honor and were most frequently performed in France up until the late sixteenth century.

In 1833, twenty-three-year-old John Wilson killed nineteen-year-old Robert Lyon of Perth, Ontario, in what was the last recorded mortal duel in Canada.

Wilson later became a judge in the Ontario Supreme Court.