This question was previously migrated from Law, but then rejected and returned on the grounds that it was already answered on Wikipedia. But this essential aspect of the question is not addressed on Wikipedia, and it is perhaps what I was most interested in. What types of weapons or protective gear would have been permitted, if any?

And would the battleground have been enclosed by a wall or a cage or similar?

I've taken the liberty to expand on the original post. This case is so well known in legal circles, being mandatory in first year law under every English Common Law Jurisdiction including the U.S.A., I think OP can be excused for thinking it might be universally recognized here also.

Brief description by en-academic.com:

"Ashford v. Thornton" was an 1818 English legal case standing for the principle that all law remains until it is repealed.

In 1817, Abraham Thornton was charged with the murder of Mary Ashford, but the jury acquitted the defendant.

Mary’s brother, William Ashford, launched an appeal at the King’s Bench. The defendant claimed the right to trial by combat, a medieval usage which had not been specifically repealed by Parliament. The prosecution stated that a law ought to become invalid if it was not used for centuries.

The court decided that all law remains until it is repealed; therefore, Thornton was granted trial by battle. Ashford declined the offer and Thornton won his case.

After this ruling, Parliament, the next year, repealed the right to trial by combat.

Links for Ashford v Thornton (1818):

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    @njuffa: I've expanded the question; and outlined why a legal student might be excused for not providing more detailed context. Nov 4, 2023 at 23:38

2 Answers 2


This would not have been "a bare-knuckle boxing match".

It would have have been a fight to the death.

The conditions are described by Rupert T. Gould in Enigmas (1963) chapter entitled "Abraham Thornton Offers Battle", page 240 in my edition.

Furthermore, the conditions governing the battle were clearly defined by ancient precedent. The combat must be staged upon the worst plot of ground, sixty feet square, that could be found within the limits of the King's Bench; and in the presence of that Bench's judges. The two parties--Appellant and Appellee--would be clothed in leather, and armed with staves. Before fighting they must make oath upon the bible that they had used no sorcery or witchcraft which might give them an unfair advantage. They would then fight, if need be, until sunset. If either man killed the other, he went scot-free. If the Appellee, Thornton, could hold out until sunset, again he went scot-free. But if he gave in--if he confessed himself "Craven"--before sunset, he would be hanged then and there: while if Ashford, the Appellant, did so, he would lose all his rights as a free man and become, in effect, outlaw. All of this, be it noted, not in the Middle ages, but in 1817--two years after Waterloo, and while parts of London were already lit by gas!

I hope this is sufficient information.

  • 2
    What sources, if any, are cited for this by Gould in footnotes or endnotes?
    – njuffa
    Nov 5, 2023 at 6:06
  • This might be useful: George Neilson, Trial by Combat. New York: Macmillan 1891, 348 pp. (scan). Separate chapters for different eras and localities (including England) and extensive footnoting. I have not had the time yet to read through it.
    – njuffa
    Nov 5, 2023 at 6:15
  • Neilson mentions Ashford v. Thornton on p. 329. The last recorded instance of actual trial by combat in England, in 1456, is described on pp. 154-157. Combatants carried staves 3 ft. long with an iron horn at one end. Right at the start the stave of one of the combatants broke, so the staves were taken away and a bare-knuckle fist fight ensued. After a while, as the combatants tired, the fight devolved into a no-holds-barred wrestling match with biting, etc. None of the other details mentioned by Gould are reflected in Neilson's account of this trial, including the "scot-free" provision.
    – njuffa
    Nov 5, 2023 at 6:43
  • What is meant by “the worst ground”? And what is meant by “the limits of the King’s bench”? Nov 5, 2023 at 22:45
  • @njuffa who were the parties to that trial in 1456? Nov 5, 2023 at 22:53

As the 9th marquess of Queensbury would not yet be born for another 28 years (in 1844), and would not propose his Marquess of Queensbury Rules for another 21 years after that (1865), this would likely have been a bare-knuckle boxing match under the 1744 Broughton Rules - possibly unless alternate rules were agreed in advance by both parties.

While Broughton was an early proponent of the use of boxing gloves, my understanding is that their use remained uncommon until well after 1818.

  • 4
    Re "this would likely have been a bare-knuckle boxing match" How do we know this? Hans Talhoffer's Fechtbuch (1467) for example includes depictions of a judicial battle between a man wielding a wooden mace and a woman swinging a stone wrapped in cloth (a handicap appears to have been applied, as the man stands in a waist-deep pit). Plates 242 to 250. I know nothing of English customs regarding judicial combat.
    – njuffa
    Nov 4, 2023 at 23:51
  • Trial by combat in England was to death, disability, or surrender, and was invariably some form of armed combat. Disability or surrender by the defendant would be followed by execution; disability or surrender by the plaintiff would be followed by outlawry.
    – Mark
    Nov 10, 2023 at 3:18

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