The 16th Century saw a notable rise in interest in the Italian culture in England. While we most often think of the rapier as the most important Italian import in to England it was not the only one. Italian courtesy manuals became immensely popular in the mid to late 16th Century, especially among the English nobility. Among the many things these treatises imparted was the Italian sense of honor and gentlemanly behavior. Previously there had certainly been courtesy books based on the Christian sense of civility however these new manuals were specifically directed towards the men of the court. These treatises placed particular emphasis on decorum, presentation, and conduction oneself so as to be thought well of by other courtiers and gentlemen. Thus this courtesy and decorum became a way to both gain and bestow honor and reputation.
There were thought to be two different kinds of honor during this time period. Vertical honor was the honor due to one’s superiority and horizontal honor was the honor due to an equal or a member of one’s peer group. Vertical honor could be increased as a man gained superiority however, horizontal honor could not. Horizontal honor was thought to be innate and served as a man’s reputation among his peers. Also known as natural honor, it was believed to have been conferred on a man at birth. Interestingly for men of the time period natural honor could only be lost, not regained. Thus it was immensely important to preserve one’s reputation and honor. In a society were the opinion of one’s peers was so very important, reputation was everything and it was vitally important to preserve their good opinion. This is why it was so important to maintain civil and courteous interaction. Gentlemen conferred honor on each other through their courteous behavior. Thus discourteous behavior meant running the risk of loosing that honor. Once one’s honor and reputation had come under question a gentleman had no other recourse to retain his status and reputation than retaliation. The only acceptable method of retaliation open to a gentleman was the duel.