1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Honour

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HONOUR (Lat. honos or honor, honoris; in English the word was spelled with or without the u indifferently until the 17th century, but during the 18th century it became fashionable to spell the word “honor”; Johnson’s and Webster’s Dictionaries stereotyped the English and American spellings respectively), a term which may be defined as respect, esteem or deference paid to, or received by, a person in consideration of his character, worth or position; also the state or condition of the person exciting the feeling or expression of such esteem; particularly a high personal character coupled with conduct in accordance with or controlled by a nice sense of what is right and true and due to the position so held. Further, the word is commonly used of the dignities, distinctions or titles, granted as a mark of such esteem or as a reward for services or merit, and quite generally of the credit or renown conferred by a person or thing on the country, town or particular society to which he or it belongs. The standard of conduct may be laid down not only by a scrupulous sense of what is due to lofty personal character but also by the conventional usages of society, hence it is that debts which cannot be legally enforced, such as gambling debts, are called “debts of honour.” Similarly in the middle ages and later, courts, known as “courts of honour,” sat to decide questions such as precedence, disputes as to coat armour &c. (see Chivalry); such courts, chiefly military, are found in countries where duelling has not fallen into desuetude (see Duel). In the British House of Lords, when the peers sit to try another peer on a criminal charge or at an impeachment, on the question being put whether the accused be guilty or not, each peer, rising in his place in turn, lays his right hand on his breast and returns his verdict “upon my honour.” As a title of address, “his honour” or “your honour” is applied in the United States of America to all judges, in the United Kingdom only to county court judges. In university or other examinations, those who have won particular distinction, or have undergone with success an examination of a standard higher than that required for a “pass” degree, are said to have passed “with honours,” or an “honours” examination or to have taken an “honours degree.” In many games of cards the ace, king, queen and knave of trumps are the “honours.”

Funeral or military honours are paid to a dead officer or soldier. The usual features of such a burial are as follows: the coffin is carried on a gun-carriage and attended by troops; it is covered by the national flag, on which rests the soldier’s head-dress, sword or bayonet; if the deceased had been a mounted soldier, his charger follows with the boots reversed in the stirrups; three volleys are fired over the grave after committal, and “last post” or another call is sounded on the bugles or a roll on the drums is given.

A military force is said to be accorded “the honours of war” when, after a specially honourable defence, it has surrendered its post, and is permitted, by the terms of capitulation to march out with colours flying, bands playing, bayonets fixed, &c. and retaining possession of the field artillery, horses, arms and baggage. The force remains free to act as combatants for the remainder of the war, without waiting for exchange or being considered as prisoners. Usually some point is named to which the surrendering troops must be conveyed before recommencing hostilities; thus, during the Peninsular War, at the Convention of Cintra 1808, the French army under Junot was conveyed to France by British transports before being free to rejoin the combatant troops in the Peninsula. By far the most usual case of the granting of the “honours of war” is in connexion with the surrender of a fortress. Of historic examples may be mentioned the surrender of Lille by Marshal Boufflers to Prince Eugene in 1708, that of Huningen by General Joseph Barbanègre (1772–1830) to the Austrians in 1815, and that of Belfort by Colonel P. Denfert Rochereau to the Germans in 1871.

In English law the term “honour” is used of a seigniory of several manors held under one baron or lord paramount. The formation of such lordships dates back to the Anglo-Saxon period, when jurisdiction of sac and soc was frequently given in the case of a group of estates lying close together. The system was encouraged by the Norman lords, as tending to strengthen the principles of feudal law, but the legislation of Henry II., which increased the power of the central administration, undoubtedly tended to discourage the creation of new honours. Frequently, they escheated to the crown, retaining their corporate existence and their jurisdictions; they then either remained in the possession of the king or were regranted, diminished in extent. Although an honour contained several manors, one court day was held for all, but the various manors retained their separate organizations, having their “quasi several and distinct courts.”