early 14c., "harsh or severe treatment," from Old French duresse, durece, from Latin duritia "hardness," from durus "hard," from PIE *dru-ro-, suffixed variant form of root *deru- "be firm, solid, steadfast." For Old French -esse, compare fortress. Sense of "coercion, compulsion" is from early 15c.; in law, "actual or apprehended physical constraint so great as to amount to coercion" (early 15c.).