The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France (Paperback)
The gripping, atmospheric true story of the duel to end all duels in medieval France: a trial by combat pitting a knight against a squire accused of violating the knight's beautiful young wife.
When Jean de Carrouges, a Norman knight, returns from combat in Scotland to find his wife, Marguerite, accusing Jacques LeGris, her husband's old friend and fellow courtier, of brutally raping her, the knight takes his cause before the teenage King Charles VI. Amid LeGris's vociferous claims of innocence and doubts about the now pregnant Marguerite's charges (and about the paternity of her child), the deadlocked court decrees a trial by combat that leaves her fate, too, in the balance. For if her husband and champion loses the duel, she will be put to death as a false accuser.
Carrouges and LeGris, in full armor, eventually meet on a walled field in Paris before a massive crowd that includes the king and many nobles of the realm. A fierce fight on horseback and then on foot ensues during which both combatants suffer wounds but only one fatal. The violent and tragic episode was notorious in its own time because of the nature of the alleged crime, the legal impasse it provoked, and the resulting trial by combat, an ancient but increasingly suspect institution that was thereafter abolished.
The dramatic true story of the knight, the squire, and the lady unfolds in 1386, during the devastating Hundred Years War between France and England, as enemy troops pillage the land, madness haunts the French court, the Great Schism splits the Church, Muslim armies threaten Christendom, and rebellion, treachery, and plague turn the lives of all into toys of Fortune. Based on extensive research in Normandy and Paris, The Last Duel brings to life a colorful, turbulent age and three unforgettable characters caught in a fatal triangle of crime, scandal, and revenge. It is at once a moving human drama, a captivating detective story, and an engrossing work of historical intrigue.
About the Author
ERIC JAGER holds a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and has also taught at Columbia University. An award-winning professor of English at UCLA, he is the author of two previous books, including The Book of the Heart (a study of heart imagery in medieval literature) and numerous articles for acclaimed academic journals. He lives in Los Angeles.
Advance Praise for The Last Duel
“This high-suspense, sanguinary tale ensnares readers. . . . The tension is nearly unendurable. . . . Sex, savagery, and high-level political maneuvers energize a splendid piece of popular history.”
“An enthralling story that reads like fiction but is based on reliable sources. A world of passion, cruelty, and mismanaged law.”
—Norman Cantor, author of Inventing the Middle Ages and In the Wake of the Plague
“If you read only one book about the Middle Ages, Eric Jager’s thriller is the one to read.”
—Steven Ozment, author of A Mighty Fortress and The Burgermeister’s Daughter
“Eric Jager uses the historical record to marvelous effect when recounting the riveting story of two men locked in mortal combat. . . . Two worlds duel in this fascinating portrait of an end of an age-the feudal aristocracy and the chivalric court—and who we deem the true victor is brilliantly left open to interpretation in Jager’s engrossing tale.”
—Margaret F. Rosenthal, author of The Honest Courtesan
“A spectacular panorama of the late Middle Ages. . . a historical thriller that leaves us with the impression of having known and lived in another world. It combines the vivid erudition of Barbara Tuchman’s Distant Mirror with the suspense and drama of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose. Eric Jager has invented a genre that reminds us that human nature has not changed very much over the ages and that sometimes reality is bigger than life and more riveting than fiction.”
—R. Howard Bloch, Augustus R. Street Professor of French, Yale University