The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France Paperback – Sep 13 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
In 1386, Jean de Carrouges accused his former friend, Jacques LeGris, of raping his wife, and the young king of France allowed their dispute to be resolved in what was to be the last legally ordered judicial combat in Paris. Jager deftly blends this story with the background necessary to understand it: the ideas behind trial by combat, the realities of 14th-century marriage, the complexity of the regional and central powers in France, and the personal rivalries at court. Jager describes a harsh and violent era, when public executions were a form of entertainment and both commoners and elites eagerly anticipated the increasingly rare duel to the death. But it was also a time of lawyers, chroniclers and ceremony. Jager doesn't condescend to the people of medieval France but explains the complicated logic by which they could believe that a duel would prove guilt or innocence, pregnancy could be considered proof that sex had been consensual, and a lady could be convicted and executed as a false accuser if her champion lost. A brief history of the duel demonstrates its origins in age-old military tradition rather than divine providence. Jager acknowledges where the definitive facts of his story are unknown while presenting a riveting account that will satisfy general readers and historians alike.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*Starred Review* Feudal society in the Middle Ages was founded on a hierarchy of relationships between servants and lords. Improving one's station in life generally meant winning and retaining favor with one's lord. Sometimes this led to competition and jealousy among knights serving the same lord. Such was the case with Jean de Carrouges and Jacques LeGris, two fourteenth-century French nobles (one a knight, the other a squire). A rivalry formed between the once-close friends that started with jealousy, progressed into lawsuits, escalated with the alleged rape of Carrouges' wife by LeGris, and ended with a judicial duel to the death by which (it was believed) the righteous man would be revealed by God himself. Jager provides an excellent depiction of feudal society, placing the reader into the lives of knights and nobles, detailing their relationships with each other and their lords. The ongoing Hundred Years' War and each man's role in it give this personal conflict its historical context. The story of the duel and the rivalry leading up to it make for quick reading as enthralling and engrossing as any about a high-profile celebrity scandal today. Gavin Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
The over reaching question as to whether the court decision is tempting God or the logical conclusion of an age of faith is ever present.
This is certainly a must read for those interested in the Middle Ages and recomended to to anyone just looking for a good read.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In the Prologue, Eric Jager masterfully sets the scene on the battlefield to convey exactly how high the stakes were for the two noblemen --- and for Lady Marguerite de Carrouges, who would be burned at the stake as a false accuser if her husband were to lose. Jager then goes back in time to trace the sequence of events that found Carrouges and LeGris facing each other in combat. The crime against Lady Marguerite had taken place eleven months earlier, but the duel was the culmination of years of bitterness and rivalry between the two men, who had once been friends.
Jager, who first came across a reference to the Carrouges-LeGris duel a decade ago, draws on legal records, chronicles, and other historical documents to unfold the story. By putting the duel in the context of the time period, he also provides a fascinating account of life in fourteenth-century France. He describes a tumultuous era --- the volatile relationship between the French and the English, played out in numerous battles; crime and punishment, often delivered in harsh methods; religious beliefs and practices, and how they impacted medieval laws; the hierarchy of the regional and central powers in France, and the importance of land in securing one's standing; and customs, politics, and intrigues of the royal court.
The relationship between Jean and Marguerite de Carrouges also allows for a look at feudal matrimony and the rights, or lack thereof, of women during this time. Lady Marguerite, who emerges as one of the most interesting figures in the book, could not accuse LeGris directly of raping her. She had to seek her husband's championship on her behalf, as she was considered his property and so the crime was technically committed against him. Marguerite, who endured a public pregnancy in the months leading up to the duel, stood to lose her life if her husband failed on the battlefield. It would have been much easier for Marguerite to keep silent about the attack by LeGris, which occurred while her husband was on business in Paris, and Jager leaves no doubt that it took a tremendous amount of courage for her to speak out in favor of justice.
Jager also charts the surprisingly complex medieval legal system and the judicial process that ultimately resulted in the sanctioning of the duel by the French Parlement and King Charles VI. Through the different phases of the court proceedings and leading up to the duel, Jager draws out the suspense to the point where it's almost unbearable. The temptation to turn ahead will be overwhelming. Resist at all costs. Jager takes great care not to give away any details that would reveal the outcome of the duel, and to turn the pages too quickly will mean that you lose much of what this book has to offer.
Eric Jager is a professor of English at UCLA, where he specializes in medieval literature. If THE LAST DUEL is any indication of his skill in the classroom, he must be the best kind of instructor --- you learn something and have fun doing it.
--- Reviewed by Shannon McKenna
As the book begins, we are set on the scene of a chilly morning, just after Christmas, in a court bustling with holiday festivities, and the woman accuser stands watching, waiting for a combat to begin that will determine the outcome of her own life. In this tumultuous era of Kings and Serfs, she will be put to death if her champion dies in combat. It was clear early on that this would be a book that would enchant and enthrall me, and sure enough, it did! Compared to other books on the topic like Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal (altho fascinating), it's a real page turner!
The final straw, the crime that led the principals in this story to seek one another's death before thousands of spectators and King Charles VI himself, was Le Gris's alleged rape of Carrouges's wife. Marguerite de Carrouges maintained that Le Gris had attacked her while her husband was away from home. The events of that day--whatever happened to Marguerite in fact--led inexorably to a walled-in jousting field on which the two combatants stabbed and hacked and beat one another until one of them lay dead.
Jager does a simply excellent job in this book. He builds the story of Carrouges and Le Gris carefully, describing the causes for complaint between the two and the progress of their feud as well as its historical and social context. We learn in the process about the history of judicial combat and the surprising particulars of the battle itself. The event was not, as one might suppose, an occasion for revelry, with rowdy onlookers yelling insults or encouragement at the fighters. It was instead a solemn event, and impossibly harsh strictures were laid on the spectators to guarantee their good behavior: anyone who rose from his seat during the fight was to be penalized by the loss of a hand; coughing was punishable by death. Most of us would probably quail at the prospect of merely attending such an event, let alone participating in it.
But Jager's account is not only informative, it is downright riveting. Because the author has so carefully described the antecedents to the fight and the harsh consequences for the combatants--and for Marguerite herself--riding on the battle's outcome, readers will have their emotions and intellect invested in the story by the time they arrive at Jager's blow-by-blow account of the duel: I defy anyone to put the book down during its penultimate chapter.
Whether Le Gris was guilty or innocent is a question that has been debated for centuries, and convincing arguments can be made in support of either position. Jager makes his own opinion about the matter clear, but to his credit he does not obscure the ambiguity inherent in the case, leaving plenty of room for readers to debate for themselves this most fascinating piece of legal history.
Reviewed by Debra Hamel, author of Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece