The Last Duel
A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE • “A taut page-turner with all the hallmarks of a good historical thriller.”—Orlando Sentinel
The gripping true story of the duel to end all duels in medieval France as a resolute knight defends his wife’s honor against the man she accuses of a heinous crime
In the midst of the devastating Hundred Years’ War between France and England, Jean de Carrouges, a Norman knight fresh from combat in Scotland, returns home to yet another deadly threat. His wife, Marguerite, has accused squire Jacques Le Gris of rape. A deadlocked court decrees a trial by combat between the two men that will also leave Marguerite’s fate in the balance. For if her husband loses the duel, she will be put to death as a false accuser.
While enemy troops pillage the land, and rebellion and plague threaten the lives of all, Carrouges and Le Gris meet in full armor on a walled field in Paris. What follows is the final duel ever authorized by the Parlement of Paris, a fierce fight with lance, sword, and dagger before a massive crowd that includes the teenage King Charles VI, during which both combatants are wounded—but only one fatally.
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. The Last Duel is at once a moving human drama, a captivating true crime story, and an engrossing work of historical intrigue with themes that echo powerfully centuries later.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
A nonfiction story written by a professor of medieval literature may not sound like a rip-roaring thriller, but trust us, it reads like one. The Last Duel tells the story of close friends Jacques Le Gris and Jean de Carrouges, who are torn apart when de Carrouges’ wife accuses Le Gris of rape back in 1386. At the time, France’s extremely religious society believed that a duel would reveal God’s judgment, helping the truth-telling man vanquish the liar. Eventually, the two men’s head-to-head battle is attended by thousands of spectators. Eric Jager provides fascinating historical detail on everything from how medieval armor worked (and why it often didn’t) to France’s complex court system and the era’s stark attitudes about sexuality. The tension amps up even further as we try to guess at the fates of everyone involved in the duel, including the victim—if her husband loses the duel, she’ll be executed for a false accusation. If you’re a fan of Erik Larson’s immersive histories, The Last Duel is going to be your next favorite book.
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.
Interesting account of the last judicial duel in France within the jurisdiction of its judicial parliament. Somewhat marred in this reader’s view by the author’s speculations about what his protagonists « might have », « must have », « would have », or « could have » done, thought, or felt. Nonetheless, a readable account of a long misrepresented affair in French legal history.
Reads like a novel and managed to make me emotional invested in the fates of three strangers seven hundred years ago.