SOON TO BE 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.
“Succeeds brilliantly in combining page-turning intensity with eye-opening insights into the bizarre ritual of judicial combat in the Middle Ages.” —The Times (London)
“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.” —Kirkus Reviews
“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
"As the huge crowd seethed with pent-up excitement, the two deadly enemies studied each other intently, their breath hot behind their visors. Each sought the other's death as fire and water seek each other's annihilation. The walled field, at first a prison, now became a crucible where one man would be destroyed and the other purged in the name of justice. They would fight not only without quarter, but also without rules. And a horrible fate awaited the lady if her husband should lose . . .
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
In 1386, a few days after Christmas, a huge crowd gathers at a Paris monastery to watch the two men fight a duel to the death meant to "prove" which man's cause is right in God's sight. The dramatic true story of the knight, the squire, and the lady unfolds 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.
At the heart of the tale is Jean de Carrouges, a Norman knight who 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, the highest judge in France. Amid LeGris's vociferous claims of innocence and doubts about the now pregnant Marguerite's charges (and about the paternity of her child), thedeadlocked 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.
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.
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.
On a cold morning a few days after Christmas in 1386, thousands of people packed a large open space behind a monastery in Paris to watch two knights fight a duel to the death. The rectangular field of battle was enclosed by a high wooden wall, and the wall was surrounded by guards armed with spears. Charles VI, the eighteen-yearold king of France, sat with his court in colorful viewing stands along one side, while the huge throng of spectators crowded all around the field.
The two combatants, in full armor, swords and daggers at their belts, sat facing each other across the length of the field on thronelike chairs placed just outside the heavy gates at either end. Attendants held a stamping warhorse ready by each gate, as priests hurriedly cleared the field of the altar and crucifix on which the two enemies had just sworn their oaths.
At the marshal’s signal, the knights would mount their horses, seize their lances, and charge onto the field. The guards would then slam the gates shut, imprisoning the two men inside the heavy stockade. There they would fight without quarter, and without any chance of escape, until one killed the other, thus proving his charges and revealing God’s verdict on their quarrel.
The excited crowd was watching not only the two fierce warriors, and the youthful king amid his splendid court, but also the beautiful young woman sitting alone on a black-draped scaffold overlooking the field, dressed from head to toe in mourning, and also surrounded by guards.
Feeling the eyes of the crowd upon her and bracing herself for the coming ordeal, she stared ahead at the flat, smooth field where her fate would soon be written in blood.
If her champion won the judicial combat and killed his opponent, she would go free. But if he were slain, she would pay with her life for having sworn a false oath.
It was the feast day of the martyred saint Thomas Becket, the crowd was in a holiday mood, and she knew that many were eager to see not only a man slain in mortal combat but also a woman put to death.
As the bells of Paris tolled the hour, the king’s marshal strode onto the field and held up a hand for silence. The trial by combat was about to begin.