The Last Duel : A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France
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.
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. Agent, Glen Hartley for Writers Representatives. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 12, 2005
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Excerpt from The Last Duel by Eric Jager
CHAPTER ONE: BUTTERFLY
Stay near meýdo not take thy flight!
A little longer stay in sight!
Much converse do I find in thee,
Historian of my infancy!
ýTo a Butterflyý
I sat cross-legged on the floor of the tiny home Iýd created out of cardboard boxes. The walls were so high that all I could see if I looked up was the white-painted tongue-and-groove ceiling of the glassed-in porch so common in Connecticut in the 1940s. The porch ran the entire length of the house and smelled of mildew. Light from the windows bounced off the ceiling down to where I sat, so I didnýt need a lamp as I worked on the saddle. I was eleven years old.
It was an English saddle, my half sister Panýs, from the time before sheýd gotten married, sold her horse, and moved to New York Cityýfrom the time when we still believed things would work out all right.
I held the saddle on my lap, rubbing saddle soap into the beautiful, rich leather, over and over. . . . Make it better. I know I can make it better. The smell of saddle soap was comforting. So was the smallness of my home. This was a place where I could be sure of things. No one was allowed in here but meýnot my brother, Peter, not anyone. Everything was always arranged just soýthe saddle, the soap, the soft rags folded carefully, and my book of John Masefield poems. Neatness was important . . . something to count on.
Mother was home for a while and if I leaned forward ever so slightly, I could look out my ýdoorý down the length of the porch, to where she sat at an oilcloth-covered table on which stood a Mason jar. A butterfly would be beating its wings frantically against the glass walls of the jar, and I could see my mother pick up a cotton ball with tweezers, dip it into a bottle of ether, unscrew the top of the jar, and carefully drop in the ether-soaked ball. After a minute, I could see the butterflyýs wings begin to slow their mad fluttering, until gradually they would stop moving altogether. Peace. A whiff of ether drifted down to where I sat, making me think of the dentist. I knew just what the butterfly felt, because whenever I went to have my braces tightened, the nurse would put a mask over my nose and tell me to breathe deeply. In no time the edges of my body would begin to disappear. Sound would come to me from far away and I would feel a wonderful, cosmic abandon as I fell backward down a dark hole, like Alice to Wonderland. Oh, I wished that I could make that sensation last forever. I didnýt feel sorry at all for the butterfly.