The Last Duel

The Last Duel : A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat

3.97 (3,450 ratings by Goodreads)
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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.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 256 pages
  • 131 x 202 x 14mm | 181g
  • New York, NY, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 0767914171
  • 9780767914178
  • 342,294

Flap copy

"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.
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Review quote

"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
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About Eric Jager

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.
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Rating details

3,450 ratings
3.97 out of 5 stars
5 29% (1,001)
4 44% (1,524)
3 23% (777)
2 3% (119)
1 1% (29)

Our customer reviews

The story of the Last Duel focuses on the last "legalised" duel to be held in medieval France in which one man seeks justice through trial by combat. The two protagonists are a knight and a squire. First, these are misleading titles. Both are military men of comparable age; both men were - in the few years prior to the duel - of the rank of squire. One man was knighted on the field of battle - the other on the field of justice - therefore at the time of the duel both men were of equal rank. The title of squire or "escuier" was ascribed to a "battle hardened veteran" rather than the romanticised vision of a youth attending to his master. Though squire did serve their superiors, the context, in this case, as with the title of knight, is purely a military one. Now to the protagonists themselves. There was a long period of friendship between the two, which slowly dissolved as one received preference over the other; and one felt that he was more deserving of preferment than the other. Tensions finally boil over when one man accuses the other of rape and violence against his wife, culminating in the long drawn-out process of having the case examined and pondered before (to the delight of all), the duel to the death is granted. Jager goes to great lengths to fill in the background information on those involved and to enlighten the reader on the intracies of medieval French politics and law. In bringing the suit forward, the women herself, if her testimony proves false, faces a most grusesome end - to be burnt alive - and her champion, certain death. There is no half measures - at the end of the day, someone will die. I have been wanting to read this book for some time since it was recommended to me about four years ago. And I highly recommend it myself.show more
by Ms Poole
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