The Last Duel is the true story of a duel—the last duel, in December 1386, sanctioned by the Parlement of Paris, conducted between two former friends, the knight Jacques le Gris and the squire Jean de Carrouges, over the alleged rape of Carrouges’s wife by le Gris. The trial and duel took over a year to complete, and it attracted the attention of people all over Europe. The eighteen-year old King Charles VI even postponed the duel so that he could attend.
Set against the historic backdrop of the Hundred Years’ War, The Last Duel is primarily a legal history. The late fourteenth century was a litigious time in France, and it seems as though Le Gris and Carrouges were extremely contentious men—and both made some extremely foolish, un-tactful decisions, in an era when tact was valued at court.
Everything about the trial, and trial by combat, was uncertain: did Le Gris ever really rape Marguerite? Or was it a case of mistaken identities? Either way, the outcome of the case was tragic for everybody; if God decided that Carrouges was in the wrong, and he lost the duel, his wife Marguerite would be burned at the stake—alive.
The author does repeat himself—I think he mentions several times that sanctioned dueling was rare, and that Carrouges had a contentious personality. But the material in the book is presented in an interesting way, one that holds the reader’s interest inside and out. Even someone familiar with late fourteenth century legal history will find something new here. And for those who aren’t as familiar with medieval history will find that the author explains various medieval legal terms. It’s an extremely readable account of a long-forgotten trial. It’s a quick read, too—a little over 200 pages, and it doesn’t feel as though there’s any “filler” material here.