Book review: The Last Duel by Eric Jager

The Last Duel by Eric Jager

It’s the 14th century, northern France, and you’ve just come home to hear your wife tell you that the man you both trusted as a friend has raped her while you were away. This is what happened to Jean de Carrouges. His wife, Marguerite, was accusing his erstwhile friend, Jacques le Gris, of rape. The two men had once been very close but the friendship had soured over the years. But rape…

There were no witnesses. Jacques le Gris had powerful friends, including Count Pierre who was the patron of both Jean and Jacques. There could be no trial at law. The only recourse open to Jean was to take the case to the king and ask for God to settle the truth through trial by combat. But Jacques was the younger man by many years. If God did not take matter into His own hands – and Jean was experienced enough as a soldier to know that the good and the true did not, by any means, always win – then not only would he lose his life but, having been found guilty of perjury through trial by combat, then his wife, Marguerite, would be executed too, burnt to death at the stake.

It made more sense to let the matter lie.

But Jean was a stubborn, prickly man who loved his wife and who had come to hate Jacques le Gris. He would not let the matter lie.

Eric Jager expertly lays out the background, both social and family, that led to the last judicial duel in French history and then leads us up to the denoument: the battle to the death. It’s a fascinating recreation of another world, a world of honour and blood and death. I won’t say who wins the duel: read the book yourself to find out.


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