The Last Duel
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About the Author

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.

Reviews

Basing his narrative on original chronicles, legal records, and other surviving documents as well as secondary sources, Jager (English, UCLA) presents a vivid re-creation of "the last judicial duel sanctioned by the Parlement of Paris" and a painstakingly documented picture of courtly love, pride, dishonor, and judgment in 14th-century France. Upon his return from a military expedition, Jean de Carrouges was informed by his wife, Marguerite, that she had been raped and was pregnant by Jacques LeGris, a squire at the court of Count Pierre and once a friend of de Carrouges but now a rival. Marguerite brought charges of brutal assault and rape against LeGris; LeGris brought countercharges of unfounded accusations against Marguerite. "Where the sources disagree," Jager warns, noting that people often made contradictory claims in court, "I give the most likely account of events." Jager suggests that the contemporary notoriety of this public trial by combat might have hastened "the demise of an institution...regarded as one of the most barbarous judicial practices of the Middle Ages." Despite this plausible thesis, this is a purchase most suitable for libraries with an interest in the period. Recommended for large public libraries. Robert C. Jones, Warrensburg, MO Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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.

"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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