The True Story Behind The Last Duel—and History’s Attempt to Erase It

Warning: This publish incorporates spoilers for The Final Duel.

“Do you swear in your life that what you say is true?” This query, posed to Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer), encapsulates the true historical past behind The Final Duel, director Ridley Scott’s new movie opening in theaters Oct. 15. Based mostly on the 2004 e book of the identical title by Eric Jager, a professor of English on the College of California, Los Angeles and a specialist in medieval literature, the movie makes use of its titular occasion—the final judicial duel in French historical past, held in Paris in December 1386—to delve deeply into the Middle Ages’ complicated politics of gender, feminine company, religious morality and sexual ethics.
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On the coronary heart of The Final Duel lies a historic thriller, nonetheless not definitively solved over 600 years later: was the noblewoman Marguerite de Carrouges raped by the squire Jacques Le Gris? However past the thriller itself is the shocking method that Marguerite’s story was remodeled and all but erased within the centuries after the occasions of the movie, reinterpreted to serve mental agendas with little consideration for the life on the heart of the story. Whereas The Final Duel gives some vindication to Marguerite, all that got here subsequent—the story of how her life was recorded and reshaped within the historic document—reveals each how simply marginalized voices could be faraway from historical past even by historic figures we respect and the way lengthy it may take to revive these voices to their correct place.

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A duel because the final resort to settle a life-or-death dispute

Patrick Redmond—© 2021 twentieth Century StudiosJodie Comer as Marguerite de Carrouges in ‘The Final Duel’

In line with Marguerite, Le Gris (performed within the movie by Adam Driver) traveled to her household’s chateau in Capomesnil the place she was staying on January 18, 1386 and raped her. Marguerite had no one who could confirm her story: her husband Jean de Carrogues (performed by Matt Damon) had set out on a journey to Paris to gather some desperately wanted funds and the servants had been out for the day with Marguerite’s mother-in-law.

Regardless of the shortage of witnesses, Le Gris actually had motive and alternative. In his private life, Le Gris had a fame as a philanderer. Le Gris and Jean had as soon as been shut buddies, however their relationship turned to rivalry over a dispute relating to land Marguerite’s household owned. Shortly earlier than Jean departed for Paris, he and Le Gris confronted each other within the courtroom of Rely Pierre d’Alençon (performed by Ben Affleck); Le Gris discovered round this time that Jean could be leaving Marguerite alone.

Marguerite’s accusations carried critical ramifications for medieval French society. On the one hand, the punishment for rape, if confirmed, meant dying for the offender and dishonor for the rapist’s household. On the opposite, the punishment for false accusations was additionally dying, through burning on the stake.

Making an attempt to win again the distinction of his spouse and household, Jean accused Le Gris of rape on Marguerite’s behalf to Pierre d’Alençon however, whether or not as a result of Le Gris was a favourite of Pierre’s or as a result of Pierre had feuded with Jean on the land dispute—or just because he didn’t consider Marguerite—the depend chalked Marguerite’s testimony as much as a dream, a female flight of fancy. Enraged, Jean rode to Paris and appealed to King Charles VI, difficult Le Gris to a duel, an unusual method for nobles to settle capital offenses. After months of futile investigation by the French courts, together with Marguerite’s highly effective testimony and a counter-witness by Le Gris, the courts had no different selection however to let the duel proceed, permitting God to determine the victor. As Jean Le Coq, Le Gris’ lawyer, wrote in his non-public diary, “No one really knew the truth of the matter.”

Although the actual duel was between Le Gris and Jean, the movie portrays the true battle as Marguerite de Carrouges versus the political mores of her day, as she struggles to persuade these round her, from the Church to her household to the French king to the widespread peasant, that what she says is true. The movie splits its focus between Le Gris, Jean, and Marguerite, with Le Gris and Jean’s parts of the story written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and Marguerite’s written by Nicole Holofcener. Nevertheless, regardless of this break up focus, Marguerite clearly emerges because the story’s true protagonist. Jodie Comer’s highly effective efficiency not solely does justice to the girl she’s portraying, but additionally makes her a powerful contender for this 12 months’s awards season. If the movie missteps, it’s as a result of it doesn’t permit Comer, and consequently Marguerite’s narrative, extra display screen time.

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The story will get revised by Enlightenment thinkers

Patrick Redmond—© 2021 twentieth Century StudiosAdam Driver as Jacques LeGris and Matt Damon as Jean de Carrouges in ‘The Final Duel’

Nevertheless, Scott’s Duel solely depicts half of Marguerite’s story. Though Jean received the duel and succeeded in defending Marguerite’s honor, the occasion would tackle a controversial lifetime of its personal within the following centuries. Inside a number of many years, interval chroniclers disagreed in regards to the duel’s particulars and disputed Le Gris’ guilt. Some wrote, as Jager recounts in Lapham’s Quarterly, that Jean solely received as a result of Le Gris “slipped on his opponent’s blood.” Others wrote a few supposed deathbed confession by a felon who, having a last-minute change of coronary heart, admitted that he, not Le Gris, had raped Marguerite.

Enlightenment thinkers within the 18th century adopted this revision of Le Gris’ character to advance their very own mental agendas. Positioning itself in distinction to the purportedly superstitious Middle Ages (now reimagined because the “Darkish Ages”), the Enlightenment prized rationality above all else. Figures like Locke, Rousseau and Voltaire—thought-about by some trendy historians an early feminist—made compelling circumstances for human rights, gender equality and the pure dignity of all peoples no matter age, gender or race, which makes the Enlightenment’s widespread acceptance of the medieval narrative that Le Gris was harmless and refusal to think about Marguerite’s perspective all of the extra shocking and even hypocritical.

One of many Enlightenment’s most scathing critiques of the Center Ages was of its violence, notably in capital punishment. For some, Jacques Le Gris turned a martyr, a person sentenced to a brutal dying by a backwards and superstitious authorized system which demonized him. One of many locations Le Gris’ vindication emerged was within the Encyclopédie; this mission, spearheaded by Denis Diderot and Jacques d’Alembert, was one of many first trendy encyclopedias and a textual content which articulated most of the Enlightenment’s most formative arguments. In the article on duels, lawyer Antoine-Gaspard Boucher d’Argis described how beneath “King Charles VI, [people] fought for therefore little,” providing for example “the one he ordered in 1386 between Carrouges and Le Gris:”

the latter was accused by Carrouges’ spouse of getting made an try on her honor. Le Gris was killed within the battle and subsequently discovered responsible; nonetheless, he was afterwards discovered harmless by the offender of the crime, who declared Le Gris harmless as he laid dying. Earlier than the duel, Le Gris had requested in all of the monasteries of Paris that God ought to pray for him.

D’Argis’ account didn’t grapple with whether or not Marguerite’s testimony was legitimate, however as an alternative selected to emphasise the duel’s injustice in direction of Le Gris and the futility of Le Gris’ prayers. Voltaire likewise, in his Histoire du Parlement de Paris, critiqued the brutality of the duel, in addition to the truth that these duels, “regarded at this time as an unpardonable crime had been at all times carried out with the sanction of the legal guidelines” and the Church. Nevertheless, Voltaire solely acknowledged Marguerite insofar as he claimed “all these fights had been fought for girls.” Neither D’Argis nor Voltaire talked about Marguerite by title.

A revisionist historical past that served a broader agenda

Patrick Redmond—© 2021 twentieth Century StudiosMatt Damon as Jean de Carrouges and Adam Driver as Jacques LeGris in ‘The Final Duel’

Behind the Enlightenment’s exoneration of Le Gris had been its arguments in opposition to using torture in judicial proceedings. In line with Enlightenment scholar and College of Florida assistant professor of historical past Anton Matytsin, the Enlightenment sought “the top to judicial torture, the abolition of the dying penalty, and the establishment of proportional and humane punishments that might deter individuals from committing crimes … that is the primary context wherein they’d have seen a duel: a barbaric approach to settle a authorized matter.” Cesare Beccaria, a number one Enlightenment thinker, “outlined how judicial torture primarily benefitted not those that had been harmless and had nothing to admit however these whose bodily constitutions would permit them to resist ache.”

The Enlightenment’s celebration of Marguerite de Carrouges’ accused rapist challenges our notions of how historical past develops. Whereas the Enlightenment appears extra acquainted to trendy eyes than the extra distant Center Ages, mental and cultural improvement isn’t a straight line. Whereas it’s apparent now that Marguerite’s testimony deserved to be listened to, was wrongly downplayed in her personal time and was ignored by later historians, for the Enlightenment’s intellectuals the story of France’s final duel was one in all judicial injustice, not injustice in direction of ladies. Regardless of how a lot Marguerite de Carrouges’ story resonates at this time, we should consider L.P. Hartley’s phrases: “the previous is a international nation; they do issues in another way there.”

John-Paul Heil is a Ph.D candidate in early trendy historical past on the College of Chicago and an adjunct professor of historical past and the liberal arts at Mount St. Mary’s College in Maryland. His scholarly work focuses on the mental historical past of advantage in Renaissance Naples. His work has appeared in Smithsonian, Los Angeles Evaluate of Books and Remark. The creator wish to thank Eric Jager for his correspondence relating to this piece. | The True Story Behind The Final Duel—and Historical past’s Try to Erase It

Aila Slisco

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