Book Review: “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat” by Eric Jager

57933320On a cold December day in 1386, two knights met at the field at Saint-Martin-Des-Champs in Paris to face each other in a duel. This may seem like your average duel for entertainment to any outsider, but this was a duel to the death to determine who was telling the truth when it came to a sinister crime. A Norman knight, Jean de Carrouges, accused a squire, Jacques Le Gris, of raping his wife, Marguerite. It was a truly heinous crime, but what was it true, and why did these accusations lead to a duel to the death? Eric Jager explores this specific event and the factors that led to this clash in his nonfiction book, “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat.”

I became interested in this book when I heard that it was being turned into a movie. I talked to the Five Minute Medievalist Daniele Cybulskie on Twitter about the film, and she mentioned this book. I wanted to read this book before I watched the movie to compare the two interpretations of the tale.

During this duel, France was in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War with England. It was a time of tension when loyalty, chivalry, and honor meant a great deal to knights and members of the nobility. Teen King Charles VI ruled France with the help of his uncles and men who were as loyal, such as the wealthy Count Pierre of Alencon and his knights, including Jean de Carrourges. Jean de Carrouges’ family was known for their loyalty and landholding, which Jean IV hoped would continue during his time as head of the family. However, this was not to be. Unlike his predecessor Count Robert of Perche, Count Pierre did not favor the de Carrouges family, but instead to a squire named Jacques Le Gris.

Jacques Le Gris and Jean de Carrouges were old friends, but when Count Pierre gave property that de Carrouges believed would pass onto him as part of the inheritance to Le Gris, a feud began between the two. The feud hit a fever pitch after Jean de Carrouges married his second wife, Marguerite, the daughter of Robert de Thibouville, who betrayed the French king twice and still kept his head. Although he married a traitor’s daughter, de Carrouges stayed loyal to Count Pierre and ventured to Scotland to fight for King Charles VI, which proved disastrous.

Broke and in poor health, de Carrouges pleaded with Count Pierre for financial help, but he insulted Le Gris. This was the final straw for Le Gris, and he decided to attack de Carrouges, where it would hurt, by attacking his innocent wife. Naturally, de Carrourges was upset and took his case against Le Gris to the Parlement of Paris, where he declared that he wanted to face Le Gris in a duel, an ancient trial by combat where the victor would be declared innocent. If de Carrouges lost the fight, he would not only be risking his soul to damnation, but his wife would be burned alive.

Jager brings to life a story from the past full of drama and intrigue that will capture modern readers’ attention. The amount of details that he includes in this nonfiction book makes it feel like a historical fiction novel. Jager spent ten years researching this one story, and it shows. It was such a gripping story, especially the duel itself, that I was a little sad when it ended. If you want a gripping tale of love, revenge, and justice, you must read “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat” by Eric Jager.

Book Review: “Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction” by Daniele Cybulskie

43972589Have you ever read a book, either historical fiction or nonfiction, about medieval Europe and wondered if what the author was writing about was true? What about historical movies or dramas? You know that they probably have the facts about the important people and events correct, or at least you hope, but you wonder about the small details. What did they eat? How did they keep themselves clean and healthy? How did religion and the criminal justice system work in medieval Europe? What was medieval warfare like? These questions and more are explored in Daniele Cybulskie’s enchanting book, “Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have spoken with Daniele Cybulskie on social media in the past about quite a few medieval topics, including when she spoke at the Tudor Summit, so when I heard about this book, I wanted to read it.

Cybulskie’s book is divided into chapters that explore numerous topics about average medieval life. As a reader, one would think that this book would begin with the birth and childhood of those who lived during this time. However, Cybulskie chooses to begin with how medieval people kept themselves and their cities clean. It may seem a bit strange compared to other books about medieval life, but the way she structures this book works in Cybulskie’s favor. Although this book is informative, it feels like you are having a casual conversation with the author about these topics.

By dividing the chapters into topic-based chapters, Cybulskie can explore numerous questions that fit into each topic. From cleanliness to religious life, warfare to pastimes, love to death, she can give her readers an experience that covers the thousand years of history that make up the medieval time period. Along the way, she includes little boxes that contain fun little factoids to provide even more trivia.

What is great about Cybulskie is that as a medievalist, she understands that there was a lot of diversity in the medieval world. It was not just fit European Christians. There were also Jews, Muslims, people with disabilities, rich and poor, and those who generally did not fit well into society. By including every type of person who lived in the medieval world, we can get a better understanding of how vast and colorful it truly was. Cybulskie also includes a simplistic overview of events like the Black Death and the crusades to show the dramatic and damaging effects that they had on medieval society as a whole.

To say that this book was fun to read would be an understatement. Cybulskie’s knowledge radiates in every page of this short book. I honestly did not want to stop reading this book, I wanted to learn more. It was educational and entertaining all at the same time. Simply a wonderful resource for novice medievalists and writers of historical fiction and nonfiction alike. If you want to learn the truth about different aspects of medieval life, I highly suggest you include, “Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction” by Daniele Cybulskie, to your book collection.