The True Story Behind The Last Duel —and History’s Attempt to Erase It
THE LAST DUEL
Jodie Comer as Marguerite de Carrouges in 'The Last Duel' Credit - Patrick Redmond—
© 2021 twentieth Century Studios
Warning: This publish carries spoilers for The Last Duel.
“Do you swear in your existence that what you are saying is actual?” This question, posed to Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer), encapsulates the actual records at the back of The Last Duel, director Ridley Scott’s new movie establishing in theaters Oct. 15. Based at the 2004 ee-e book of the equal call with the aid of using Eric Jager, a professor of English on the University of California, Los Angeles and a consultant in medieval literature, the movie makes use of its titular occasion—the remaining judicial duel in French records, held in Paris in December 1386—to delve deeply into the Middle Ages’ complicated politics of gender, woman agency, spiritual morality and sexual ethics.
At the coronary heart of The Last Duel lies a ancient thriller, nevertheless now no longer definitively solved over six hundred years later: turned into the noblewoman Marguerite de Carrouges raped with the aid of using the squire Jacques Le Gris? But past the thriller itself is the sudden manner that Marguerite’s tale turned into converted and all however erased withinside the centuries after the occasions of the movie, reinterpreted to serve highbrow agendas with little attention for the existence on the middle of the story. While The Last Duel gives a few vindication to Marguerite, all that got here next—the tale of the way her existence turned into recorded and reshaped withinside the ancient record—famous each how without problems marginalized voices may be eliminated from records even with the aid of using ancient figures we recognize and the way lengthy it may take to repair the ones voices to their right place.
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A duel because the remaining motel to settle a existence-or-loss of life dispute
Jodie Comer as Marguerite de Carrouges in 'The Last Duel'Patrick Redmond—© 2021 twentieth Century Studios
According to Marguerite, Le Gris (performed withinside the movie with the aid of using Adam Driver) traveled to her own circle of relatives’s chateau in Capomesnil in which she turned into staying on January 18, 1386 and raped her. Marguerite had no person who may want to verify her tale: her husband Jean de Carrogues (performed with the aid of using Matt Damon) had set out on a adventure to Paris to acquire a few desperately wished finances and the servants have been out for the day with Marguerite’s mother-in-law.
Despite the shortage of witnesses, Le Gris truely had reason and opportunity. In his private existence, Le Gris had a popularity as a philanderer. Le Gris and Jean had as soon as been near friends, however their dating became to contention over a dispute concerning land Marguerite’s own circle of relatives owned. Shortly earlier than Jean departed for Paris, he and Le Gris faced each other withinside the courtroom docket of Count Pierre d’Alençon (performed with the aid of using Ben Affleck); Le Gris discovered round this time that Jean could be leaving Marguerite alone.
Marguerite’s accusations carried extreme ramifications for medieval French society. On the only hand, the punishment for rape, if proven, intended loss of life for the wrongdoer and dishonor for the rapist’s own circle of relatives. On the different, the punishment for fake accusations turned into additionally loss of life, thru burning on the stake.
Attempting to win lower back the respect of his spouse and own circle of relatives, Jean accused Le Gris of rape on Marguerite’s behalf to Pierre d’Alençon however, whether or not due to the fact Le Gris turned into a fave of Pierre’s or due to the fact Pierre had feuded with Jean at the land dispute—or definitely due to the fact he didn’t trust Marguerite—the matter 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, tough Le Gris to a duel, an unusual manner for nobles to settle capital offenses. After months of futile research with the aid of using the French courts, consisting of Marguerite’s effective testimony and a counter-witness with the aid of using Le Gris, the courts had no different desire however to allow the duel proceed, permitting God to determine the victor. As Jean Le Coq, Le Gris’ attorney, wrote in his non-public diary, “No one clearly knew the reality of the matter.”
Though the actual duel turned into among Le Gris and Jean, the movie portrays the actual warfare as Marguerite de Carrouges as opposed to the political mores of her day, as she struggles to persuade the ones round her, from the Church to her own circle of relatives to the French king to the not unusualplace peasant, that what she says is actual. The movie splits its attention among Le Gris, Jean, and Marguerite, with Le Gris and Jean’s quantities of the tale written with the aid of using Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and Marguerite’s written with the aid of using Nicole Holofcener. However, in spite of this cut up attention, Marguerite certainly emerges because the tale’s actual protagonist. Jodie Comer’s effective overall performance now no longer simplest does justice to the lady she’s portraying, however additionally makes her a robust contender for this year’s awards season. If the movie missteps, it's far as it does now no longer permit Comer, and therefore Marguerite’s narrative, extra display screen time.
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The tale receives revised with the aid of using Enlightenment thinkers
Adam Driver as Jacques LeGris and Matt Damon as Jean de Carrouges in 'The Last Duel'Patrick Redmond—© 2021 twentieth Century Studios
However, Scott’s Duel simplest depicts 1/2 of of Marguerite’s tale. Although Jean gained the duel and succeeded in protecting Marguerite’s honor, the occasion could tackle a arguable existence of its very own withinside the following centuries. Within some decades, duration chroniclers disagreed approximately the duel’s info and disputed Le Gris’ guilt. Some wrote, as Jager recounts in Lapham’s Quarterly, that Jean simplest gained due to the fact Le Gris “slipped on his opponent’s blood.” Others wrote approximately a intended deathbed confession with the aid of using a felon who, having a remaining-minute alternate of coronary heart, admitted that he, now no longer Le Gris, had raped Marguerite.
Enlightenment thinkers withinside the 18th century followed this revision of Le Gris’ man or woman to strengthen their very own highbrow agendas. Positioning itself in assessment to the purportedly superstitious Middle Ages (now reimagined because the “Dark Ages”), the Enlightenment prized rationality certainly else. Figures like Locke, Rousseau and Voltaire—taken into consideration with the aid of using a few present day historians an early feminist—made compelling instances for human rights, gender equality and the herbal dignity of all peoples no matter age, gender or race, which makes the Enlightenment’s massive attractiveness of the medieval narrative that Le Gris turned into harmless and refusal to take into account Marguerite’s angle all of the extra sudden or even hypocritical.
One of the Enlightenment’s maximum scathing reviews of the Middle Ages turned into of its violence, specially in capital punishment. For a few, Jacques Le Gris have become a martyr, a person sentenced to a brutal loss of life with the aid of using a backwards and superstitious prison gadget which demonized him. One of the locations Le Gris’ vindication emerged turned into withinside the Encyclopédie; this project, spearheaded with the aid of using Denis Diderot and Jacques d’Alembert, turned into one of the first present day encyclopedias and a textual content which articulated the various Enlightenment’s maximum formative arguments. In the item on duels, attorney Antoine-Gaspard Boucher d’Argis defined how under “King Charles VI, [people] fought for therefore little,” providing as an example “the only he ordered in 1386 among Carrouges and Le Gris:”
D’Argis’ account did now no longer grapple with whether or not Marguerite’s testimony turned into valid, however as a substitute selected to emphasise the duel’s injustice toward 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 those duels, “seemed nowadays as an unpardonable crime have been continually completed with the sanction of the laws” and the Church. However, Voltaire simplest recounted Marguerite insofar as he claimed “some of these fights have been fought for women.” Neither D’Argis nor Voltaire cited Marguerite with the aid of using call.
A revisionist records that served a broader agenda
Matt Damon as Jean de Carrouges and Adam Driver as Jacques LeGris in 'The Last Duel'Patrick Redmond—© 2021 twentieth Century Studios
Behind the Enlightenment’s exoneration of Le Gris have been its arguments towards the usage of torture in judicial proceedings. According to Enlightenment pupil and University of Florida assistant professor of records Anton Matytsin, the Enlightenment sought “the stop to judicial torture, the abolition of the loss of life penalty, and the organization of proportional and humane punishments that could deter human beings from committing crimes … that is the primary context wherein they could have visible a duel: a barbaric manner to settle a prison matter.” Cesare Beccaria, a main Enlightenment thinker, “mentioned how judicial torture ordinarily benefitted now no longer folks that have been harmless and had not anything to admit however the ones whose bodily constitutions could permit them to face up to pain.”
The Enlightenment’s birthday party of Marguerite de Carrouges’ accused rapist demanding situations our notions of the way records develops. While the Enlightenment appears extra acquainted to trendy eyes than the extra remote Middle Ages, highbrow and cultural improvement isn't always a immediately line. While it's far apparent now that Marguerite’s testimony deserved to be listened to, turned into wrongly downplayed in her very own time and turned into unnoticed with the aid of using later historians, for the Enlightenment’s intellectuals the tale of France’s remaining duel turned into certainly considered one among judicial injustice, now no longer injustice toward women. Despite how a good deal Marguerite de Carrouges’ story resonates nowadays, we need to preserve in thoughts L.P. Hartley’s words: “the beyond is a overseas country; they do matters in another way there.”
John-Paul Heil is a Ph.D candidate in early present day records on the University of Chicago and an accessory professor of records and the liberal arts at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland. His scholarly paintings makes a speciality of the highbrow records of distinctive feature in Renaissance Naples. His paintings has regarded or is approaching in Smithsonian, Los Angeles Review of Books and Comment. The creator would love to thank Eric Jager for his correspondence concerning this piece.