The Last Duel and Why I Think Le Gris Was Innocent

I disliked the movie The Last Duel very much. Very very much. But the historicity, the seed that made the movie possible really intrigued me. And although I hated the repetitive nature of the movie, I absolutely adored Eric Jaber’s book, upon which the story was based (The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France), which I read immediately read after finishing the movie. Reading the book showed me so many more details and nuances to the story than even the thrice-passed movie ever could have. And Jaber’s book only egged me on to investigate other historical accounts and other first hand evidence in order to really grapple with the underlying story.

If you haven’t seen the movie, it tells the story of Jean de Carrouges (played by Matt Damon), a squire who challenged his previous friend Le Gris (and ex-god father to his now dead son) to a duel to the death. Why would friends do that? Well, because Jean’s wife accused Le Gris to raping her one day when she was the only person left at the house. I couldn’t stand the movie – and if you want to read why, you can read my review right here – but, if it will get more people to read the book upon which the movie was based, then by all means, watch the movie. But also read the book. Because this case is really fascinating. At the end of the day, it was a he said, she said, story about truth. Who can we trust? Who should we trust? There was enough of a stalemate and doubt about the story that the French Parliament and the King allowed the case to be settled in a duel. A duel that ended up with Le Gris strung up, dead, for all to see his guilt far and wide. But was he guilty? Wait, didn’t GOD HIMSELF speak on the field of battle between Le Gris and de Carrouges? hahaha. Sure he did.

After reading the book though, I found the case so interesting that while writing my hate spewing review for the movie I found myself writing more and more about the actual case, and less and less about the movie. So I decided to split it off, and to talk specifically about the evidence at hand, and the details about which we know, and the details we don’t some seven hundred years later.

Did Le Gris, from The Last Duel, Rape Marguerite?

Let’s walk through it shall we? I have a very clear opinion on this one… but let’s talk about the evidence systematically, shall we? We obviously won’t be able to know for certain, what, some 700 years later? But there is a surprising amount of evidence still there for us to review. So let’s go shall we?

Jean de Carrouges’ Grudge

Jean De Carrouges was married to Jeanne de Tilly. They had a son together soon after getting married. An heir! Woot! Better yet, at his son’s baptism, Jacques Le Gris, Jean de Carrouges’ best friend, held the boy as he was blessed. Le Gris was the son’s godfather. Let that sink in a second. Jacques Le Gris was Jean de Carrouges son’s godfather.

Just let that sink in for a moment. They were best friends. The fought together. I’m sure they saved each other’s lives regularly. The vow that Le Gris gave was to give his life for Jean’s son, for the next seven years, he vowed to do ANYTHING to keep the boy alive. Okay? But within a couple years, the boy, AND his mother, were dead. Probably some sort of terrible plague. Natural causes that were never recorded.

Now, Jean de Carrouges’ father was the Viscount of Bellême. Big job. He was the sheriff of the area. It came with the castle overlooking the town. The works. And obviously, Jean assumed that upon his father’s death Jean would take the captaincy of the vicinity. But he assumed too much. Le Gris quickly became the favorite of Count Pierre, the King’s uncle – and Carrouges was totally overlooked. I’m guessing he was overlooked because of the man’s temper and unbridled tongue. He spoke way too freely. But alternatively, Le Gris inherited his own father’s lordship at castle Exmes and he also was given a newly purchased estate from the king. (If you look into this more, it is because of Le Gris’ generous “loan” to the king that his star was rising. I think it was something like 6,000 gold pieces?) And just like that, Carrouges became very jealous of his friend. And voila, they became rivals at court. The only way to REALLY heart someone, have them believe you really do love them.

Now, before Jean’s first wife died, Le Gris would later say, that there was one time, when Jean tried to convince his wife to tell others that he had slept with her. But she refused. Why? Because it had never happened. So, their feud might have even started prior to the death of his wife and son. Not 100% on the exact timing of his losing his father’s captaincy, and his falling out of favor in the court.

What Is the Alleged Crime?

Jean went on to marry Marguerite. Her father was a bit of a Norman pariah because of his siding on the wrong side of French/English politics, not once, but twice. So when Jean stooped to marry Marguerite, he was doing her father a MASSIVE political favor. And with this favor, Jean expected a good wedding dowry. Specifically a piece of land that would have been very lucrative. But prior to the wedding… Marguerite’s father gave the King the piece of land (via Le Gris, to add insult to injury, who was putting the King’s uncles estate to rights), and the King gave it to Le Gris. Hello salt. Meet wound. Hello wound. Meet salt! GAH THIS GUY! Right?

Now, Jean’s affairs were a bit precarious. He was in need of the money that came from professionally fighting for the King. He received half a gold piece a day from squiring on the King’s behalf. And on this one particularly bad battle (in Ireland I believe), he was promoted to Knight. And that allowed him to receive a gold piece a day. Well, after the fighting, he went to Paris to receive his pay. A one way, 3 day journey. A week’s journey. Before he left, he told his mother not to leave Marguerite alone. But after he left, she did. She took “almost everyone” from the house with her. And while alone, Marguerite heard a knocking at the door. It was Louvel. But Le Gris was there too. Marguerite would have only seen the man one time before, 2 years prior, where Jean and Le Gris made a big to do about their reconciliation. So why was he here? Out of the blue? And how did he know that she was alone? It baffles the senses really.

Regardless, she was attacked by them both. Louvel held her down, quieted her with a hood and gag. And Le Gris raped her. Hrmmm.

The Details of the Case

But after reading the actual arguments, and the actual case? I actually don’t think Le Gris did it. I promise you I’m not trying to troll you. Why? He wasn’t there. He was 24 miles away and he has a number of witnesses that could account for his location. And I’m sorry but I just think it would have been really difficult for Le Gris to cover the 24 miles to Marguerite’s house in order to rape her, and then get back without being noticed as having left. He had witnesses for the entire week. Come on, this was one of the biggest cases in hundreds of years and someone would have come out to witness against his alibis. It had the involvement of the King. No one saw him making this incredibly fast ride, or documented his change of horses (which would have been required to have pulled off getting out and back in time) or any of it.

There were a couple of lines from Le Gris’ defense where he states that Jean attempted to slander Le Gris by having his first wife state that Le Gris had had sex (not rape, sex) with her, in order for Jean to bring a case against Le Gris. Here is the particular quote from the book I am referring to: “Even more damaging, Le Gris charges that Carrouges tried to get his first wife to say that Le Gris had slept with her—’which the said wife, wise and good, refused to do, since it was not in any way true.'” As I mentioned previously, the two men were friends, not just friends, but blood, because godfathers became a blood relation legally. And one of Jean’s charges against Le Gris was INCEST. I kid you not. But their hatred for one another was really well established for the day. And it really makes sense to me that Jean, being so very wronged by Le Gris, would want to find any way that he could to kill this other man. And he did… he figured out a way.

The Last Duel and Why I Think Le Gris Was Innocent

This was the last official duel to the death in France. And the entirety of the story is sad. In short, I personally, believe that Sir Jean de Carrouges trumped up charges against Jacques Le Gris in order to get revenge against a man that humiliated him again and again. Jean was a hot head, it’s well documented both historically and in the movie. It all just doesn’t add up in my head. In fact, the story that adds up in my mind, and is supported in Le Gris’ defense is as follows:

After going to war on behalf of France, and returning despondently, Jean heads to Paris to collect his 300 gold coins. But before he leaves, he tells his mother not to leave Marguerite alone. He is clear on this point… and he leaves. While gone, Jean’s mother leaves, and takes all the servants with her – Marguerite is left alone. No one comes to the house – no one rapes Marguerite. After Marguerite’s mother returns home, around 2pm after leaving at 7am (I swear, his defense literally was to the hour – while Jean’s said some time that week.) Marguerite was jovial, there wasn’t anything wrong. And the mother-in-law supports this detail. Then, when Jean comes home, and finds out that his mother left Marguerite alone, he started beating Marguerite on the head, the face, and her arm. (Also supported by his mother-in-law.) And after having been left alone, and been beaten for it, Jean realizes that this window, where she was vulnerable, is when he’ll strike. For her disobedience, he tells Marguerite that she will help him accuse Le Gris, and she obeys.

– THiNC.’s completely uninformed opinion

But were there any people who, in that day and age, believed Le Gris was innocent? Why, what a great question, oh noble interwebs visitor! The most outstanding theory that came from the day was that yes, Marguerite was raped, but not by Le Gris. In fact, in the year 1400, monk Michel Pintoin wrote in a royal history that Le Gris’ innocence was recognized by all after the fact, when, an individual that was condemned to death for another crime, confessed to having raped Marguerite. And when lady Marguerite found out, what was her response? Welp, when she realized that she was wrong to blame Le Gris, she retreated to a convent, never to marry again, vowing perpetual chastity. Another story that occurred in the 1420s time frame stated that another man, on his deathbed, admitted to having raped Marguerite as well.

But there are enormous issues with this mistaken identity theory… mainly that lady Marguerite’s account is EXTRAORDINARILY detailed about how it was specifically Louvel who initially knocked on the door, and then that it was Le Gris who raped her. Not only that, but Louvel helped hold her down! And it was only after she was on the bed that she was gagged/hooded. She was so detailed that we wonder if maybe the entirety of her account was fabricated. Now, what of this Louvel fellow? Wouldn’t his testimony that he wasn’t there have supported Le Gris? You would think so, especially seeing as though Adam Louvel reportedly confessed to nothing, not even after being tortured to answer truthfully. Yes though, there were many that believed that the truth was dodgy at best coming from either of these guys. Le Gris’ own lawyer said it was sort of a 50/50 idea as to whether or not Le Gris was innocent.

Which brings us all the way back around to – we’ll never know. The men on the ground in that day couldn’t tell who was telling the truth. Parliament threw their hands up in the air and ultimately let it go to a duel solely because they couldn’t figure out who was telling the truth. And in Marguerite’s defense… she was very compelling apparently. She held up under hours of questions from not only official members of Parliament, but also from society at large. It must have been extraordinarily difficult for her. So let’s just say she was telling the truth. Okay? And after all that work to prove she was lying, I’m changing my mind! hahahaha. But I loved the realness of the facts of this super old case regardless. You totally should read the book even though the move blew chunks.

Edited by: CY