Ridley Scott’s 2021 Period Drama film, The Last Duel, is based on a controversial affair that led to a controversial duel during the 13th-century. The screenplay for the film is adapted from Eric Jager’s book that depicts the real incidents in depth. However, the book is about 242 pages long, and it is nearly impossible to bring all the details and affairs in a 3-hour movie or a 1000 words web article. Yet, we’ll try to pinpoint the major events to the best of our understanding that “we” deem to be crucial.
The Trial of Jacques Le Gris
Jean de Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite de Thibouville accused squire Jacques Le Gris of rape. Jacques pleaded not guilty to the charges, and hence, to serve justice, Jean challenged Jacques to a duel. The court opened a case to hear the plea of both the parties, and proceedings went on for several months.
Initially, Jacques blamed Marguerite’s husband, Jean, for his notorious acts. He claimed that Jean forced Marguerite to accuse Jacques falsely. In reality, Jean was guilty of marital rape and violence against his wife, Marguerite (she had fresh bruises on her body). Jean had reasons to take revenge on Jacques, and thus this layer became integral to the proceedings.
In the book, Eric Jager establishes the presence of Jacques Le Gris’ closest companion, Adam Louvel, in the room when Jacques raped Marguerite. Adam lived near Jean’s house and thus kept a close watch on the daily activities. According to Marguerite, Jacques threatened her to keep quiet about the whole affair; otherwise, people would blame her for false lies and adultery. For his part, he had a strong alibi in the form of Adam Louvel.
In the court, Jacques did present an alibi. He told the judiciary that from January 15 to 20, he visited an old friend, Jean Beloteau, and attended his recently deceased wife’s funeral. However, later during the trial, both Adam Louvel and Jean Beloteau were charged with felony charges, and their alibi wasn’t good enough for the court.
Jacques’ chief lawyer, Jean Le Coq, urged his client to avoid the life-threatening duel and claim the benefit of the clergy. But he refused to do so. Later, the lawyer mentioned that even if Jacques wanted to confess his crimes and avoid the duel, but he couldn’t have been able to do so because of pressure from others. Count Pierre had sworn that he was innocent of the crime, and Jacques’ confession would have ignited a political scandal. In short, the duel was the only option left for him.
How Does Eric Jager’s book, ‘The Last Duel’ End?
In our article, “The Last Duel Ending, Explained,” we discussed the possibility that Marguerite could have framed Jacques to get rid of Jean. As per my perception, Ridley Scott’s film gave away a similar explanation in the end, but Eric Jager kept the narrative open for discussion in the last chapter of the book, “The Quarrel’s Aftermath.”
In the duel, Jean defeated Jacques, and even in his last moments, he pleaded innocent of his crimes. After the duel, Jean left for the holy crusade, which some believed was his escape from the much-talked-about scandal.
The film believed that Marguerite lived a happy life after Jean’s death, but that wasn’t exactly the case. The rumors and the acquisitions kept haunting her until her death, and she was quite tormented by gossip that never allowed her to lead a happy life.
We will never know what happened to the lady that day, but Jacques’ chief lawyer, Jean Le Coq, believed his client was guilty, so maybe he was. However, the hazy legend was repeated from time to time; it paved the way for much of the speculation that we are reading today.
In the last chapter, Eric Jager penned down different theories that became part of the controversial duel. The Saint-Denis Chronicle, a Latin record, discussed that Marguerite had mistakenly accused Jacques. But Marguerite saw Jacques and Adam Louvel in broad daylight, and the speculation of mistaken identity was considerably thin. However, one point that he mentioned was that if Adam Louvel was present at the crime scene, why does the tale popularly spotlight only one culprit?
Another theory believes that Marguerite knowingly lied about the whole incident. She either weaved the narrative in fear of her husband’s violent threats, or she might be having an affair with a third man, and thus, to hide her adultery and pregnancy, she falsely accused Jacques. But in the absence of a strong alibi, Jacques couldn’t have been defended. Adam Louvel, too, refused to confess anything, even under torture. The theories quoted the trial as “Miscarriage of justice.”
All these theories wanted to believe that both Marguerite and Jacques were innocent. Hence, as time passed, the truth about the controversial affair emerged like a grapevine.
Many people believed in these theories because they wanted to save the lady’s honor and, at the same time, explain the repercussions of the flawed judicial system in which an innocent squire lost his life. They branded Jacques as a legendary hero who was wrongly accused of the crime and unjustly slain in combat. But as the story was narrated and discussed over time, the truth just got bleaker and bleaker.
Maybe it’s time to bring Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon again into perspective to believe that there is no actual truth in reality. We just tell ourselves a version of the truth, and as these stories flood our narrative, the truth disappears to be lost forever.
As a result, rather than assessing the viability of the situation, one should seek to understand the meaning and impact of the conflict. Marguerite went through horrors; whether it was Jacques or Jean, the name doesn’t matter, but their actions do. Both men ill-treated the woman in all versions of the truth and thus deserved punishment. The rumors, second-guessing, and gossip tormented her peace even after their deaths.
Today, each of us wants to impose judgment on each other’s miseries. But no one is ready to approach a person with a humble heart or try to put themselves in their shoes and understand their problems. Maybe we are only here to judge and not to understand, think, or feel, which is our greatest irony.
The Last Duel is a 2021 period drama film based on Eric Jager’s book of the same name.