The Last Duel true story: Real history behind Ridley Scott's movie
The true story behind Ridley Scott's historical epic starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck
Warning: this article touches on subject matter that some readers may find distressing
Ridley Scott's Gladiator was a huge success, if a very fictionalised account of ancient Rome - but his next historical epic looks to stick very closely to a true story.
Despite taking place in the fourteenth century, The Last Duel tells the surprisingly timely story of a rape case, the judicial proceedings that follow and the treatment of victims that speak out.
The film is based on The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France, a non-fiction book by medieval literature specialist Eric Yager that recounts the story of how the case led to the last legally sanctioned duel in France's history.
The Last Duel stars Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck in major roles and arrives on Disney Plus in December after its theatrical run earlier this year.
So, how much of the film matches up to historical records? Read on for the true story below.
Beware of possible spoilers for the film below - particularly on the outcome of the titular duel.
The Last Duel true story explained
The film - co-written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck - takes place around halfway through the Hundred Years War, a series of conflicts between England and France over claims to the French crown. French knight Jean de Carrouges (played by Matt Damon in the film) took part in several campaigns against the English in the Fourteenth Century, in locations such as Scotland and Normandy.
In 1380 Carrouges married Marguerite de Thibouville (Jodie Comer), daughter of the controversial known traitor Robert de Thibouville who had sided against multiple French Kings in territorial disputes. It seems Carrouges wished to use his father-in-law's claim to win back a valuable estate that was given to a man who would become very important later on - Jacques Le Gris (portrayed by Adam Driver).
However, Le Gris was a favourite of property owner Count Pierre d’Alençon, who dismissed Carrouges's lawsuit. Carrouges, therefore, lost favour in the court while Le Gris became wealthy and popular while developing a womanising reputation, but nonetheless the two eventually reconnected and put an end to their feud - with Carrouges even introducing Le Gris to his wife Marguerite.
Then on 18th January 1386, Marguerite was home alone - a rarity for a noblewoman in the Middle Ages - when Le Gris then apparently arrived with his friend Adam Louvel, claiming that he was in love with her. Despite Marguerite's protestations, Le Gris is said to have forced himself into her house and attempted to bribe her into having an affair. When she again refused, Le Gris then violently raped her with the help of Louvel, threatening to kill her if she told anyone.
- For the latest news and expert tips on getting the best deals this year, take a look at our Black Friday 2021 and Cyber Monday 2021 guides.
However, Marguerite did tell her husband what happened, who then brought charges against Le Gris. However Le Gris was, of course, the favourite of Count Pierre d’Alençon - so the expectation was so high that the hearing would be biased that Carrouges and Marguerite did not even bother turning up, and Count Pierre indeed accused Marguerite of dreaming up the attack.
Knowing he wouldn't find a fair criminal trial, Carrouges appealed to King Charles VI himself for a Game of Thrones-esque trial by combat. As the preliminary judges couldn't reach a verdict, the King ultimately granted the request for a duel - with Carrouges throwing down a gauntlet at the Parliament of Paris as per tradition, which Le Gris picked up. The duel would be to the death, with the survivor deemed innocent in the eyes of God - with Marguerite to be burnt at the stake for perjury if Carrouges lost.
Who won the duel in The Last Duel?
*Warning: spoilers ahead for the victor of The Last Duel*
Once a common practice, duels were rare in France by the fourteenth century, thus drawing in a crowd of hundreds to an official Paris arena as King Charles VI had made the event a part of his series of parties and celebrations. Marguerite had given birth to a son in the months leading up to the duel, which took place on 29th December 1386.
Both Carrouges and Le Gris were armed with the 'holy trinity' of weapons: a lance, longsword, and a heavy battle-axe, as well as a long dagger. The fight started on horseback, with the men going through four rounds of charges before killing each other's horses and moving the fight to a dramatic end on foot.
Despite getting stabbed in the thigh, Carrouges was able to get the upper hand by pinning Le Gris to the ground and landing several blows on his armour. Carrouges then angrily tore off Le Gris's faceplate and demanded he admit his guilt, only for the squire to again proclaim his innocence in the name of God. Carrouges then stabbed his former friend in the neck, killing him instantly.
Carrouges benefitted greatly from winning the duel - as well as surviving of course, the knight received a cash prize and was awarded the role of chevalier d'honneur and bodyguard at the royal household at Paris. He would go on to have two more children with Marguerite and died at the Battle of Nicopolis aged 66 years old. Sadly little else has been recorded about Marguerite's life, either before or after the famous duel.
Despite a lack of source material, the film does thankfully look to be putting Marguerite's voice at the forefront of this adaptation, showing the courage it took to speak out in a fourteenth-century society determined to publicly shame her for slandering a popular male figure. Given her father's low social standing, the problem of obtaining proof, the public shame of a trial and Count Pierre's affection for Le Gris it is widely accepted that Marguerite took a big risk by publicly accusing someone as popular as Le Gris.
The case has since become a cultural legend in France, with historians continuing to debate the events that took place to this day. Jager in particular notes in his book how even Le Gris's lawyer Jean Le Coq was not convinced of his client's innocence, and that one of Le Gris's alibis was accused of rape also.
While Carrouges v Le Gris was the last trial by combat to be officially sanctioned by the French King and the Parliament of Paris, it was far from the last duel to take place in France. While uncommon - and certainly not used for judicial verdicts - the practice continued unofficially for centuries afterwards, carrying on despite King Louis VIII introducing an official edict against duels in 1626.
In fact, the actual last duel in France took place as recently as 1967, when two politicians challenged each other to a sword fight after exchanging insults in parliament. However, it was slightly less dramatic than the 1386 duel - both participants escaped relatively uninjured.
The Last Duel arrives on Disney Plus in December.