The Last Duel
The Last Duel Plot
French knights Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris swear loyalty to Count Pierre d’Alençon, who has been designated Jean’s overlord by King Charles VI, after participating in the Caroline War. When his brother-in-arms explains that he lacks the finances, Jacques agrees to appeal for leniency on Jean’s behalf when he learns that Pierre has charged him with collecting war taxes.
To get his finances back on track, Jean marries Marguerite de Thibouville, who promises him a big dowry from Marguerite’s father, Robert, which includes the rights to a number of important estates. To pay Robert’s overdue taxes, Pierre seizes the valued estate of Aunou-le-Faucon and delivers it to Jacques, who has won a court post by organizing Pierre’s finances with his accounting acumen. Jean presents the case to King Charles, who dismisses it. Following the death of Jean’s father, Pierre retaliates by naming Jacques to the captaincy of a Carrouges family post.
Due to Marguerite’s inability to conceive, Jean’s marriage becomes strained. At a party, he and Jacques reunite, and Jacques falls in love with Marguerite after she befriends him in an attempt to gain favor. Jacques misinterprets this as a return of his feelings and concludes that she does not love him.
Following a failed military expedition in Scotland, for which he is knighted but still impoverished, Jean travels to Paris to collect his earnings, leaving Marguerite to oversee the estate while he is away. One day, Jean’s mother leaves Marguerite alone while she attends to some legal matters. Later, Jacques pays a visit and deceives his way into the chateau, declaring his love arrogantly. When he disobeys Marguerite’s orders to leave, she tries to evade his approaches, only for him to pursue her to her chamber, where he rapes her despite her protests and instructs her not to tell her husband.
Marguerite tells Jean what occurred when he returns; after aggressively disputing whether she is speaking the truth, Jean becomes certain that Jacques raped Marguerite especially to disgrace him. Jean demands that Marguerite have sex with him right away so that Jacques is not “the last man who knew her.”
Pierre informs Jacques that Jean has accused him of raping Marguerite, an accusation he denies. Despite the count’s attempts to assert his authority, Jean takes his case to King Charles and demands a death duel. Jacques accepts, having chosen against going to a Catholic religious court with clerical judges as a more favorable setting. Marguerite’s friends reject her, assuming she is lying to hide an affair, while Jean’s mother begs Marguerite withdraw her charges and accept whatever repercussions may result.
Six months later, at Jacques’ trial, a now-pregnant Marguerite is adamant that she is telling the truth, despite the court’s inference that Jacques is the father of her child. Jean’s desire for a duel to the death to settle the case is granted by Charles. Marguerite is also advised that if her husband loses, she would be burned alive for perjury. Marguerite confronts Jean for not informing her that if he fails, she will be burned alive. Marguerite gives birth to her son only a few months before the duel.
Jean and Jacques joust until they both lose their mounts and fight hand-to-hand. Jean gets stabbed, but she manages to pin Jacques down. He threatens Jacques with damnation until he confesses, but Jacques maintains his innocence. Jean then assassinates him. While Jean basks in the glory of his win, Marguerite remains silently behind him. Meanwhile, Jacques’ body is stripped naked and publicly hanging upside down.
According to a literary epilogue, Jean perished fighting in the Crusades, but Marguerite managed his estate and lived in peace for the rest of her life, never marrying again.