An Account of the Duel between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques le Gris in the Chronicle of the Monk of St. Denis

Chronique du Religieux de Saint-Denys, ed. M.L. Bellaguet, v. 1 (Paris:  Crapelet, 1839).

Chronicorum Karoli Sexti Lib. VII, cap. XI.   (pp. 462, 464, 466)

(Translated and posted by Steven Muhlberger, Nipissing University, May 17, 2001.)

The duel of Lord Jean de Carrouges with Jacques le Gris

The single combat of Jean de Carrouges with Jacques le Gris, accused of the rape of Jean’s wife, gives plain proof to posterity how blameworthy it is to follow rumor in uncertain matters, in the way that leafy branches are bent by every breeze, so that one goes from rumor to vengeance.

This wicked treason seemed all the worse because both men were of Norman origin, serving in the household of the Count of Alençon, and had been joined since youth with the closest bonds of friendship.    Many, feeling pity for the lady who had lost her chastity, asserted that Jacques justly was defeated, but afterwards it was established that some other squire was the author of the crime.

This traitor, in the absence of the husband, impelled by the fires of evil desire, undertook this most abominable crime under the false name of the friend.   In the guise of a visitor he entered the home like a thief aiming at her chastity.   After dinner had been concluded, the lady, unaware of his evil design, had led him about like a good friend here and there and taken him to the guest chamber.   Then he was unable to conceal his savage intention.   For immediately he began to confess his love, and to implore, and to mix gifts with prayers and to harass the woman’s spirit in every way.   And when he fearfully saw her constant spirit, improper love made him bold, and throwing her down with his left arm he robbed the storeroom of her chastity and gave the victory to desire.    Nevertheless the woman so vilely treated did not accuse the author of the crime.

On the return of the husband, however, tears and sobs of mourning appeared.   When he asked if she were all right, she replied, “No, of course not, for how can a woman be well when she has lost her chastity?   There is the mark of another man in your bed, beloved husband of mine, and thus Jacques le Gris has turned from a faithful friend into an enemy. Yet although my soul is innocent, death will testify that my body has been so greatly violated, unless you give your right hand and word that the rapist will not go unpunished.”

The evil crime shook up the man, who called together his relatives and reassured the troubled woman, removing the guilt from the one who had been forced to the author of the crime.   He argued that it is the mind that sins, not the body, and where consent is absent, so is guilt.   But he was unable to convince her.

Repeated complaints by day and night persuaded the husband to demand most vehemently justice against the guilty man.  When he had presented himself before the king and his barons and had reported the enormity of the crime in order repeatedly and importunately, he finished by saying, “If this wicked traitor denies he used deceit and violence against my most beloved wife, I cannot refuse to engage him in single combat.”

At length the king granted his assent, as long as the knight’s demand was judged by his parliament to be a just one.   Once the advocates for either side had made their arguments, it was decided that since the truth could not be known because of the problems with witnesses, so that human judgment could not ascertain the good faith of either side, the royal sentence should be put into execution, on the day of St. Thomas, the twenty-first of December.

It was decided that the coming combat would be located next to the walls of St. Martin-des-Champs.   It was held in the presence of the king and the princes according to custom, and a huge crowd of common people assembled.   Both men entered the lists ready for the uncertain trial of combat.   And when the marshal gave the signal for the attack, they drove their horses forward, let their lances of war drop, and proceeding at a gentle pace, they dashed against each other courageously and with spirit.   In this first rush the other man pierced Lord Jean’s thigh with his lance; and this blow would have done him much good if he had held the lance in that wound.   But when he immediately drew it out, it was covered in blood, and the sight, rather than stunning the wounded man, made him bolder.   Meanwhile, great horror paralyzed the spectators for a long time, and no one spoke or breathed, held as they were between hope and fear, until Jean gathered his strength, and advancing, shouted “This day will decide our quarrel.”   With his left hand he seized the top of his opponent’s helmet, and drew Jacques toward him and then pulling back a little, threw Jacques to the ground where he lay weighed down by his armor.  Jean then drew his sword and killed his enemy, though with great difficulty, because he was fully armored.

Although the victor many times asked the defeated man while he was lying there to confess to the truth, the vanquished completely denied the event; but after all he was condemned, according to the custom of the duel, to be hanged from a gibbet.   Thus the mother of errors, the stepmother of good counsel, rash cruelty occasioned this unjust duel.  Afterwards everyone found out who had committed the foul rape, when someone else confessed while being condemned to death.   The aforesaid lady took note of this, and thinking over the fault in her mind, after the death of her husband became a recluse and took an oath of perpetual continence.