Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

The life-and-death duel between James le Gris and John de Carogne

One member of the Count d'Alençon's household accuses another of a grave crime.

Book III, ch. 46 (Johnes, v. 2, pp. 203-06). About this period, there was much conversation in France respecting a duel which was to be fought, for life or death, at Paris. It had been thus ordered by the parliament of Paris, where the cause, which had lasted a year, had been tried, between a squire called James le Gris and John de Carogne, both of them of the household of Peter, count d'Alençon, and esteemed by him; but more particularly James le Gris, whom he loved above all others, and placed his whole confidence in him. As this duel made so great a noise, many from distant parts, on hearing of it, came to Paris to be spectators. I will relate the cause, as I was then informed.

 It chanced that sir John de Carogne took it into his head he should gain glory if he undertook a voyage to the Holy Land, having long had an inclination to go thither. He took leave of his lord, the count d'Alençon, and of his wife, who was then a young and handsome lady, and left her in his castle, called Argenteil, on the borders of Perche, and began his journey towards the sea-side. The lady remained, with her household, in this castle, living in the most decent manner. Now it happened (this is the matter of quarrel) that the devil, by divers and perverse temptations, entered the body of James le Gris, and induced him to commit a crime, for which he afterwards paid.  He cast his thoughts on the lady of sir John de Carogne, whom he knew to be residing with her attendants, at the castle of Argenteil.  One day, therefore, he set out, mounted on the finest horse of the count, and arrived, full gallop, at Argenteil, where he dismounted.  The servants made a handsome entertainment for him, because they knew he was a particular friend, and attached to the same lord as their master; and the lady, thinking him no ill, received him with pleasure, led him to her apartment, and shewed him man of her works.  James, fully intent to accomplish his wickedness, begged of her to conduct him to the dungeon, for that his visit was partly to examine it.  The lady instantly complied, and led him thither; for, as she had the utmost confidence in his honour, she was not accompanied by valet or chambermaid.  As soon as they had entered the dungeon, James le Gris fastened the door unnoticed by the lady, who was before him, thinking it might have been the work of the wind, as he gave her to understand.

When they were thus alone, James embraced her, and discovered what his intentions were: the lady was much astonished, and would willingly have escaped had she been able, but the door was fastened; and James, who was a strong man, held her tight in his arms, and flung her down on the floor, and had his will of her.  Immediately afterward, he opened the door of the dungeon, and made himself ready to depart.  The lady, exasperated with rage at what had passed, remained silent, in tears; but, on his departure, she said to him, -- "James, James, you have not done well in thus deflowering me:  the blame, however, shall not be mine, but the whole be laid on you, if it please God my husband ever return."  James mounted his horse, and, quitting the castle, hastened back to his lord, the count d'Alençon, in time to attend his rising at nine o'clock:  he had been seen in the hôtel of the count at four o'clock that morning. I am thus particular, because all these circumstances were inquired into, and examined by the commissioners of the parliament, when the cause was before them.

 The lady de Carogne, on the day this unfortunate event befel her, remained in her castle, and passed it off as well as she could, without mentioning one word of it to either chambermaid or valet, for she thought by making it public she would have more shame than honour; but she retained in her memory the day and hour James le Gris had come to the castle. The lord de Carogne returned from his voyage, and was joyfully received by his lady and household, who feasted him well.

When night came, sir John went to bed, but his lady excused herself; and, on his kindly pressing her to come to him, she walked very pensively up and down the chamber. At last, when the household were in bed, she flung herself on her knees at his bedside, and bitterly bewailed the insult she had suffered. The night would not believe it could have happened; but at length, she urged it so strongly, he did believe her, and said," Certainly, lady, if the matter has passed as you say, I forgive you, but the squire shall die; and I shall consult your and my relations on the subject: should you have told me a falsehood, never more shall you live with me." The lady again and again assured him, that what she had said was the pure truth.

On the morrow, the knight sent special messengers with letters to his friends and nearest relations of his wife, desiring them to come instantly to Argenteil, so that in a few days they were all at his castle. When they were assembled, he led them into an apartment, and told them the reasons of his sending for them, and made his lady relate most minutely everything that had passed during his absence. When they had recovered their astonishment, he asked their advice how to act: they said, he should wait on his lord, the count d'Alençon, and tell him the fact. This lie did; but the count, who much loved James le Gris, disbelieved it, and appointed a day for the parties to come before him, and desired the lady might attend to give her evidence against the man whom she thus accused. She attended as desired, accompanied by a great number of her relations; and the examinations and pleadings were carried on before the count to a great length.

James le Gris boldly denied the charge, declared it was false, and wondered much how he could have incurred such mortal hatred from the lady. He proved by the household of the count, that he had been seen in the castle at four o'clock in the morning: the count said, that he was in his bedchamber at nine o'clock, and that it was quite impossible for any one to have ridden three-and-twenty leagues and back again, and do what he was charged with, in four hours and a half. The count told the lady he would support his squire, and that she must have dreamed it. He commanded, that henceforward all should be buried in oblivion, and, under pain of incurring his displeasure, nothing farther done in the business.

The knight, being a man of courage, and believing what his wife had told him, would not submit to this, but went to Paris and appealed to the parliament. The parliament summoned James le Gris, who replied, and gave pledges to obey whatever judgment the parliament should give. The cause lasted upwards of a year, and they could not any way compromise it, for the knight was positive, from his wife's information, of the fact, and declared, that since it was now so public, he would pursue it until death. The count d'Alençon, for this, conceived a great hatred against the knight, and would have had him put to death, had he not placed himself under the safeguard of the parliament. It was long pleaded, and the parliament at last, because they could not produce other evidence than herself against James le Gris, judged it should be decided in the tilt-yard, by a duel for life or death. The knight, the squire, and the lady, were instantly put under arrest until the day of this mortal combat, which, by order of parliament, was fixed for the ensuing Monday, in the year 1387; at which time the king of France and his barons were at Sluys, intending to invade England.

The king, on hearing of this duel, declared he would be present at it. The dukes of Berry, Burgundy, Bourbon, and the constable of France, being also desirous of seeing it, agreed it was proper he should be there. The king, in consequence, sent orders to Paris to prolong the day of the duel, for that he would be present. This order was punctually obeyed, and the king and his lords departed for France. The king kept the feast of the Calends at Arms, and the duke of Burgundy at Lille. In the mean time, the men at arms made for their different homes, as had been ordered by the marshals; but the principal chiefs went to Paris, to witness the combat. When the king of France was returned to Paris, lists were made for the champions in the place of St. Catherine, behind the Temple; and the lords had erected on one side scaffolds, the better to see the sight. The crowd of people was wonderful. The two champions entered the lists armed at all points, and each was seated in a chair opposite the other; the count de St. Pol directed sir John de Carogne, and the retainers of the count d'Alençon James le Gris.

On the knight entering the field, he went to his lady, who was covered with black and seated on a chair, and said,. "Lady, from your accusation, and in your quarrel, am I thus adventuring my life to combat James le Gris: you knew whether my cause be loyal and true." "My lord," she replied "it is so; and you may fight securely, for your cause is good."

The lady remained seated, making fervent prayers to God and the Virgin, entreating humbly, that through her grace and intercession, she might gain the victory according to her right. Her affliction was great, for her life depended on the event; and, should her husband lose the victory, she would have been burnt, and he would have been hanged. I am ignorant, for I never had any conversation with her or the knight, whether she had not frequently repented of having pushed matters so far as to place herself and husband in such peril; but it was now too late, and she must abide the event.

The two champions were then advanced, and placed opposite to each other; when they mounted their horses, and made a handsome appearance, for they were both expert men at arms. They ran their first course without hurt to either. After the tilting, they dismounted, and made ready to continue the fight. They behaved with courage; but sir John de Carogne was, at the first onset, wounded in the thigh, which alarmed all his friends: notwithstanding this, he fought so desperately that he struck down his adversary, and, thrusting his sword through the body, caused instant death; when he demanded of the spectators if he had done his duty: they replied that he had.

The body of James le Gris was delivered to the hangman, who dragged it to Montfaucon, and there hanged it. Sir John de Carogne approached the king and fell on his knees: the king made him rise, and ordered one thousand francs to be paid him that very day: he also retained him of his household, with a pension of two hundred livres a-year, which he received as long as he lived. Sir John, after thanking the king and his lords, went to his lady and kissed her: they went together to make their offering in the church of Nôtre Dame, and then returned to their home.

Sir John de Carogne did not remain long after in France, but set off, in company with the lord Boucicaut, sir John des Bordes, and Sir Lewis Grat, to visit the holy sepulchre, and the sultan of the Turks, whose fame was much talked of in France. Sir Robinet de Boulogne was also with him: he was squire of honour to the king of France, and had travelled much over the world.

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