The True Story Behind 'The Last Duel' Explains How It Wasn't Literally the Last Duel

·3 min read
Photo credit: 20th Century Studios
Photo credit: 20th Century Studios

After seeing the trailer for The Last Duel, you probably asked yourself an important question: Was this really the last duel ever? The answer is that it was a last duel, not the literally last duel of all time. As you might recall, another very famous duel took place over 400 years after this one and inspired an award-winning musical mega hit.

The last duel of The Last Duel, on the other hand, took place in 14th century France and was the last judiciary duel of France—which is to say, the last time a duel was the way it was decided whether someone was guilty of a crime or not. If that doesn't sound like it makes sense as a way of determining guilt or innocence, that's because... it doesn't.

Whether you've suddenly found yourself intrigued by medieval French history, are stoked to see Matt Damon and Ben Affleck working together again, or will watch anything with Adam Driver or Jodie Comer, read on to find out more about the true story behind one of fall's most anticipated movies.

The duel took place in 1386.

In 1386, a woman named Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer) accused a man named Jacques Le Gris (Driver) of raping her. Marguerite was from a wealthy family and her husband was the knight Jean de Carrouges (Damon). After the allegation was made formally by Jean de Carrouges—that's how it worked back then—he declared he wanted to duel Le Gris. But first, the case was examined by parliament and lawyers were involved. A duel would only happen if the outcome couldn't be decided in court. When it couldn't, it was determined that the duel would take place. At this point, this type of duel was already uncommon, which explains how this could end up being the last one.

Battling to the death in a duel meant that God would decide who was telling the truth, because that person would be the one who lost. Remember, this was the 14th century, so they weren't just taking several paces and shooting a gun, either. They battled while on horses using lances and other weapons. The duel took place on December 29, 1386.

More than one life was at risk.

Le Gris losing the duel would mean that he both died and was determined to be guilty of raping Marguerite. Jean losing would mean that he died and that Le Gris was innocent, but also that Marguerite would be killed by being burned at the stake for making a false allegation. The duel ending up being an event that thousands of people showed up to watch in Paris. In case you're waiting to watch the movie, we won't share the outcome here.

The movie is adapted from a book.

The new movie is adapted from the 2004 book The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France by Eric Jager. Jager also wrote a piece for Lapham's Quarterly that details how the duel went down, if you'd like to learn more. The Last Duel movie is written by Nicole Holofcener, Affleck, and Damon. This is the first time Affleck and Damon have written a movie together since Good Will Hunting, for which they won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 1998.

"We saw it as a story of perspective, and so Ben and I wrote the male perspectives and Nicole wrote the female perspective," Damon said during an appearance on The Tonight Show.

Damon and Affleck also both star.

Damon and Affleck don't play the dueling pair, but they do both star in the movie. Damon plays Jean de Carrouges, Comer plays Marguerite de Carrouges, Driver plays Le Gris, and Affleck plays Count Pierre d'Alençon. According to Jager's article, it was in Count Pierre d'Alençon's court that the charges were brought, but things were complicated by the fact that Count Pierre was close with Le Gris.

So, now that we've got all the history covered, just know that you're also in for a lot of violence and a lot of bad haircuts.

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