Few works of fiction will grab readers’ attention as well as Jager’s (The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France, 2004) riveting story of a 1407 murder mystery that split the royal family of France.
When Louis of Orleans, brother and frequent regent of King Charles VI, was brutally murdered in a Paris street, the provost of Paris, Guillaume de Tignonville was under pressure to solve the crime quickly. He had just overseen the execution of two murderers, whose claim to the right of “clergy” would eventually come back to haunt him. Jager shares his extensive knowledge of medieval Paris, employing entertainingly meticulous descriptions throughout the book. The Châtelet, once a fortress, then a prison, morgue and police headquarters, was a vast building to be avoided at all costs, not unlike today’s train stations. Montfaucon was a three-story gibbet capable of hanging 60 at a time, and bodies were left to putrefy and feed the crows and ravens. The author’s portrayals of the perpetual stench and body parts will surely give readers shivers. De Tignonville’s investigative techniques were exhaustive, and his discovery of the man behind the murder within days was spot-on. Accusing the suspect proved to be much more difficult, as he turned the accusation into a validation. Louis of Orleans was a broadly despised man, particularly by those men he had cuckolded (which were many), and he used his power as his schizophrenic brother’s regent to impose impossible taxes. The murderer’s justification for his dastardly deed was, as a leading scholar proclaimed, “one of the most insolent pieces of political chicanery and theological casuistry in all history.”
An impressive combination of mystery, crime story, and social and political history.