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...a sweatshop of moxie

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Last Duel

Just finished reading this book by Michigan professor, Eric Jaegar, about the supposed last authorised judicial duel in the then territory of France.

The geographical nicety is there because, of course, Brittany and other regions of modern-day France were still in foreign hands in 1385-6, when the story takes place.

The book is a Dan Brown-like read insomuch that it has dazzlingly intense narrative action, covering a certain lack of writing skill, and though somewhat lightweight historically because of its focus on popular rather than scholarly audience (one reviewer sniped that it read like a "Hollywood treatment" given to pitch a film idea to a producer -- which is true, actually), it does bring to life the art of duelling to the death by sanction of the State, something which had been centuries old and legally protected, such as Colisseum gladiatorial battles.

The "ifs" of history irritate me more than intrigue me, since I honestly find a waste of time to conjecture something which didn't happen.

And yet my mind wandered as I finished the book, with its literal blow-by-blow account of the duel of two knights, Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris.

What if, I wondered, a Crusader knight, hardened, even inured to the fatigue of long-distance battle, were to meet, say, a samurai warrior? Or a Zulu one? Or indeed, a gladiator?

Who might you suppose would win such a duel?

And to my astonishment, I found online a very well-researched and thoughtful essay on this very topic, via the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts -- pitting the Crusader versus the Samurai.

Read it here, and be intrigued alongside me.

It's difficult to imagine the lanky Norman Crusader not winning over the comparatively tiny 5'0"-5'3" Samurai (though the essayist mentions that European knights varied in height, he omits that most noblemen were on average taller than most commoners, such as William the Conqueror, who was 6'2" -- and even moreso versus a Japanese man of the same period), but as indeed the Last Duel showed, it's not always the physically privileged who win out.

Actually, my interest in militaria has now been rekindled.

I think I'll try to increase my collection, which includes lots of my forebears' decorations and two swords, one of which is hanging on the wall next to to my computer as I write.

How about this statuette in full colour of a Crusader from the Mediaeval Weapon Art site?

A snip at U$25.00.

Although who amongst us cannot love this tasteful reproduction of Lancelot's duel versus a fire-breathing dragon?

Few can pine for the brutal days which we know as the Middle Ages, but one must admit -- their stories and imagery were much better than ours.

See what I mean.


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