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Fencing History and Tales

Introduction | Literary Allusions | Famous Duels and Duellists | Women and Combat

Famous Duels and Duellists

La Chastaignerie and Jarnac

St. Germain-en-Laye, France June 10th, 1547
"La Chastaignerie was a favorite of the King, and at that time the most excellent and expert swordsman in France. He was the very picture of manly beauty, being tall and well formed, and but twenty-eight years of age. His heart was the heart of a villian, however; and, in order to besmirch the character of Jarnac, who had been a great favorite of Francis I., he circulated the detrimental report that his rival had been on terms of criminal intimacy with his mother-in-law.

Jarnac pleaded with Francis to permit him to "preserve the right" by a resort to the judicial combat, which the King refused - in all probability out of consideration of La Chastaignerie's proficiency with the sword. Jarnac, however, as soon as Henry became King, renewed his entreaties, which in due time were acceded to, and a day was at last set for the combat.

The royal family, and great crowds of the nobility, together with officers of the court and army, were in attendance at St. Germain-en-Laye. It was a dazzling spectacle; and the day appointed had been made beautiful by a warm sun which had coaxed out the buds of roses into flowers which exhaled sweet fragrance and filled the air with perfume.

Jarnac was also about twenty-eight. His features were regular and handsome, but so deadly pale as to seem like stone. He was as calm as a Madonna, and looked modestly from his lustrous eyes into the insolent face of his arrogant and unrelenting foe.

When the word was given to "Let the combatants go!" La Chastaignerie rushed viciously toward Jarnac, who at first placed himself on the defensive. In a few moments, however, the combatants attacked each other savagely, and soon both had received desperate cuts in their arms. Then they stood off from each other for a brief space of breathing time, and then La Chastaignerie attempted a murderous lunge, when Jarnac cut the ham of one of his legs, which dazed the wretch for a moment and sent a thrill through the crowd. In another minute while La Chastaignerie was again attempting a second desperate lunge, Jarnac cut the ham of his other leg, and the famous courtier fell to the ground. It was the most famous spectacle of the kind ever seen in France; and a great murmur went through the vast assemblage when the cleverest swordsman and wrestler of the age was sent so ignominiously to grass.

quot;Confess yourself a liar, and restore to me my honor, and live!" shouted Jarnac; but the fallen courtier remained silent.

Jarnac then addressed the King: "I beseech your majesty to accept the life of this man for God's sake and for love's. I do not wish to have his blood on my soul. I fought for the restoration of that honor of which he has robbed me."

The King at first declined, but at last consented to accept the boon of La Chastaignerie's life. Meanwhile the poor creature moved round on his knees and cut wildly and impotently at the object before him, but in a short time fell over and bled to death. Jarnac absolutely declined all the priviledges of triumphal pageant and procession, and advised that the body be committed to respectful interment.

"I have triumphed over my false accuser; I gained all I fought for - the full vindication of my honor and reputation; I am satisfied," said Jarnac to the King and the latter replied, "You fought like Caesar and speak like Aristotle."

So stung with defeat and humiliation was La Chastaignerie, even when bleeding to death, that he refused to submit to any operations of surgery, and tore off the few bandages with which his wounds had been bound."

This excerpt is taken from Major Ben C. Truman's The Field of Honor published in 1884 by Fords, Howard, & Hulbert.