Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

French medieval murder mystery unfurls from police officer's scroll

  • Print

One benefit of hindsight is being able to look back and spot a moment that changed the course of history. The brutal 1407 murder of Louis, brother of Charles VI of France, was one of those moments.

The city's provost (today's chief of police) Guillaume de Tignonville was called on to investigate the murder, and wrote his findings down on a scroll more than 30 feet long.

In Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris, medieval expert, professor and author Eric Jager examines this fascinating relic and how the murder of one man had far-reaching implications for an entire nation.

Jager starts off by setting the stage, introducing the players and giving a detailed look at life in 15th-century France. He gives the reader a good handle on the politics and players of the age and creates interesting portraits of everyone involved.

He notes that "along with other surviving records spared by the teeth of time, the rediscovered scroll tells a story of conspiracy, crime and detection that would be hard to believe were it not true."

Living with a mental illness (based on descriptions of the time, Jager notes a possible modern-day diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia), Charles had designated Louis to act in his place when he was unable to rule.

Despite being a womanizer and a spendthrift with the royal coffers, Louis was a pious man interested in books and learning. Jager believes it was this appetite for knowledge that led to rumours it was his sorcery causing the king's madness.

More than a dozen men on horse and on foot, wielding axes and swords, attacked the Duke of Orléans just outside the city walls one night in November as he rode home from the queen's palace. His left hand was chopped off and his right arm seriously broken, but it was the two severe blows to the head that ended his life.

The scroll gives us the chance to hear from witnesses who typically wouldn't be part of the historical record, such as a shoemaker's wife, a page, a clerk and a salt-seller, and Jager manages to really capture the voices of these everyday people with his smooth, clear writing style.

Tignonville, a knight in his early 40s, was a well-educated man who had served as provost since 1401. He was notified of the murder almost immediately and started his investigation soon after.

Discovering the identity of the individual responsible had long-lasting and far-reaching effects. France was plunged into a gory civil war that would last for years, followed by an invasion by Henry V of England.

The latter half of the book focuses more on these repercussions than the details found on the scroll. Tignonville's role as the lead investigator isn't examined in enough detail, and only he is only briefly mentioned after the investigation was complete.

The book also could have used better maps. Quaintly hand-drawn, they're not consistent and are hard to match to descriptions in the text.

It's the first-person accounts that truly make this book different from other books focusing on European history. Eric Jager's Blood Royal will truly engage medievalists interested in new perspectives on a crime that changed the world for so many.

 

Julie Kentner is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2014 G7

History

Updated on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 8:35 AM CST: Tweaks formatting.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Rumor's 30th Anniversary with Mike Wilmot, Darryl Lenox, Dave Hemstad & Derek Edwards

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A nesting goose sits on the roof of GoodLife Fitness at 143 Nature Way near Kenaston as the morning sun comes up Wednesday morning- See Bryksa’s Goose a Day Photo- Day 07- Web crop-May 09, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS June 23, 2011 Local - A Monarch butterfly is perched on a flower  in the newly opened Butterfly Garden in Assiniboine Park Thursday morning.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Would you visit Dalnavert Museum if it reopened?

View Results

Ads by Google