Just read this history book, by a UCLA English professor whom I don't know personally, and liked it very much.

The book is about the last judicial trial by combat authorized by the French central government, in 1386; it seems quite thoroughly researched, but it's also a page-turner. It's got friendship gone sour; a battle to the death; a complaining witness (the wife of one of the combatants, who had accused the other of rape) who would face immediate burning at the stake (on the grounds that she had been proved a perjurer) if her husband and champion was defeated; and a battle scene that's shocking even to me, after all the battle scenes I've read about and watched in movies.

This would make a great historical movie, it seems to me; but in any case, it should be a great gift for your history buff friends. Here it is in (And, no, I'm not getting a penny from this plug.) Here it is in paperback and in hardcover.

Guest2 (mail):
Funny -- I saw this in Borders this weekend and wondered if it was good. Thanks for the recommendation.
11.28.2005 4:16pm
big dirigible (mail) (www):
Hmmm, last one in 1386 - tres avant-garde.

According to Rupert Gould, the last trial-by-combat case in England was in 1817. But I don't believe that any combat actually took place, so I suppose it doesn't count.
11.28.2005 5:42pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
I think that I have read that the defendant demanded trial by combat, and was released because, to the surprise of the judges, he had the right to do so. It was a rape/murder case, I think.
11.28.2005 6:54pm
Bread and Circuses (www):
The title is in fact a misnomer, but it's not a bad read. It may have been the last duel with all the judicial trappings, but it was by no means the last duel. Here is a link to a later duel that springs to mind.
11.28.2005 7:36pm
TomG456 (mail) (www):
I just wanted to second Eugene's recommendation. I picked up this book from the library next expecting it to not be very good, but was quite pleasantly surprised. I indicate in my linked review it's a bit rich, but the paperback's a better value, plus not everyone is at the same place on the book quantity/quality v. value curve.
11.29.2005 1:48am
Elliot (mail):
Ok - I'm not going to read it, but I want to know what happens in the end. Does the husband lose (resulting in his wife being burned at the stake) or does he win?
11.29.2005 9:13am
TomG456 (mail) (www):
Hubby wins, in what would likely have been considered (1) an upset and (2) against what the local lords would have wanted.
11.29.2005 1:01pm
ak47pundit (www):
Interestingly, some are still asserting their right to trial by combat as late as 2002:

Court refuses trial by combat

A court has rejected a 60-year-old man's attempt to invoke the ancient right to trial by combat, rather than pay a £25 fine for a minor motoring offence....Leon Humphreys remained adamant yesterday that his right to fight a champion nominated by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) was still valid under European human rights legislation. He said it would have been a "reasonable" way to settle the matter.

Magistrates sitting at Bury St Edmunds on Friday had disagreed and instead of accepting his offer to take on a clerk from Swansea with "samurai swords, Ghurka knives or heavy hammers", fined him £200 with £100 costs.
11.29.2005 2:02pm