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Blood Royal: 15th-Century Murder


By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Apr 1, 2014 8:00 AM

Combine the bloody savagery of HBO's Game of Thrones with the persnickety intellectualism of Sherlock Holmes, and what do you get?


Blood Royal, a graphic account of the brutal 15th-century murder of Louis of Orleans, brother of France's King Charles, who was hacked to death by masked assassins wielding swords and axes. It is also the story of Guillame de Tignonville, provost of Paris, a brilliant lawman who painstakingly collected evidence and testimony to solve the crime, even though the truth could endanger himself, the royal family and, ultimately, all of France.

Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris is the latest book by UCLA English Professor Eric Jager, an expert in medieval literature. Jager spent nearly 10 years piecing together the conspiracy, crime and investigation from a 30-foot parchment scroll that contained de Tignonville's actual report from 1407.

"Guillaume marshaled the scores of officers and clerics at his command to examine the crime scene, collect physical evidence, depose witnesses and ransack the locked-down city for clues," Jager says. "He questioned shopkeepers to see if they recognized items found in the murder house, and he ordered innkeepers throughout the city to bring him lists of their guests in case the murderers were among them."

Although a transcript of the scroll was published in the 1860s, Jager traveled to France to study de Tignonville's original report. Combining his own expertise with research assistance from the UCLA Library, he vividly re-created scenes as they most likely occurred. Take the following excerpt, which describes the barbarous murder scene from the perspective of Jacquette, a witness:

"Jacquette watched in horror as a sword struck one of his upraised arms, nearly taking off the lord's remaining hand. In an instant, they were all 'chopping and stabbing' at him. They 'hammered' him as he swayed on his knees in their midst, blood flying everywhere. ... Finally, a great ax blow from above 'split open his head down to the teeth,' and he fell forward onto the pavement. A piece of his brain, knocked loose from his shattered skull, landed in the mud nearby."

Once the killer is revealed, several catastrophic consequences follow: a bloody civil war, a ruinous English invasion led by Henry V and a brutal foreign occupation that sets the stage for Joan of Arc.

But it's the detective story, Jager says, that is at the heart of the book. "Detectives were around a lot longer than you might think. One of them was in Paris in the early 15th century," he points out. "He left us a record of exactly what he did to solve it."