A Dice Game to Die For: Conclusion

Pardon for a murderer who, after a rough game of dice, struck another in the chest with a spear.

Part IV: Snake Eyes

Starring:

Recap of Parts I, II, and III:

Thomas struggles

After being thoroughly pummeled, and with a knife pulled on him, Thomas got up…somehow. I made up how.

Thomas gets free
Thomas escapes

He left the house and ran out into the night…

Thomas sees his spear

…taking the spear he had brought with him.

(My mother, when she got to this panel, wanted me to know that I’d accidentally drawn two heads on Thomas in this image. My 4-year-old daughter was very excited to explain to grandma that the two heads don’t mean Thomas actually has, well, two heads, but that he’s looking one way, then suddenly looking in the other direction.)

Thomas challenges Raoulin

Thomas was very upset and angered that Raoulin had hit him and taken his gold écu, not to mention that Raoulin had pulled a knife on him. Let’s also not forget the insult to Thomas done by smacking his wife.

Raoulin hears the challenge
Raoulin accepts the challenge

Raoulin came out, taking with him a large spear. Why didn’t he take the knife? Did he know that Thomas had a spear? It’s a fair guess that he did. Better to fight with roughly equal weapons, with similar reach.

The fight is stopped

In the midst of this discord, their neighbor, the squire Simon de Daubeuf, convinced them to leave off.

Raoulin goes back inside

Simon took Raoulin back inside and closed the door. Thomas stayed outside.

Raoulin sneaking out

Suddenly, Raoulin, persevering in his evil intent, ran out via the door of the stable.

I’m a big fan of this line, specifically the phrase “persevering in his evil intent.” It’s incredibly rich. We get the idea that Raoulin is consumed by evil, and therefore anything Thomas does is a rational and needful response. On top of that, the evil is intentional, purposeful. Raoulin has not left hold of his senses; he has chosen to act maliciously. That compounds his villainy. Finally, we get the idea of perseverance. Already dissuaded once, Raoulin remains obstinate in his evil. He will not be put off. He refuses to be stopped.

Thomas, in short, has been painted into a corner. This is always what you want when you’re looking for mercy.

Raoulin attacks Thomas

Raoulin came right at Thomas, his spear lifted to strike him, kill and murder him! (Yup, Raoulin’s hand position is off, as is Thomas’s, thanks for noticing!)

So exciting! Reading the petition, the story crescendos here. We’ve reached the climax of the story. Thomas must make a decision. Whatever he chooses, there can be no turning back to how things were before. These letters for pardon were very intentionally crafted to elicit sympathy for the criminal seeking mercy by heightening the drama. There was an art to it. Whole books have been written on this subject. I can’t recommend highly enough Natalie Zemon Davis’s Fiction in the Archives. I’d also recommend my own article on the set of letters from Lancastrian Normandy, from which I drew this story. The article’s all about the language of evil and persistence and intent. Oh, and the Devil. There’s lots about the Devil in there.

Thomas on the run

Thomas put his spear in front of himself, wanting to stop Raoulin from “improperly greeting his person” (wow!). When Raoulin approached, Thomas pointed the spear at Raoulin’s chest or armpit — he couldn’t be sure which, it was around 11 at night after all.

Suddenly, Raoulin fell to the ground and died.

Thomas, afraid of the rigour of justice, left his house and the company of his wife and children.

What is Thomas so afraid of? There’s the murder charge, for one. The English weren’t known to be particularly fond of people who killed their sergeants. It was the king of England, , whom Thomas had to petition. England controlled northern France, including Paris. More than that, in 1420 King Charles VI of France had disinherited his own son (Charles VII) in favour of Henry V of England. However, Henry died before Charles VI, making his son Henry VI the successor to the throne of France. But, Henry was just a babe when his father died in August 1422, less than a year old.

Why does this all matter? Thomas killed an English sergeant. Not good.

Thomas killed an English sergeant in the midst of a war, in occupied territory. Very not good.

Thomas killed an English sergeant in the midst of a war, in occupied territory, when the current king of England is barely two years old, a regent rules in his name, and the king’s uncle Charles roams around southern France looking to get his birthright back. Yowzah!

No wonder Thomas feared for his life and took to his heels.

But, captured in the end, he sought mercy. In fact, it was his relatives and close friends who submitted the plea (known as a letter of remission) on his behalf. Following the tried-and-true formula for these kinds of documents, they situated Thomas as a humble family man with mouths to feed (“Thomas Duval, age 30 or so, labourer with a wife and children”). Then, they moved into the story, beginning with the exposition (“at around the hour of supper in the hôtel of the late Raoulin Boscquérart”). Next comes the conflict (“Raoulin took the gold écu”; “Raoulin, filled with hot anger, got up and walked over to Thomas’s wife and struck her very inhumanely”). Throughout all of this, right up to the end, Thomas is essentially passive. He does not get angry, he does not strike at Raoulin. When he can, he runs away. Okay, he also calls Raoulin out to a fight, but that’s after we’ve seen just how aggrieved his honour was. When we get to the climax, we’re convinced that Raoulin will not stop until he’s killed Thomas (remember “persevering in his evil intent”?). Thomas’s killing of Raoulin is clearly self-defense, says the petition.

The court agreed.

Thomas’s sentence was commuted to paying 10 livres parisis (in value, a bit less than 10 écu d’or). Guess it was good he’d won that dice game, eh?

The sentence handed down in Paris, March 1424.

My interpretation handed down in Kitchener, May 2020.

A Dice Game to Die For: III

Pardon for a murderer who, after a rough game of dice, struck another in the chest with a spear.

Part III: What He Did About It

Starring:

Recap of Parts I and II:

Thomas rebukes Raoulin

I know, rough language, but I’m taking it from the original. Actually, Thomas doesn’t say anything directly about Raoulin’s hitting his wife; he just responds to the attack by calling it an evil thing.

If Thomas thought that would solve the issue, he was sorely mistaken.

Raoulin, full of felonious courage, came up to Thomas.

Raoulin punches Thomas

He struck Thomas two or three times with his fist…

Raoulin pushes Thomas

…and threw him to the floor, beneath the stool on which Thomas had been sitting. Yes, that stool detail is in the original. I think it’s there to say that Thomas had never left his seat during all of this, which means he wasn’t threatening or challenging Raoulin to a fight. Keep in mind, this is from someone who’s begging forgiveness, so he’s trying to shine the best possible light on the situation (so I bet you can guess by now who’s petitioning the king for a pardon).

And yes, I didn’t draw Thomas sitting. My drawing skills are still pretty rudimentary if I don’t have a reference image.

Raoulin strangling Thomas

Raoulin took Thomas by the throat and strangled him so hard that Thomas struggled to speak.

Raoulin reaches

Raoulin reached…

Knife

…and grabbed a knife, which Thomas hadn’t seen before. Even more specifically, Raoulin grabbed a knife with a black handle. Honestly, I don’t know what import that’s meant to have. Perhaps it indicated the value of the weapon, which would factor into the severity of the situation and the relevant penalties. But that’s a guess. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them!

And wouldn’t you love to hear what happens next? Come back for the final, exciting conclusion of a Dice Game to Die For!

A Dice Game to Die For: II

Pardon for a murderer who, after a rough game of dice, struck another in the chest with a spear.

Part II: The Die is Cast

Starring:

Recap of Part I:

An écu — whether dating from Louis IX’s reign, Philip VI’s (1328-1350), or Charles VI’s (r. 1380-1422) — was an extremely valuable coin, especially for a labourer like Thomas. It’s hard to compare wages then and now, but to give you a sense of things, it was probably equivalent to half a year’s wages for a labourer. As an infantryman, he might have made 6 pence a day, though that’s probably on the very high end, but we’ll be generous to Thomas. That écu would represent about 40 days wages for a well-paid infantryman.

All of this math is really rough.

Thomas is mad

Rough math or not, you can imagine Thomas was none to pleased when Raoulin pocketed his écu.

Thomas, though, was a simple labourer, and Raoulin was the local sergeant. Friends they may have been, but that did not obviate status and the hierarchy of power.

Let's play dice

I took a bit of liberty here. After Raoulin took the écu, the record tells us that they played dice together. I don’t know that Thomas suggested it. Perhaps Raoulin did, and Thomas hoped to win back his écu. Maybe one of the other people in the group thought a game of dice would be a good way to diffuse the situation. One way or another, dice were played.

Which is to say that they gambled. There are a variety of dice games from the Middle Ages — probably a lot more than we actually know about. One of the most common was called passe-dix. It involved 3 six-sided dice (d6s for all my fellow gamers). The aim, in short, was to roll a 10 or more.

Dice rolling

I decided to display Hazard, a game played on two d6s. The player casting the dice selects a number from 5 to 9 before rolling. Depending on the roll, the player has won or lost. After three losses, it’s a new player’s turn. There’s a lot more to this than what I’ve described here. If you’re interested, I’d recommend this blog post.

I chose Hazard for two reasons.

1) The name of the game derives from Arabic, where it literally means dice;

2) Chaucer mentions it in the Pardoner’s Tale:

Hazard is the very mother of lies and deceit, and false swearing, and blasphemy, and waste of cattle and of time. It is the contrary of honour for to be held a common hazardour; and ever the higher he is of estate, the more he is holden desolate if that a prince useth hazardry;

3) I only felt like drawing two dice.

Hmm…that’s three reasons… Like I said, rough math.

Thomas wins

After playing at dice, Thomas parted Raoulin from all his money. Raoulin did not take this well.

No wonder the ambassador in the Pardoner’s Tale left Corinth forthwith when he discovered that all the great men of that land played hazard, saying:

Send some other wise ambassadors; for on my word, I would rather die than ally with hazardours.

Raoulin loses money

Raoulin, full of hot anger, got up from the table…

If only Thomas had heeded Chaucer’s advice!

Raoulin slaps Thomas's wife

Raoulin walked over to Thomas’s wife and struck her very cruelly. If you want to be literal about it, very inhumanely.

So this is rather interesting, isn’t it? The wife has been entirely absent from the story up to this point. In fact, we have to assume that she had come with Thomas to dine at Raoulin’s for that’s not stated explicitly. She just shows up in order to be slapped.

Yes, there’s a lot we can unpack here.

Let’s just go with the fact that Raoulin, though socially superior to Thomas, does not directly engage with him over the lost money. Instead, he strikes Thomas’s wife. In the 15th century, there’s none who’d doubt that Raoulin had in fact attacked Thomas by doing this. Raoulin is demonstrating his power in this moment, not a fear of Thomas (as we might be inclined to view it if it happened today).

To be sure, this narrative of events that we have leaves out a lot of details. What had Thomas’s wife been doing? I’ve assumed she was speaking with another woman during all this time, but maybe she was watching the dice game? Perhaps she cheered a little too much for Thomas, seemed to revel too much in Raoulin’s loss? We just don’t know and never will.

What we do know is that Raoulin, by slapping Thomas’s wife, struck a blow at Thomas.

What’s Thomas going to do about it? Find out in Part III.