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


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.