Coupe de Jarnac

My new favorite phrase is “Coupe de Jarnac.” It is my great hope and wish to someday get to use it in a sentence. Peter Woodward from the TV show “Conquest” offers this origin for the phrase:

In 1547 in the court of Henri II, King of France, Francois De Vivonne, the Count of La Chastaigneray claimed that Guy Chabot, the Lord of Jarnac had slept with his mother-in-law. This put Guy in a very difficult situation because if he didn’t challenge the claim, his honor would be ruined forever. But to challenge the claim meant that he’d likely have to fight Francois in “honorable combat”. Francois knew the system well… he was widely regarded as the best swordsman in France. And Guy… well, Guy wasn’t.

Guy decided to go for the challenge. Now, the one who is insulted gets to choose the weapon style. While Francois was a great swordsman in every discipline, Guy didn’t tell Francois what weapons they’d be fighting with. He said that Francois should bring 30 different weapons to the contest. This was keeping within the rules of combat but a good way to put Francois off-balance. It’s thought that Guy went to an Italian combat teacher and trained extensively in just a single offensive move with sword and buckler for several weeks. When the combat began, Guy fought very defensively until he was able to play out the one expert move he knew. Guy ran Francois through. Francois was so shamed by his losing to Guy that he refused medical treatment and bled to death where he was struck down.

So, to this day, a “Coupe de Jarnac” is when one plays by the letter of the rules but uses a certain level of trickery to achieve an important victory.

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