What is a coup de Jarnac? Well, it’s an unexpected and treacherous attack. But let’s go back to this attack that wasn’t so treacherous after all!

Setting the scene

It’s the start of a duel on 10th July 1547 between Guy Chabot and François de Vivonne, the representative of the future Henri II. The duel was brought about by the heir apparent’s suggestion that Guy Chabot owed his luxurious lifestyle at court to the favours of his mother-in-law.
Deeply offended, he demanded a duel to settle the matter. The future king, unable to put his life in danger asked de Vivonne to represent him.

A duel with an unexpected ending

François de Vivonne was considered an excellent swordsman and the outcome seemed settled before the duel had even begun.  But his adversary, aware of de Vivonne’s talent’s, was taught, by an Italian master, to use a secret boot.  On 10th July 1547, the two men met at the château of St-Germain-en-Laye, before the king and court.  Chabot did his best against the attacks of de Vivonne but then seized the opportunity to strike his shank, to everyone’s amazement.  Thus, the origin of the expression which denoted a skilful and unexpected blow, initially intended positively but by the mid-18th century, it had a negative sense.
The coup de Jarnac is thus a loyal blow to the shank but today it has become synonymous with treachery.

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