The case for the defence

Born 1404
Executed 1440
Exonerated 1992

It is now widely accepted that the trial of Gilles de Rais was a miscarriage of justice. He was a great war hero on the French side; his judges were pro-English and had an interest in blackening his name and, possibly, by association, that of Jehanne d'Arc. His confession was obtained under threat of torture and also excommunication, which he dreaded. A close examination of the testimony of his associates, in particular that of Poitou and Henriet, reveals that they are almost identical and were clearly extracted by means of torture. Even the statements of outsiders, alleging the disappearance of children, mostly boil down to hearsay; the very few cases where named children have vanished can be traced back to the testimony of just eight witnesses. There was no physical evidence to back up this testimony, not a body or even a fragment of bone. His judges also stood to gain from his death: in fact, Jean V Duke of Brittany, who enabled his prosecution, disposed of his share of the loot before de Rais was even arrested.

In France, the subject of his probable innocence is far more freely discussed than it is in the English-speaking world. In 1992 a Vendéen author named Gilbert Prouteau was hired by the Breton tourist board to write a new biography. Prouteau was not quite the tame biographer that was wanted and his book, Gilles de Rais ou la gueule du loup, argued that Gilles de Rais was not guilty. Moreover, he summoned a special court to re-try the case, which sensationally resulted in an acquittal. As of 1992, Gilles de Rais is an innocent man.

In the mid-1920s he was even put forward for beatification, by persons unknown. He was certainly not the basis for Bluebeard, this is a very old story which appears all over the world in different forms.

Le 3 janvier 1443... le roi de France dénonçait le verdict du tribunal piloté par l'Inquisition.
Charles VII adressait au duc de Bretagne les lettres patentes dénonçant la machination du procès du maréchal: "Indûment condamné", tranche le souverain. Cette démarche a été finalement étouffée par l'Inquisition et les intrigues des grands féodaux. (Gilbert Prouteau)

Two years after the execution the King granted letters of rehabilitation for that 'the said Gilles, unduly and without cause, was condemned and put to death'. (Margaret Murray)

Sunday 16 June 2024

Blowing my own trumpet

When I began this blog, I really had no idea what to post, so often I just put up links to interesting sites. That was over a decade ago; we've come a long way since then. However, here, with little comment, are a couple of pieces on Edmund Stenson's short film about my work. The title says it all. 

Blog post by Andrea Silgardi  

Review by Joseph Perry

You can find 'The Martyr' here

Tuesday 30 April 2024

Mythbusting #2


That there was a book so lurid that reading it tempted Gilles de Rais into crime

While sorting out the Gilles de Rais myths that need busting, I decided to give low priority to the Corrupting Book that supposedly triggered his crimes. That particular myth had died out, I thought.  Jacques Heers was peddling it in 1994, but that was thirty years ago and Heers is not as well thought of now as he was then. 

And now, voilà! Up it springs again, undead, complete with a "quote" to support it. 

The story, invented by the Bibliophile Jacob, is that  Gilles possessed an illustrated copy of Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars, which was the inspiration for his depravities.  Lacroix has Henriet, as his librarian, translating it to him and Gilles, aroused, committing his first crimes the same night. Bossard  enthusiastically adopted this narrative 

Anybody who has looked into Suetonius will know that there are some highly lubricious anecdotes about the Emperors, Tiberius especially. Those who claim that the Inquisition could not possibly have imagined the acts attributed to de Rais should note that  there were precedents. And also that Suetonius' claims, too, have been disputed. The human imagination is far more versatile than folks think. 

One can see why someone trying to craft a compelling story out of the trials of Gilles de Rais might want to make up a back story to account for what would otherwise be quite inexplicable atrocities. For there is a gaping hole at the heart of the allegations against Gilles - the little matter of motivation. We are offered three motives, which conflict with each other. So did he kill for pleasure? Or was he sacrificing children to the Devil? Or, as the ever-practical Henriet asserted in a seldom-quoted aside, simply to ensure that his victims could never tell tales? 

Some writers have attempted to square the circle by asserting that Gilles started with child sacrifices and grew to enjoy the bloodshed. Unfortunately, this clashes violently  with the timeline. The murders are alleged to have started in 1432 at the latest; it was Prelati who suggested offering body parts to the Devil, and he only arrived in mid-1439. This offering up of the hand, heart, eyes and blood of an already-dead child is the only example of anything resembling human sacrifices. The whole Satanic Rites of Bluebeard narrative is based on a few headers in the civil trial, and these were almost certainly added at a later date.

This is the confected quote that is suddenly appearing in a number of online articles -

Là-dessus, je décidai d'imiter lesdits Césars, et le même soir, je commençai à le faire en suivant les images reproduites dans le livre... »

[Whereupon I decided to imitate the aforesaid Caesars, and that same evening, I began to do so by following the images reproduced in the book...]

These words do not appear in the trial record or in any other contemporary source. They were written in the mid-1980s by historian Maurice Lever, closely following the myth created by Paul Lacroix, the Bibliophile Jacob. Please note that although Lever was an historian, his period was the 17th and18th centuries, not the 15th. M. Lever had never laid eyes on the trial documents, far less studied them. Why would he? He was merely referencing Gilles in a book, Les Bûchers de Sodome, dealing with the criminalisation of homosexuality. 

 The quote is bogus, as is the whole narrative. It illustrates how little respect even genuine historians have shown for the truth about Gilles de Rais.

Further reading -

The Bibliophile Jacob

The AI image at the top of the page is taken from Reddit, with thanks. 

Saturday 20 April 2024

Mythbusting: check out that cliché!

 The most recent blog post is the first in what may well be a near-endless "Mythbusting" series, which will eventually have its own separate page. Inevitably, there will be some repetition. Some posts will probably be what my nemesis, Wikipedia, calls "stubs", concisely stating the facts and linking through to other posts where the matter has been discussed in detail.

This is necessary because, with the traditionalist rawhead-and-bloody-bones propagandists on the back foot, most of the disinformation comes from amateur commenters on social media who base their theories on moonshine and fairy dust. These ignorant assertions must not be allowed to stand, because if unchallenged they will spread like the plague, and having counter-arguments readily available will help me and others to quash them.

There is more absolute tosh written about Gilles de Rais than almost any other subject. For more than five hundred years, what little was written about him was fictionalized. When, in the late nineteenth century, he finally received what is often (erroneously) called an "authoritative" biography by Eugène Bossard, many errors were simply baked into the narrative. Bossard was not a historian: he was writing a thesis in the discipline of French literature. He has Gilles born in the wrong place (Machecoul rather than Champtocé), claims his mother remarried when she actually died, gets the birth year of his brother René out by seven years, and repeats as fact several legends about the corrupting book, the dead fiancées, and the veiling of the crucifix. Later biographers merely copied his errors rather than doing their own studies. 

The word cliché was originally a technical term from the early days of printing When pages had to be set up laboriously with metal type, a word that was often used was kept ready made so that it could simply be dropped into the text to save time. This is exactly how the internet works. A particularly juicy piece of misinformation will be C & P-ed everywhere. This was how a monumentally sloppy piece of Wikipedia editing became a sex act so shocking that even the Inquisition couldn't invent it - "he cut their heads off and ****ed the hole!" This little gem still crops up here and there occasionally. 

The people who repeat this drivel have never read the trial record. Some of them may never have picked up a book since they left school. They steal whatever appeals to their perverse little minds, without question or comprehension. The pieces of clickbait they steal may well have been already stolen and edited, and will be stolen and edited in their turn in a nightmare process of Chinese whispers. 

So whenever you see a literal cliché, a phrase that pops up unchanged on various sites, you are seeing undigested data that is almost certainly wrong. That there were no mediaevalists involved in the 1992 retrial, that Gilles was born "no earlier than 1405", that "most historians" believe that he was guilty... No thought at all has gone into cutting and pasting these stock phrases. Proceed with caution.  

IMPORTANT NOTE: I hope it is abundantly clear that this blog is a resource. Use it however you want. Feel free to link to it, quote it, refer to it, paraphrase it. This information needs to be out there. Spread the word, with my blessing and my thanks. 

Sunday 7 April 2024

Mythbusting #1

That human remains were found in any of the castles of Gilles de Rais either during his lifetime or more recently

One of the most common tropes in online discussions is "but bodies were found!" This is largely because of the Chinese Whispers effect, and also because Joe Public is unable to distinguish between evidence and allegations.

The prosecution claimed that "suspicious" ashes and a bloodstained, stinking child's chemise were found at Machecoul. Not, please note, in the château as you might expect, but in a small hovel of ill repute on the outskirts of the village, where Blanchet and Prelati lived for a short time. Nobody has ever claimed that any murders or magical operations took place there or that Gilles ever visited it. It was a tiny building with, obviously, a correspondingly small fireplace and chimney, so burning bodies to ashes there would have been completely out of the question. 

The other allegation that is regularly treated as indisputable fact is the supposed discovery of a barrel" or "conduit" (the word used is ambiguous) full of children's bones at Champtocé. This has entered into contemporary myth to the point where a 1900 fantasy picture of Gilles' arrest has become current on the internet. The image shows him pinioned, brutish and hangdog,  watching while a barrel of bones is tipped over in front of him. It goes without saying that nothing of the kind happened

The myth of the cache of children's bones comes in the testimony of Guillaume Hilairet, an interesting serial witness who is also named as a "person of interest". He did not, himself, see the thing he reported, he was merely repeating what he was told by one Jean Jeudon. It is, in fact, classic ouϊ-dire (hearsay) evidence. M. Jeudon, like all the alleged eyewitnesses, does not appear in court. 

Many of the people who claim that "bones were found" imagine that they have been found recently. Occasionally somebody asks if the castles have been excavated and whether skeletal remains were dug up. Indeed, there have been excavations, unsurprisingly. Nothing incriminating has ever been unearthed. 

Here is a recent post about excavations of the sousterrains of Tiffauges. Inevitably, one ghoul could not contain herself & was politely but firmly told: No. No bones at all. Other commenters challenged her about the Champtocé claim. She was unable to defend her assertion. 

Further reading -

Monday 18 March 2024

The Template of Normality

Just a little funny to let you all know I'm still here and still working towards the complete rehabilitation of Gilles de Rais. Expect more blog posts soon.

These stills were taken from Edmund Stenson's beautiful little short film, The Martyr, which you should watch if you haven't seen it already. Yes, that is me, & yes I do talk just like that, this was unscripted. 

Thursday 26 October 2023

Gilles de Rais Day 2023

Gilles de Rais 
Etienne Corillaut
Henri Griart
I will be their advocate till I die.  

Illustration by Quentin Faucompré