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)

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Expiatory Monument

The expiatory monument erected by Marie de Rais at the site of her father's execution. "...miraculous powers were ascribed to the Virgin in the niche, she became known as the 'Bonne Vierge de Crée-Lait,' 'the Milk-Giver'; and until the Reign of Terror mothers and nurses flocked to the spot to pray her for an abundance of milk..." (E.A.Vizetelly)
"Here again is a strong suggestion that he was regarded as the Incarnate God of fertility". (Margaret Murray)
It would certainly be a strange development if the populace regarded him as a child murderer.

Monday 15 November 2010


Gilles de Rais was executed at a meadow called Biesse, on an island in the Loire which is now the Boulevard des Martyrs Nantais de la Résistance (lower right on the map. The Château Ducal is labelled 2.)

Sunday 24 October 2010

Comorre the Cursed

Not strictly relevant to the topic, but it explodes the Bluebeard claims nicely, and is in any event a chilling and seldom-read folk tale.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Sunday 3 October 2010

The Montfaucon portrait

This is the nearest to an authentic portrait of Gilles de Rais. It is known as the Montfaucon portrait, from the name of a collector; the picture is by Gilles le Bonnier. E.A.Vizetelly has pointed out that the armorial bearings are those of Montmorency-Laval and not Rais, so there is a possibility that this is really a  representation of Guy de Montmorency-Laval, Gilles's cousin.