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)

Monday 16 May 2016

Opening lines

Everybody who has heard the name of Gilles de Rais knows the outline of his story, together with a few mordant details. He was one of Joan of Arc’s captains, but after her death he went mad. He shut himself up in his gloomy castles and surrounded himself with alchemists and magicians. Having bankrupted himself on selfish pleasures, he attempted to create gold by alchemical means. When this failed, he turned to the Devil and held Black Masses at which children were sacrificed. Strange lights were seen in a tower, screams were heard and a constant pall of smoke hung over the castle. Wherever the Baron de Rais travelled, boys vanished, to the point where some villages had no children left at all. Eventually, the bereaved parents complained to the Bishop of Nantes and Gilles was arrested. The evidence at his trial was so lurid that at one point the bishop rose to his feet and veiled the face of Christ on the crucifix. A parade of mothers and fathers bore witness to the loss of their sons and daughters. Eventually Rais repented his sins and made a full confession, after which he was condemned, hanged and burned. He is remembered today as the legendary Bluebeard.

A striking story. As we shall see, barely a word of it is true.

(This blog has gone part-time because of the pressing need 
to write an English-language revisionist biography that will 
go a lot further than Fleuret or Prouteau. 
These are the first few lines of the introduction.)

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