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)

Thursday 22 November 2018

Publicity material for The Martyrdom of Gilles de Rais

Gilles de Rais was executed on October 26th 1440 for a string of offences including heresy, black magic, sodomy and murder. He was revered as a saint for three hundred years after his death. Since the latter part of the nineteenth century, he has quite wrongly been regarded as the inspiration for Perrault's Bluebeard. What are we to make of such contradictions? 

Historians have long assumed that the life and death of Gilles de Rais had been thoroughly researched and held no secrets. The converse was the case. Properly examined, the dry court documents are full of contradiction and absurdity. Many supposed facts, on close scrutiny, turn out to be pure fiction. Unimportant characters sidle from the shadows, having turned out to be spies. Important ones may never even have existed. 

In 1992, there was an unofficial retrial, spearheaded by the novelist Gilbert Prouteau. Gilles  was spectacularly acquitted, but there has been a great deal of controversy about what many see as a jape or a publicity stunt and his reputation remains in limbo. 

Was he a saint, or the Devil incarnate? History is undecided.

The purpose of this book is to scrutinize the generally accepted account of Gilles' life, including the evidence given at his trial, to expose the commonly believed myths and to posit a more credible alternative narrative. There is a much stronger case for his innocence to be made than that put forward in 1992. 

However, this is not simply a rehash for English readers of the arguments put forward by various French writers. It is a work of original research. In addition, since existing biographies are inaccurate and patchy, it is an attempt at a truly encyclopaedic account of the life of Gilles de Rais. Everything you always wanted to know about Gilles de Rais (but were afraid to ask), if you like. All the facts are there, as well as all the lies and legends. 

This is not a conventional biography.  But Gilles de Rais was no conventional man.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. If Gilles de Rais' daughter really was named Marie Charlotte Chevalier, an offspring of Gilles de Rais and Nicole Pineau dit Leperle, she procreated with Jacques Gaudry, Sieur de la Bourbonniére, then with her two sons Jacques and Nicolas, she migrated to New France. They married and procreated, and so on, which is why they appear in my geneology ancestors. Their names are on a plaque on a church in Reigns, France. I have been researching this, and I am also enlisting assistance from geneaologists (sp). I will let you know what I find out.