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 23 December 2018

A Gilles de Rais Christmas Card

Gilles de Rais by Olly Flanagan

This picture, a mash-up of several depictions of Gilles de Rais, was made for me as a Christmas card by a good friend and is shared with her permission. Enjoy! 

Saturday 1 December 2018

You've read the blog, now buy the book

I never meant to write a biography of Gilles de Rais. All I intended to do was bring the ideas of Reinach, Fleuret, Bayard and Prouteau to an English-speaking audience. I assumed there were plenty of decent biographies out there and all I would need to do was provide an outline of his life.

Then I read (in some cases re-read) those biographies, both English and French... Oh, dear. Even the best were inaccurate, the worst were compendiums of myth and fiction. This is what I said back in spring 2014: "There is no one book about Gilles de Rais, either in English or French, that gives all the known facts free of myth and with no agenda. All accept Bossard as an authority, and Bossard knowingly used the forged trial account by "The Bibliophile Jacob", Paul Lacroix, and invented a Bluebeard folklore that simply did not exist at that time. Also, there is no revisionist biography in English."

I touched upon the works of Prouteau and his predecessors and issued the first hint of what I was planning: "However, I do feel that they only scratch at the surface of the case for Gilles' innocence. If this blog is less regular than it might be, that is because there is a book to be written..."

Four years later (and eight years after I began my research) that book is finally complete. I have tried to be as inclusive as possible and to give a taste of various biographers and novelists. There is a detailed chronology, a couple of maps, an appendix that contains all the trial evidence, translations of Bossard's Bluebeard myths (including the lengthy anonymous poem that has never, to my knowledge, been rendered into English), my own version of the tale of Comorre the Cursed, various short essays and much, much more. 

Some of the material first saw daylight in this blog. A lot more is new. If you want to know the identity of the spy in Gilles' household who took bribes from the Duke and was instrumental in spreading the "public rumour", for example, you must either read the book or research it for yourself. Also, it is fascinating how the life of Gilles de Rais takes on a completely new shape if it is not viewed through the filter of an unquestioning belief in his guilt. 

The book tells the story of Gilles de Rais' life and death, but goes beyond that to give an account of his afterlife in fiction, culture and legend. If you want all the truth, plus an examination and debunking of the lies and myths, you need to read it. 

The Martyrdom of Gilles de Rais is on sale here, price £12 + P&P.

Portrait of the author
as a much younger woman

And now the book is written, what next? 

Watch this space... 

There will be more developments.