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)

Tuesday 26 October 2021

Gilles de Rais Day 2021



  1. Hi Margot, here’s a light hearted question that I’d like your opinion on. If there were to be a movie involving / or about Gilles de Rais what actor do you think would do him justice? I’ve never seen a good enoug portrayal of him in film.

  2. Hi, Lena. I'm the worst possible person to ask, because what I know about film you could write on the back of a postage stamp! But several years ago, I think spring 2017, my book was "shopping listed" by a film producer - touted around in a quest to find backers for a possible film. That all came to nothing, but there was some chatter about who might play Gilles & the consensus was - Johnny Depp. (This was 2017, remember, he wasn't problematic back then). I actually felt: the young Depp, yes, but not now. Gilles wasn't quite 25 at the peak of his military glory. The producer told me off, saying "anyone can play anyone", but I don't think that's true.
    Given that the young Depp is no longer available, I would say someone like Timothée Chalamet? Not him necessarily, but someone like that, twenty-something, personable.
    Who would you like to see play him?

  3. Hi, yes I could see both of those actors play Gilles in their own unique way, especially Johnny Depp in his youth, he would have been almost perfect. Personally, I think French model/actor Louis Garrel would have been a good fit, maybe still? if a film took place in Gilles later years. Might be a bit personal to ask but since you know so much about him what would you consider Gilles sexuality to be? I know that many people have their own ideal, whether he was straight, gay, bi, asexual romantically attracted to Joan etc Thanks for your reply, I’ll look forward to reading your book. It’s a fascinating subject.

  4. I don't think we can ever know what his sexual orientation was. We have only two contemporary documents: the trial record, which is obviously slanted, anfd his brother's complaint about his extravagance, which doesn't mention his sexuality.
    This is a short piece (well, two pieces, really) I wrote on the subject -

    1. Link won't work, but it's on the FAQs page, #4.