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, 25 September 2011

From Inside Bluebeard's Castle by Carl Stuart Leafstedt

The Emergence of a Sympathetic Bluebeard
in Turn-of-the-Century Literature

A French abbot named Eugene Bossard published portions of the extensive
court documents for the first time in a massive study of Gilles de Rais that appeared
in 1885 (a second edition followed in 1886). Such was the authority of
Bossard's book that it became the point of departure for all subsequent debate on
the Baron of Rais, a status earned in part due to its exhaustive coverage of the
relevant fifteenth-century source material. From archives in Paris, Nantes, and
across the Loire Valley, Bossard gathered the surviving historical records and,
with impressive scholarship, used them to build a case, surprisingly, for Gilles's
spiritual salvation.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Son et lumière at Machecoul

Gilles de Rais is now an industry in the Pays de Retz & he seems to be treated more as a national hero than a monster. This, of course, was one of the aims of Gilbert Prouteau in calling for his rehabilitation.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Forensic evidence

Qu'ont-ils détecté, déniché, découvert au cours de leurs exploration? Rien, pas un indice. Pas une dent. Pas un vestige, pas un cheveu. Pas un témoin qui puisse dire: «J'ai vu». Pas une mère en pleurs qui clame: «Voilà la robe souillée de sang de ma fille morte.» Pas un père qui vienne apporter un coeur d'enfant arraché de la poitrine et enveloppé dans un linge maculé.
(Gilbert Prouteau, Gilles de Rais ou la gueule du loup)

"What did they find, unearth, discover during their exploration? Nothing, not a clue. Not a tooth. Not a trace, not a hair. Not one witness who can say: "I have seen." Not a weeping mother who claims: "There is the dress stained with the blood of my dead daughter" Not a father who brings a child's heart ripped from its chest and wrapped in a spotted cloth."

No forensic evidence was produced at the trial of Gilles de Rais.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Plaque, Champtocé

The birth of Gilles de Rais is marked by a plaque with strangely anodyne wording... It must have taken the Association Croix de Sable and the Mairie de Champtocé sur Loire a great deal of agonising to come up with a form of words that would offend neither the revisionists nor the traditionalists.

The charges related to alchemy were, interestingly, the only ones Gilles admitted in his first confession, before the threat of torture and the production of the forced testimony of his servants.