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, 6 January 2014

A curious find

 très probablement Gilles de Rais .. de Montmorency Laval

non chiffré / usure d'age/ légère désargenture / sans casse
 hauteur 11,8 cm environ

This mysterious little object is a seal which may (or may not) depict Gilles de Rais and Jehanne d'Arc. There are no markings and the actual seal has been removed, making it impossible to date or place, although it was bought from vendors in Provence, France. It seems to be reasonably old and to have been used for its intended purpose, judging by the wear.

Looking at the iconography of the piece, it is highly likely that it is meant to represent Gilles and Jehanne. Both figures have fleur de lys markings on their armour. The taller figure is leaning on a double-headed battleaxe in what appears to be a deliberate allusion to Féron's imaginary portrait of 1835. He is bearded; Gilles is almost always depicted with a beard, uniquely among Jehanne's companions. The smaller figure is clinging to him for support; we know that Gilles rescued Jehanne on the battlefield twice and the second time she had a leg injury. This little piece might well represent that moment at the nadir of the Loire campaign when Paris had failed to fall, Jehanne was wounded and the next day Charles VII broke up the army, leaving both Gilles & Jehanne to go on alone to their respective fates. No wonder the male figure has such a solemn, melancholy air.

This would have been a controversial piece to own at any time, since Gilles de Rais is the dominant figure and Jehanne is leaning on him. It might have been made in the 1920s, when Jehanne was canonized and there was much revisionist interest in Gilles, or possibly in the late 1890s when Huysman's Là-Bas had such a succès de scandale. But to speculate further would be to make up fairy stories, like Bossard. 

It is a beautiful object and it is posted here for its beauty and its rarity. 

(The pictures and description were taken from the eBay listing. Obviously this item is now sold, but it was bought from this shop.)