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)

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Bluebeardery and copypasta

In the early days of the internet, when it had a capital I and the Millennium Bug was a dark cloud on the horizon, it was sometimes called the Information Superhighway. The idea was that it would be a repository of all knowledge. That was not how it worked out. Disinformation spreads faster than facts and most people now know that, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, not everything you read on the internet is true.

Gilles de Rais has suffered more from Chinese whispers than almost any other historical personage, because fiction crept into his life story so early. Since no really accurate biography of him has ever been published, and since some of the most well-known factoids derive from fiction, there has never seemed any pressing reason not to just make things up. On the internet, moreover, we find an infinite number of bloggers and tweeters desperate for something to say, and in the six weeks separating the anniversary of his arrest from that of his death there seems to be a pressing need to copy and paste something about him that may or may not be accurate. 

Thus we find tweets such as this (click on the pictures to enlarge) -

I had to reply to that bizarre fantasy -

Another example -

They can never defend their whimsical assertions.

And finally the jewel of the collection, which seems to be an entry for a competition to make the most errors in the fewest lines of text -

No doubt both families were astonished by these improbable siblings. Do note also Perrault writing in 1967 in spite of his extreme old age.

So be careful out there. Not everybody is telling you the truth.

(Names have been blurred to protect the stupid)