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, 29 July 2017

Title reveal

It is no secret that , although there have been several biographies in both French and English, Gilles de Rais has been ill served by his biographers. Most lean heavily on his first biographer, Abbé Bossard, who is unreliable, partisan, and props up his ludicrous Bluebeard theory by quoting liberally from a fictionalised account of the trial by Paul Lacroix, the Bibliophile Jacob. Consequently, myths such as the "illustrated Suetonius" that supposedly had such a corrupting influence, and the wholly fictitious veiling of the cross at a critical moment during the trial, are almost universally accepted as fact. Even Gilbert Prouteau mischievously copied Bossard's errors, notably by killing off Gilles' two fiancées, whereas at least one, and probably both, outlived him.

It seemed to me that an accurate biography would not only need to retell the life, but also track down those pernicious myths to their source and debunk them.

After several years of research and writing, I am preparing to publish my alternative biography in October 2017. The title is The Martyrdom of Gilles de Rais. Updates will be posted here, on Twitter, and on my Facebook page


  1. Hey, I just found your blog today and felt like giving you a shout out for all the work you put into it. I only recently found out about this guy from Cradle of Filth's album Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder which is a concept album about him. I highly recommend it if you don't know it, at least the lyrics if the music isn't your cup of tea.

    1. Thanks for your kind words. Yes, I know the album. When it first came out, I got involved in a discussion on the Cradle of Filth website - it wasn't my thread, and I was very polite. In fact, all I did was advise people on what to read about Gilles de Rais. The thread was deleted within 24 hours. I'm obscurely proud of that. I was too much for Cradle of Filth!