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The Martyrdom of Gilles de Rais (2018)

“The Martyrdom of Gilles de Rais” by Margot K. Juby.

Gilles de Rais was executed on October 26th 1440 for a string of offences including heresy, black magic, sodomy and murder.

He was revered as a saint for three hundred years after his death.

Since the latter part of the nineteenth century, he has quite wrongly been regarded as the inspiration for Perrault’s Bluebeard. What are we to make of such contradictions?

Historians have long assumed that the life and death of Gilles de Rais had been thoroughly researched and held no secrets. The converse was the case.

Properly examined, the dry court documents are full of contradiction and absurdity.

Many supposed facts, on close scrutiny, turn out to be pure fiction.

Unimportant characters sidle from the shadows, having turned out to be spies. Important ones may never even have existed.

In 1992, there was an unofficial retrial, spearheaded by the novelist Gilbert Prouteau. Gilles was spectacularly acquitted, but there has been a great deal of controversy about what many see as a jape or a publicity stunt and his reputation remains in limbo.

Was he a saint, or the Devil incarnate? History is undecided.

The purpose of this book is to scrutinize the generally accepted account of Gilles’ life, including the evidence given at his trial, to expose the commonly believed myths and to posit a more credible alternative narrative.

There is a much stronger case for his innocence to be made than that put forward in 1992.

However, this is not simply a rehash for English readers of the arguments put forward by various French writers. It is a work of original research.

In addition, since existing biographies are inaccurate and patchy, it is an attempt at a truly encyclopedic account of the life of Gilles de Rais. Everything you always wanted to know about Gilles de Rais (but were afraid to ask), if you like.

All the facts are there, as well as all the lies and legends. This is not a conventional biography.

But Gilles de Rais was no conventional man.

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