Bluebeard

Bluebeard
Bluebeardism, n.
/blooh"beard'/, n.
1. a fairy-tale character whose seventh wife found the bodies of her predecessors in a room she had been forbidden to enter.
2. any man alleged to have murdered a number of his wives or other women.

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or Gilles de Rais or Gilles de Retz

born Sept./Oct. 1404, Champtocé, Fr.
died Oct. 26, 1440, Nantes

Baron and marshal of France renowned for his cruelty.

His name was later connected with the story "Bluebeard" by Charles Perrault. He fought several battles at the side of St. Joan of Arc and was made marshal of France (1429). Back in Brittany he led a dissipated life and eventually turned to alchemy and satanism. Accused of abducting and murdering more than 140 children, he was tried by ecclesiastical and civil courts. Condemned for heresy, he confessed, repented, and died bravely at the gallows; his body was burned. Skeptics have noted irregularities in the trials and the interest of others in his ruin. The fairy-tale Bluebeard takes a wife, who, curious about the one room of the castle to which he denies her the key, discovers there the skeletons of her predecessors.

Bluebeard, illustration by Gustave Doré

By courtesy of the trustees of the British Museum; photograph, J.R. Freeman & Co., Ltd.

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▪ literary character
 murderous husband in a story, “La Barbe bleue,” in Charles Perrault's (Perrault, Charles) collection of fairy tales, Contes de ma mère l'oye (1697; Tales of Mother Goose). Similar stories exist in European, African, and Eastern folklore; the essentials are the locked and forbidden room, the wife's curiosity, and her 11th-hour rescue. Perrault's version probably derived from Brittany and may have been based on the career of the 15th-century marshal of France Gilles de Rais (Rais, Gilles de) and that of Comorre the Cursed, a 6th-century Breton chief, each of whom committed crimes similar to those in the Bluebeard stories.

      In an Estonian version, the wife is rescued by a gooseherd (or a page), a childhood friend who slays her husband and marries her. In the story “Feather-bird” in Grimms' Fairy Tales (1812–15), three sisters are the intended victims.

      The identification in some stories of Bluebeard with the devil and of the locked door as the gate of hell are probably later additions. Andrew Lang's translation (1888) of Perrault's Conte includes a close comparison with other folktales and details of the careers of Gilles de Rais and Comorre.

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Universalium. 2010.

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