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Tiffauges: the birthplace of Jill Korn’s play, Confessional

By 12/08/2020No Comments

Tiffauges – the birthplace of Jill Korn’s Confessional

Previous work by Jill Korn on Scottish |Writers’ Centre: Collaboration – the inspiration of Edith Piaf & Felicitations: Edith Piaf – a woman of great purity

I am to be envied. I’m visiting once more the Vendée region of France which welcomed me as a nervous exchange student a long time ago. I have loved it ever since for its ancient villages, each guarded by a serene Madonna or a crucified Christ; its red-roofed houses and neat vegetable gardens; fat tomatoes ripening in the sun and hollyhocks basking by back street doorways. I relish the rhythm of its patois, which I don’t understand, and the humour of its people which is ready, witty and vulgar.

The Vendéens are proud of their history, which records some dark and bloody events and nearby is the ancient ruined castle of Tiffauges, once an impregnable medieval stronghold. Now, groups of schoolchildren chatter among its fallen stones, but its great keep has a sinister reputation. It is known everywhere as Bluebeard’s Castle and it was the inspiration for a monologue I wrote in 2018 about a fifteenth century super-hero turned child-murderer: the infamous Baron Gilles de Rais. I wondered how the historic figure of a medieval paedophile, monstrous, mad, and doomed to die at the stake, came to be associated in the minds of the Vendéens with a gruesome folk tale about a wife-murderer who perished in a barrel full of spikes.

19th C. portrait of Gill de Rais

Gilles de Rais

The Castle of Tiffauges stands at a bend in the busy D753 which runs west from Cholet, ancient town of weavers, to the salt marshes of Saint-Jean-de-Monts. Although most of the castle is in ruins, it is still impressive: its infamous keep and the wide scope of its defensive walls provide a clue to its importance as a medieval stronghold. It is a thriving tourist venue now, but it once formed part of the vast estates owned by Gilles de Rais, Marshall of France.

I sit, sheltered from the hot sun under a huge oak tree, chatting to Monsieur Maurice Chatry, a former deputy mayor of the town of Tiffauges and an authority on Gilles de Rais. I ask him about the connection between Gilles and the Castle of Tiffauges:

“Gilles de Rais was not a native of Tiffauges. He became an orphan at a very young age, and he was brought up by his grandfather who initiated him into the arts of warfare rather than any intellectual pursuits. Gilles was already greedy for territory and he had his sights set on the castle and lands of Tiffauges, which at that time belonged to the Thouars family. Catherine de Thouars, a young girl of Gilles’s own age, was heiress to these vast estates. With the backing of his grandfather, Gilles first abducted, and then married Catherine. He was not yet sixteen.”

I’m starting to get the picture. Here was a man of his time – no stranger to warfare or indeed banditry — who, from a very early age, was accustomed to take by force anything he desired.

Gilles de Rais, handsome, successful, richer even than the king, becomes the monstrous anti-hero of my second full-length play, Confessional.

Listen to Confessional by Jill Korn.

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