Friday, January 15, 2016

Origin of the Bluebeard Legend By John Timbs 1869


Origin of the Bluebeard Legend By John Timbs 1869

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It is (says Dr. Cooke Taylor) a very common but a very erroneous opinion, that the legend of Bluebeard was devised by the Roman Catholics as a satire on Henry VIII., and that its object was to strengthen the indignation with which his cruelty to his wives was viewed throughout Europe. There is nothing in the legend which can afford the slightest support to such a theory; neither is there any authority for making Bluebeard a Turk. The manners which the story portrays describe a state of society long anterior to the age of the Tudors; they belong to a time when the murder of wives needed not to shelter itself under the form of law: the hero is not a king feeling something of the control which nascent public opinion imposes upon despotism; he is the castellan of the darkest period of the middle ages, when the only check on the tyranny of the lords of the castles was the chance of their being called to account by some adventurous knight-errant, who undertook to redress grievances by the point of his lance and the edge of his sword. The most telling incident in the story—the lookout of sister Anne from the tower of the castle—evidently fixes the date in the age of knight-errantry; Bluebeard is clearly one of those terrible burgraves whom Victor Hugo has so vividly delineated, or, as seems to be probable, he is

"Knight of the shire, and represents them all."

In fact, there are few countries in western Europe which do not claim the equivocal honour of having produced a Bluebeard; and we may regard the tale as a kind of concentrated essence of several legends and traditions relating to outrages perpetrated by feudal lords during the feeble stage of monarchy, when, to use the expressive language of the sacred historian, it might be said of almost every country in western Europe, "At this time there was no king in Israel; every man did that which seemed right in his own eyes." Several strange local legends have been brought to light, which throw some gleams of explanation on the tales that have become current in European tradition. Several of these relate to a supposed prototype of Bluebeard; and it will not be uninteresting to glance at the real history of some of these personages, as illustrative of the state of society in that age of chivalry, the disappearance of which is so deeply lamented by certain writers of sentimental romance. After giving an outline of three of the legends alluded to, Dr. Taylor observes: "We think that traces of these three legends may be found in Perrault's story of Bluebeard; and that instead of having based his fiction on a single tradition, he endeavoured to make it a kind of resume of the many legends of tyrannical husbands with which the popular literature of France abounds."

One of the versions relates that Bluebeard was no other than Gillea Marquis de Laval, a brave marshal of France in the reigns of Charles VI. and VII. His revenues wore princely: wherever he went, he had in his suite a seraglio, a company of actors, a band of musicians, a society of sorcerers, a great number of cooks, packs of dogs, and above two hundred led horses. Mezeray states that he maintained sorcerers to discover hidden treasures, and corrupted young persons of both sexes that he might attach them to him, and afterwards killed them for the sake of their blood, which was necessary for his charms and incantations. He was at length, for a state-crime against the Duke of Brittany, strangled and burnt in a field at Nantes, in 1440.



Bluebeard by Hugh Chisholm 1910

BLUEBEARD, the monster of Charles Perrault's tale of Barbe Bleue, who murdered his wives and hid their bodies in a locked room. Perrault's tale was first primed in his Histoires ou contes du temps passé  (1697). The essentials of the story—Bluebeard's prohibition to his wife to open a certain door during his absence, her disobedience, her discovery of a gruesome secret, and her timely rescue from death—are to be found in other folklore stories, none of which, however, has attained the fame of Bluebeard. A close parallel exists in an Esthonian legend of a husband who had already killed eleven wives, and was prevented from killing the twelfth, who had opened a secret room, by a gooseherd, the friend of her childhood. In "The Feather Bird" of Grimm's Hausmarchen, three sisters are the victims, the third being rescued by her brothers. Bluebeard, though Perrault does not state the number of his crimes, is generally credited with the murder of seven wives. His history belongs lo the common stock of folklore, and has even been ingeniously fitted with a mythical interpretation. In France the Bluebeard legend has its local habitation in Brittany, but whether the existing traditions connecting him with Gilles de Rais (q.v.) or Comorre the Cursed, a Breton chief of the 6th century, were anterior to Perrault's time, we have no means of determining. The identification of Bluebeard with Gilles de Rais, the bête d'extermination of Michelet's forcible language, persists locally in the neighbourhood of the various castles of the baron, especially at Machecoul and Tiffauges, the chief scenes of his infamous crimes. Gilles de Rais, however, had only one wife, who survived him, and his victims were in the majority of cases young boys. The traditional connexion may arise simply from the not improbable association of two monstrous tales. The less widespread identification of Bluebeard with Comorre is supported by a series of frescoes dating only a few years later than the publication of Perrault's story, in a chapel at St Nicolas de Bieuzy dedicated to St Tryphine, in which the tale of Bluebeard is depicted as the story of the saint, who in history was the wife of Comorre. Comorre or Conomor had his original headquarters at Carhaix. in Finistère. He extended his authority by marriage with the widow of lona, chief of Domnonia, and attempted the life of his stepson Judwal, who fled to the Frankish court. About 547 or 548 he obtained in marriage, through the intercession of St Gildas, Tryphine, daughter of Weroc, count of Vannes. The pair lived in peace at Castel Finans for some time, but Comorre disappointed in his ambitions in the Vannetais, presently threatened Tryphinc. She look flight, but her husband found her hiding in a wood, when he gave her a wound on the skull and left her for dead. She was tended and restored to health by St Gildas, and after the birth of her son retired to a convent of her own foundation. Eventually Comorre was defeated and slain by Judwal. In legend St Tryphine was decapitated and miraculously restored to life by Gildas. Alain Bouchard (Grand's troniques, Nantes, 1531) asserts that Comorre had already put several wives to death before he married Tryphine. In the Légendes bretonnes of the count d'Amezeuil the church legend becomes a charming fairy tale.

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