The dark story of Bluebeard is one of the most famous folktales in France, inspired by an even more horrifying true story of a medieval lord from Brittany who was sentenced to death for murdering what may have been as many as hundreds children. He was arrested for these terrible crimes at the Chateau de Machecoul, which today lies in ruins.
Gilles de Rais was a wealthy lord and a knight in the French army that fought alongside Joan of Arc in the Hundred Years’ War. At one point he owned 36 different castles in the Machecoul area where he grew up. After the army, he led a life of extravagance that, along with his dabbling in occult dark magic and failed attempt at demon summoning, left him in financial ruin.
He became interested in alchemy hoping to make gold to replenish his fortune, seeking the help of Satan through committing unspeakable crimes. Some estimate the number of children he killed to be in the hundreds. He was finally convicted and hanged for his crimes in 1440. Many believe his horrifying story inspired Charles Perrault’s famous 17th century story of Bluebeard (“Barbe Bleue”), about a wealthy but vile nobleman with a predilection for murdering his wives.
The Norman style Chateau de Machecoul, sometimes called the Chateau de Gilles de Rais or “Bluebeard’s Castle,” today lies in ruins. When it was still intact, it was a square, moated fortress with six crenellated towers and a dungeon. The current owners, Béatrice and Bernard de Grandmaison, decided six years ago to preserve and restore the castle and introduce people to the rich history of the place.
Visiting the ruins, you’ll get a tour through centuries’ of French history: the Britannian Duke Pierre le Dreux who built the castle in 1235; the Hundred Years’ War; the story of Gilles de Rais, religious wars with the Gondi, and the French Revolution, after which the castle was turned into a farm. During tours the owners will also talk about the discoveries they have made during excavations of the site, and the work they are doing to revive the castle, which was registered as historical monument in 2004.
Know Before You Go
You can access the castle by train (Nantes-Croix de Vie lines) or by car at the address indicated above. (Starting from the church, follow the camping de la Rabine or Challans direction.) Tours are two hours long, offered Wednesdays at 3 p.m and 7p.m from July 1 to September 20, and all year for groups of more than eight people. Entrance is 6€, free for under age18. For more information: (+33)2 40 78 50 42 or firstname.lastname@example.org