1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bluebeard

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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 printed in his Histoires et 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 Hausmärchen, 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 to 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 Iona, 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 Tryphine. She took 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 (Grandes croniques, 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.

See also E. A. Vizetelly, Bluebeard (1902); E. Sidney Hartland, “The Forbidden Chamber,” in Folklore, vol. iii. (1885); and the editions of the Contes of Charles Perrault (q.v.). Cf. A. France, Les Sept Femmes de Barbe Bleue (1909).