Lesley Conner’s The Weight of Chains (Sinister Grin Press, 2015) is a visceral, dark historical fantasy that holds nothing back. She bases much of the novel’s horror on historical fact…and you know how it goes…the truth of our atrocities far exceeds any horror any one of us can imagine.
I will have a review of Lesley’s book next week. In the meantime, Lesley gives us some background regarding the main characters, the acts they performed, and the accuracy of her novel.
Very slight spoilers ahead.
When people find out that my novel was inspired by a historical figure, they inevitably ask me what parts of the novel are real and what did I make up, so today I thought we would play Real or Fake: The Weight of Chains edition! (It’s kind of like True or False, but not.)
Let’s jump right in.
Gilles de Rais: Real. Gilles de Rais was a nobleman who lived in France in the 15th century. He fought with Joan of Arc in the Hundred Years War and was also a serial killer who had a preference for children, especially blond boys. Now, there are those who say he only admitted to the murders because he was afraid of being excommunicated from the church, but I don’t buy that. Records of how many children he killed vary, but I’ve seen numbers as high as 500.
Poitou: Real. The historical Poitou was a relative and accomplice of Gilles de Rais, going out to find victims and helping to dispose of the bodies. In The Weight of Chains, he is unrelated to Gilles. Rather he is a guard, but he performs basically the same functions as the real Poitou.
Colette: Fake. Obviously, Gilles had to have a cook of some sort but there is no record that I could find of who that would have been. I created Colette and her son Laurent. What is real is the cake that she served the children who came to the castle. Research indicates that Gilles fed his victims drugged cake and wine to keep them quiet and complacent.
Prelati: Real. No, I’m serious, the wizard was real. Also real is the reason he was in the castle. Gilles liked to put on elaborate theater productions and parades. These cost a lot of money, so he hired a man named Prelati who was supposed to be a wizard to raise a demon called Barron who was known to be able to grant riches to anyone who could control him. The historical Prelati was much more of a conman than the one in my novel. Reportedly, he strung Gilles along for a good while, telling him that he almost had the gold, going as far as saying that the demon gave him the gold, but got angry with the wizard and turned it into a snake at the last moment. He produced a snake as proof. If only my Prelati had so much wit. Maybe then he would have fared better.
Jeanetta and her family: Fake. There is little record of the people Gilles terrorized. That is the lot of the peasant. Jeanetta, her family, and all of the people who live in the village are completely fabricated, though I hope I captured the stress and worry that would have continuously weighed on them.
The strained relationship between Gilles and his brother Rene: Real. Between Gilles tormenting Rene when they were children, and then selling off family property to make a quick buck when they were adults, the two brothers were not especially close. The bit with Rene going to the king of France to put a stop to Gilles’s spending spree is real, though I’ve seen no evidence that would suggest he knew of his brother’s murders.
The bloody flux: Real. Bloody flux was a general term used for bloody diarrhea. Yeah, not pretty, but life in medieval times was not pretty. It was mostly caused by contaminated food or water and could strike anyone, but seems to have hit children the hardest. Infants would quickly dehydrate and die.
Christophe’s smallpox scars: Real. Do a little bit of research on smallpox and the images you will find of those who survived are shocking and heartbreaking. If you survived, you carried the evidence for the rest of your life.
The lye pit: Fake. From what I’ve read, Poitou would bury the bodies of Gilles’s victims on the grounds surrounding the castle, sprinkling them with lye to help break them down more quickly. Then he would burn their clothing to get rid of every last bit of evidence. Gruesome, yes, but it didn’t have the flare I wanted for the novel. I created the lye pit to bump it up a bit.
Gilles’s artwork: This is where my note-taking is failing me. I could have sworn that I have read somewhere that the historical Gilles did in fact have artwork in his Great Hall and hallways like I describe in the novel, but for the life of me, I cannot find anything right now to confirm that. Is it possible that my subconscious is planting false memories? Maybe so, but if it is that is really disturbing. So please, if you run across any articles indicating that little bit is real, send them my way.
And there you have it, a quick and dirty rundown of what I made up and what I based on history—even if it is history that is 600 years old and has holes poked through it.
Pick up a copy of The Weight of Chains at Amazon to see how all these interesting little tidbits fit into my story.