The Trial of Madame Caillaux

The Trial of Madame Caillaux

The Trial of Madame Caillaux

The Trial of Madame Caillaux

Synopsis

Edward Berenson recounts the trial of Henriette Caillaux, the wife of a powerful French cabinet minister, who murdered her husband's enemy Le Figaro editor Gaston Calmette, in March 1914, on the eve of World War I. In analyzing this momentous event, Berenson draws a fascinating portrait of Belle Epoque politics and culture.

Excerpt

Madame Caillaux was by her own description a “bourgeoise.” Her parents lived comfortably not far from Paris in the town of Rueil. and she grew up with the expectation of a proper and early marriage. This Henriette Rainouard accomplished at age nineteen when she moved directly from her parents’ home to that of her new husband, Léo Claretie. Twelve years her senior, Claretie wrote for Le Temps and possessed a modest reputation as a man of letters. the couple had two children, without whom, Henriette claimed, the marriage would not have lasted as long as it did. in 1908, after fourteen years together, Henriette asked Léo for a divorce. She had become involved with Joseph Caillaux a year earlier, and Léo allowed their union to end at once. There could be no question, however, of a quick marriage to Caillaux; he was still wedded to Berthe Gueydan, his wife of less than two years. Berthe proved more reluctant to give up her spouse than Claretie had been, and she succeeded in delaying Henriette and Joseph’s marriage until October 1911.

Once Henriette had realized her dream of marrying Joseph Caillaux, all was well. Or at least everything could have been, she declared on the first day of her trial, “if our lives had not been poisoned by slander.” She had found in her marriage to Caillaux “the most complete happiness.” She was blessed with a husband who cared for her, a daughter,* and an unusually comfortable domestic life. Together, she and Joseph possessed inherited property and investments worth more than 1.5 million francs, placing them among the nation’s wealthiest families. They enjoyed, as she put it, “a large fortune that allowed us to live in great comfort.” the photo

* Her second child had died in 1908 at the age of nine.

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