A Tale of Two Murders

Passion and Power in Seventeenth-Century France

A Tale of Two Murders

Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: 15 b&w photos, 1 figure Published: September 2005

Author: James R. Farr

History > European History

As scandalous as any modern-day celebrity murder trial, the “Giroux affair” was a maelstrom of intrigue, encompassing daggers, poison, adultery, archenemies, servants, royalty, and legal proceedings that reached the pinnacle of seventeenth-century French society. In 1638 Philippe Giroux, a judge in the highest royal court of Burgundy, allegedly murdered his equally powerful cousin, Pierre Baillet, and Baillet’s valet, Philibert Neugot. The murders were all the more shocking because they were surrounded by accusations (particularly that Giroux had been carrying on a passionate affair with Baillet’s wife), conspiracy theories (including allegations that Giroux tried to poison his mother-in-law), and unexplained deaths (Giroux’s wife and her physician died under suspicious circumstances). The trial lasted from 1639 until 1643 and came to involve many of the most distinguished and influential men in France, among them the prince of Condé, Henri II Bourbon; the prime minister, Cardinal Richelieu; and King Louis XIII.

James R. Farr reveals the Giroux affair not only as a riveting murder mystery but also as an illuminating point of entry into the dynamics of power, justice, and law in seventeenth-century France. Drawing on the voluminous trial records, Farr uses Giroux’s experience in the court system to trace the mechanisms of power—both the formal power vested by law in judicial officials and the informal power exerted by the nobility through patron-client relationships. He does not take a position on Giroux’s guilt or innocence. Instead, he allows readers to draw their own conclusions about who did what to whom on that ill-fated evening in 1638.


A Tale of Two Murders is … riveting and readable, equally appropriate for an audience of university students or general readers.” — Brian Sandberg, Renaissance Quarterly

A Tale of Two Murders is a well-structured and complex story of the disappearance of two men in 1638. It is told in engaging, flawless prose, but most importantly it contains a stunning arrangement of every necessary ingredient to a delicious murder mystery.” — Laura James, Clews: The Historic True Crime Blog

“[A] captivating work of excellent scholarship. [Farr] admirably succeeded in bringing these extraordinary murder stories to life and persuasively brought forward their theses. If only all history books were this much fun to read.”
— Marie Seong-Hak Kim H-Law, H-Net Reviews

“Combining a gripping narrative with keen analysis, Farr uses this case to shed light on patronage and the pursuit of power among the seventeenth-century French nobility.” — Jeffrey R. Watt,, Sixteenth Century Journal

“Farr has crafted an excellent study of early modern political and social history.” — Michael R. Lynn, Canadian Journal of History

“I enjoyed this book immensely. Beautifully written and carefully structured, it uses the narration of a murder mystery to demonstrate how the early modern French legal system worked, in particular how the informal system of patronage and influence was used to manipulate the legal system. Based almost entirely on archival sources, the book is meticulously researched and exhibits exemplary scholarship. . . . It is a tour de force, combing popular and scholarly history, and highly recommended to everyone.” — Sharon Kettering, Law and History Review

“In my experience, Farr’s book is a fine teaching tool. Wrapped in taut suspense, readers are gripped by indecision; guilty, not guilty; could be, maybe not. Adopting a smart strategy, he does not take a stand for or against the Giroux verdict (1643), so students may be asked to summarize evidence on both sides—reason about it—and offer verdicts of their own. A compelling historical narrative based on careful scholarship, this book is a valuable addition to studies of early modern France.” — Sarah Hanley, American Historical Review

“Students and scholars alike will appreciate this engaging, illuminating study of the convoluted workings and cutthroat realities of early modern law and politics.” — Michael P. Breen, Journal of Modern History

“The best micro-histories manage to convey the texture of a vanished culture and to define and amplify the basic issues, concerns, and imperatives that infused the society in which the highlighted events unfolded. Farr’s engrossing study, A Tale of Two Murders, delivers those insights in spades.” — Jay M. Smith, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"This meticulous account of crime, courtroom drama, and punishment in seventeenth-century Dijon, France is a case study in the best sense of the term--and what a case! . . . [S]o colorful a tale is a novelist's dream that cries out for embellishment, yet the unvarnished record is compelling enough for a scholarly treatment that repays in intellectual substance what it sacrifices in swashbuckling but imagined flourishes." — Peyton Moss, Foreword Reviews

“Dazzling beauty, spousal abuse, passionate love, wanton covetousness, lust, conspiracy, poison, murder, vengeance: what an engaging surprise to discover that one of America’s foremost scholars of early modern European society, James R. Farr, is also a beguiling storyteller. A riveting drama, his book is at the same time a masterful analysis of emotion and affect, rites and rituals, elite formation and reproduction, family and lineage strategies, gender construction, the discourse and practice of the law, political culture, relations of domination and subordination, the tensions between center and periphery, and the myriad ways in which power worked in seventeenth-century France.” — Steven Laurence Kaplan, author of The Bakers of Paris and the Bread Question, 1700–1775

“James R. Farr has produced a terrific work of historical research, a book that offers both compelling narrative and suggestive analyses. A Tale of Two Murders addresses basic questions about how early modern society functioned, and it should interest specialists and non-specialists alike.” — Jonathan Dewald, author of Aristocratic Experience and the Origins of Modern Culture: France, 1570–1715


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

James R. Farr is Professor of History at Purdue University. He is the author of Artisans in Europe, 1300–1914; Authority and Sexuality in Early Modern Burgundy, 1550–1730; and Hands of Honor: Artisans and Their World in Dijon, 1550–1650.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

List of Principal Characters xiii

Prologue: Looking Back 1

1. Tales of Two Murders 3

2. Passion and the Beautiful Cousin 14

3. The Trial Opens: Jean-Baptiste Lantin’s Investigation, 1639–1640 28

4. A Hat, a Rapier, a Knife, and a Dagger 40

5. The House of Giroux 54

6. Prison 69

7. Poison 86

8. Jailbreak 97

9. A “Minister of Vengeance” 109

10. Rape? 122

11. Attack, Counterattack 136

12. The King of Spades 150

13. Life or Death? The Day of Reckoning Draws Near 161

Epilogue 185

Analytical Essay: The Paradoxes of Power, Law, and Justice 191

Notes 205

A Note on Sources 209

Index 219
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3471-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3459-0
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