We are here in Nantes’ oldest district, mentioned at the end of the 10th century, when count of Rennes Conan I, nicknamed le Tors (″the Twisted″) raised the castle of Bouffay. It became the estate of the dukes of Brittany, later replaced by the current ducal castle. So, the fortress of Bouffay was transformed into a jail.
The square du Bouffay was used for executions:
• the one of king Louis XIII’s favourite, Chalais, accused of lèse-majesté crime.
• the ″hangings″ of 1645, evoked by the famous French writer Mrs. de Sévigné.
• the execution of the marquis de Pontcallec and his 3 friends, accused of conspiracy, in 1720...
… and Gilles de Rais’ execution!
Look at this man! Do you recognize him? The proud marshal of France, Joan of Arc’s brave comrade in arms! Gilles de Rais. We were in October 1440. He’s going to died on the stake… Locked in the castle of Bouffay, he was accused of sodomy, sorcery and murders!
During the French Revolution, executions went on. They even painted the gallows and the guillotine in red, because inhabitants couldn’t bare the view of blood! At the peak of the horror, we had the execution of Jean-Baptiste Carrier and the sisters La Métairie.
The first one in 1794: he arrived in Nantes to expel the royalists and stop the refractories during the war in Vendée. He arrested those one and drowned them in the river Loire… A real slaughter! He was guillotined on the square.
The sisters, in December 1793, were poor victim of the revolution… 4 sisters get away from their family, executed on the gallows… The youngest one was 17, the eldest one 28. A tradition in Nantes said that their hangman committed suicide few days after their execution...
In the middle of the 19th century, the jail was closed. And yet, in the beginning of the 18th century, they started to fit out the current square. Its medieval look was erased, the city ramparts were razed.
Architect Jean-Baptiste Ceineray opened the square on the river Loire and proposed one thing: to raise several townhouses, on the same model. Finally… only one house was built!