Stand By Your Man, French Style

The time was March 16, 1914. The place was Paris. Madame Henriette Caillaux was on a mission. Her beloved husband, Joseph Caillaux, the finance minister of France, was under attack.
In those days, newspapers openly took sides in political matters, much more openly than they do now, and often things got ugly. Gaston Calmette, the editor of the Le Figaro newspaper, had taken sides against Monsieur Caillaux, and things had gotten very ugly indeed. Calmette had received a letter which implied that M. Caillaux was working behind the scenes to obstruct passage of a bill he was publicly supporting.
Even at that time, journalistic ethics, such as they were, advised against publishing such a letter without the editor doing some more research as to its authenticity. But Calmette smelled blood and he published it. M. Caillaux’s reputation was badly damaged and there was a good deal of upheaval in the French political administration, as Calmette had intended there should be.
Mme. Caillaux was distraught. Her first impulse was to encourage her husband to challenge Calmette to a duel, the traditional method by which gentlemen settled such matters of honor. But a duel might well result in Joseph’s death or injury, and if it didn’t, he faced almost certain prosecution. Either way, he would be ruined.
So Mme. C. took matters into her own hands. She paid a call on Calmette at his office, and after a brief conversation she shot him dead, then waited calmly for the gendarmes to arrive and arrest her. She never denied or made excuses for her actions. In her mind, her husband was avenged.
Mme. Caillaux’s trial was a media sensation, just as it would be if it happened today. Even the president of France gave a deposition, something almost unheard-of for a world leader.
Mme. Caillaux’s attorney took advantage of the normal sexism of the time and argued that his client had acted impulsively, without premeditation, in a burst of feminine emotions. And it worked. Henriette Caillaux was acquitted, with the widespread support of the French public. She lived nearly another thirty years, a free woman.


2 Responses to “Stand By Your Man, French Style”

  1. judylaq Says:

    Mai Cher, she loved dat man, fo shur!

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