Henriette Caillaux – 1914

By | November 12, 2016

“The gun went off accidentally”

henriette-caillaux

The front cover of a Parisian Journals shows an artist’s impression of Madame Caillaux shooting Gaston Calmette

THE CRIME:

Henriette Raynouard was born in France in 1874 and began an affair with married former prime minister Joseph Caillaux. On 31 October 1911, when he had finally divorced his wife, they married. Three years later, in early 1914, the world was nearing the precipice that would lead to the First World War and tensions were high in many countries.

Joseph Caillaux was appointed Minister of Finance but his was not a popular appointment and he was heavily criticized especially in Le Figaro, edited by Gaston Calmette. Calmette accused the politician of being a traitor and a womanizer. He published a letter, written in 1901, which seemed to infer a certain amount of hypocrisy by Caillaux when it came to a proposed new income tax bill. It looked as if the scandal could engulf Caillaux and forced his resignation from public life. On 16 March 1914 the newspaper published a letter from Caillaux to his former wife. It was too much for the current Madame Caillaux and, that afternoon, she ordered her chauffeur to drive her to the offices of Le Figaro.

When she learned that the editor was not there she sat down to wait. When Calmette appeared at 6pm, he invited her into his office. She pulled out her Browning revolver and shot him four times in the chest. He died of his wounds at midnight in hospital at Neuilly. When the police arrived Caillaux told them that she would go to the police station in her own car, not theirs. They agreed.

WHERE:

26 Rue Druot, Paris, France

WHEN:

Monday 16 March 1914

THE AFTERMATH:

The case became a cause celebre in France. Public opinion swung against Caillaux and then in her favour. By the time the case camem to trial on 20 July the turmoil in Europe was even greater, following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. The leading lawyer Fernand-Gustave Gaston Labori defended her and insisted that the crime was not premeditated and that as a woman Caillaux was unable to control her emotions in the way a man would.

She said that “in the presence of the monster who had ruined our lives… the gun went off accidentally”. On 28 July 1914 she was acquitted after the all-male jury deliberated for 55 minutes. She died in January 1943, never mentioning the case again.

YOU SHOULD KNOW:

The case did not affect the political career of Joseph Caillaux until he was charged with the very crime Calmette had accused him of – treason. He was sentenced to two years in jail.

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