Caillaux, Henriette (?–1943)

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Caillaux, Henriette (?–1943)

French murderer of Le Figaro editor Gaston Calmette. Born Henriette Rainouard; died in 1943; second wife of Joseph Caillaux (1863–1944, member of chamber of deputies, premier of France [1911–1912], French minister of finance).

In March 1914, as France teetered on the brink of war with Germany, Le Figaro's editor, Gaston Calmette, continued his two-month campaign against France's minister of finance Joseph Caillaux, husband of Henriette Caillaux. Calmette had printed some 138 articles and cartoons aimed at discrediting the minister's political and personal life, even suggesting that he was a traitor who was dealing with enemy agents of

Germany. Calmette had also published letters Minister Caillaux had written years before to his first wife and to Henriette, when the latter was his mistress. In one particular missive, Joseph had confided to Henriette, "I have crushed the Income Tax Bill while appearing to defend it, thereby pleasing the Centre and the Right, without too much upsetting the Left." This disclosure in Le Figaro turned public opinion against Caillaux, leaving him branded as a hypocrite and one of the most ruthless politicians France had seen. Henriette was infuriated over the attack on her husband and further frustrated by the discovery that public figures could not sue for libel. She purchased a Browning revolver from a local gunsmith, visited the newspaper offices of Le Figaro on March 16, and calmly fired four bullets into editor Gaston Calmette, who died that night of his injuries.

Henriette Caillaux did not flee the scene of the crime. Immediately apprehended, she was incarcerated in a comfortable jail cell, with her meals catered by one of Paris' finest restaurants. For the four months up to her trial in July, the murder story so dominated the European press that attention was even diverted from the international political crisis. When she finally faced a jury, Henriette described Calmette's persecution and claimed that the killing had not been premeditated. "I lost my head when I found myself in the presence of the man who had done us much harm," she said. "The gun went off accidentally. The bullets seemed to follow each other automatically." The jury, seemingly mesmerized by the soft-spoken defendant, found her innocent of premeditated murder and sent her home, shocking the nation and the press. Her husband remained in public office, although he was later charged with treason for corresponding with Germany during the war. Henriette Caillaux died in 1943, her husband a year later.

suggested reading:

Berenson, Edward. The Trial of Madame Caillaux. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1992.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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