(A decently short but decently detailed biography)
Gilles de Rais
, born in 1404, lead one of the most exceptional lives on record. In just a short thirty-six years, almost 1/3 of a lifetime for most of us, Gilles
had gone from a wealthy boy, to an abused orphan, then to a powerful soldier, a magnificently rich aristocrat, and, to top it all off, a national hero. His life was not just exceptional in the after-school-special sort of way - he was an exceptionally deranged man, also. In the same span of time, the noble had evolved from a petty crook into a maniac, the sort of man who would make Jack the Ripper
's toes curl with disgust. I bet you're curious now...
Gilles lived in France
, during one of the most tumultuous times of history. The 100 Years War
, a 116 year war between England
and France, was at its height, creating an atmosphere of fear and tension, and whispering hints of a revolution
to come. The young boy's father died when he was only nine, his mother quickly remarrying and dumping the children under the care of his abusive grandfather. Luckily for Gilles, his grandfather insisted on him carrying on the tradition of his family, the tradition of Knighthood
. Using some of the family fortune, which Gilles was now the sole heir to, he quickly became trained in the arts of warfare and, at the sober age of 14, the lad headed off to the court of the Dauphin
- the uncrowned heir to the throne of France.
The aristocrat impressed the entire court with his intelligence (being fluent in Latin
) and his good looks. But, one of the things that the Dauphin enjoyed about de Rais
the most was his utter devotion to the Church
. The noble made sure that everyone knew of his devotion by donating enormous sums of money to the chapels of his castles, insuring that they were as lavish as possible. His grandfather set-up a marriage, encouraging Gilles to wed a very wealthy woman named Catherine de Thouars
. Always the tactful one, Gilles married her without a second thought, thereby adding her fortune to his and becoming one of the wealthiest men in all of Europe
Now, Gilles' position was firmly established in the Dauphin's court and, when a young girl named Jeanne D'Arc
came to the court talking about how she would defeat the English, the Dauphin decided to send one of his favorite knights to investigate. Gilles de Rais fought by Jeanne's (Joan of Arc
) side in several battles, being the commander of a small contingent of knights and archers. After helping to free the city of Orleans
from the siege of the English, Gilles was little less than a national hero - at only 24. Upon arriving back at home, his newfound fame caused the king, Charles VII
(formerly the Dauphin), bestowed upon him the title Marshall of France
. A short year later, de Rais' grandfather died and the many estates that he owned fell to his possession. Now he could do what he liked.
Unfortunately, an ambitious and intelligent man like Gilles was not content with being bored. Sadism
now enthralled the nobleman, a far-cry from the interest in the obscure books from his childhood. Using his most trusted servants and squires, Gilles ordered young men and women to be lured into his castle under some pretext - anything would do - and then hung from the ceiling like an ornament; just something for the aristocrat to watch. The boy or girl would be cut down shortly before losing consciousness, then stripped of their clothing and raped. After the rape, the child's head would be severed, using a ceremonial sword
, and then the body would be further abused. When he had finished, de Rais would faint and be carried off to his chambers. His servants would then dismember and burn the body, or else hide it in some place so that it would not draw attention. That was certainly not the worst of it. Later, in court, Gilles confessed that sometimes two victims were obtained, and each taking turns of the abuse, being forced to watch the other...
As his mind unraveled, so did his life. It seemed that his psychotic sexual appetites had infected other areas of his reason. He now began to spend stupendous amounts of money, keeping a personal retinue
of 200 knights with him at all times, and constantly throwing wild banquets - not unlike a college fraternity president
...Owing to his newly developed egotism
, Gilles once threw a play re-enacting the siege of Orleans
with hundreds of people playing minor parts and himself playing the lead. His sanity was rapidly spiraing downward.
These massive parties continued for nearly a decade and had steadily bled the de Rais fortune dry. Now, the Marshall of France was forced to sell the majority of his estates, just to stay out of debt. Retiring to one of his less valuable homes, he now looked desperately for a way to regain his fortune. But, this was a French noble
; stealing was beneath him. Hard work? Out of the question! Instead of finding a healthy way out of his woes, Gilles de Rais merely deepened the mad cycle that he had been in, sending one of his servants on a quest to bring him a magician.
The Only Solution
Several men surfaced, each purportedly able to conjure up gold through alchemy
, or the like. Each failed. Finally, one fellow was brought home who held more promise than all of the others. His specialty was - drum roll please - the Black Arts
. In other words, around 1439
, a man named François Prelati
appeared at Gilles' doorstep, saying that he could solve the aristocrat's problems by invoking the power of Satan
and his Demons
. Not unlike a door-to-door vacuum salesman, Prelati
was a rather handsome and very charming young man with a penchant
for theatrics. If he couldn't conjure up the Devil
and his minions, he certainly said the right words and winked at the right moments.
Prelati explained to Gilles that it would be impossible to make money unless he was to sell his soul to Satan. However, de Rais was far too devout to the Catholic Church
to go that far. Hearing this, Francois quickly back-pedaled and said something like, "Well, actually, all we really
need is a whole lot of blood and the body parts of a few children..." Not only did Gilles have no problem with this - he was positively intrigued. The noble quickly 'found' another boy, sodomized and killed him, and then let Prelati do his business. The magician, however, specified that he could only summon the Demons alone.
During the magical event, which Prelati conducted in a small room in a tower, Gilles and his servants waited anxiously outside. Sometime in the ceremony, they began to hear loud thumps coming from inside the room but, *gasp*, the door was locked! Soon after, when the thuds had subsided, the door mysteriously unlocked and Gilles rushed in to find that Francois had collapsed on the floor, covered in bruises. Later, as de Rais tenderly nursed him back to health, he explained that he had conjured a powerful demon who had subsequently beaten him to the edge of death.
Prelati made several more attempts, each being strangely undone by a magical occurrence, and Gilles continued to kidnap and murder young children along the way. The list grew longer and longer, counting in the hundreds, and his lust made him sloppy. In 1437
he came close to being caught. When his family had heard that he was planning to sell one of their favorite castles to get himself out of debt, they rushed forward and seized it from him. Now his family was in control of a castle that he had not yet been able to clean out! If other people were to live there, they may find the mutilated corpses of many children locked away in a tower. Gilles and many of his servants quickly broke into the estate and removed all evidence of his crimes against humanity, although incurring a rather large fine from the Duke of Brittany
, which he was unable to pay. Ironically, at the same time, the Duke
began to investigate into the flood of reports about missing children over the last decade...
The Big Mistake
A second time, Gilles let his impatience get the best of him and, this time, it wasn’t so easy to get out of. He had made the hasty decision to sell another one of his estates, this time to the treasurer of the Duke of Brittany. De Rais thought better of the decision, a bit too late, and he became determined to get it back. Of course, his egotism put diplomacy out of the realm of possibility – he thought that he was powerful enough that he should be able to just show up and take it back. That’s just what he did. Before Geoffroy de Ferron
moved in to his newly acquired estate, Gilles de Rais and his personal retinue arrived on the property. Upon learning that the keys to the castle were in the hands of Geoffroy
’s brother, Jean de Ferron
, a priest, they invaded a nearby church and dragged the priest from his chapel. After getting him safely out of the holy building, they beat him in the street until he told them where to find the keys.
It is important to note that, even during this trip away from his home, Gilles did not refrain from his…impulses. One of his servants testified that, while lodging in a rented house in a town near the estate that he planned on retaking, he brought him a ten-year-old boy, who was then treated in the usual manner
Meanwhile, while Gilles was conducting his rape/murder
in what was basically a motel, a man named Bishop Malestroit
was secretly compiling charges against him, having been put in charge of the Duke of Brittany’s investigation. The Bishop
pressed for the charge of heresy, because Gilles allowed violence to a priest and in a church, and brought him under Inquisition
. The Duke, Bishop, and the inquisitor
seized all of his property upon issuing 47 accusations. The charges ranged from kidnap, murder, rape, abuse of clerical powers
, child abuse, human sacrifice
, and, no kidding, summoning the Devil
. On September 13, 1440
, the Bishop summoned Gilles de Rais before the court. The indictment was 49 paragraphs long, something to make the Charles Manson
Originally, Gilles was calm and cavalier
throughout the trial, but after six sessions, the Duke and Bishop were getting fed up. They not-so-secretly tortured
the noble, along with many of his servants, and thereby got him to “voluntarily and freely” (as the court record says) confess. He confessed to every single one of the charges against him, even though several were actually…well, impossible. Then again, he did
have that magician…All in all, over 110 witnesses were heard – not a one of them was for his defense. Charged and convicted along with him were two of his most trusted cohorts.
At the end of the trial, still devoted to his Church in some twisted way, Gilles made a public statement for forgiveness:
“You who are present--you, above all, whose children I have slain--I am your brother in Christ. By Our Lord's Passion, I implore you, pray for me. Forgive me with all your hearts the evil I have done you, as you yourselves hope for God's mercy and pardon”.
On October 26, 1440, Gilles was hanged to death, and his dead body placed upon a funeral pyre
to be burned publicly, his two convicted servants being tied to the pyre beside him. The de Rais family, however, was allowed to collect the body for a proper burial before the flames reached Gilles. The servants were burned alive. Ah, the benefits of nobility…
And so ends the story of one of the most corrupt, vile
, and, oddly enough, unknown men of the Middle Ages
– a time when there was a lot
of competition for ‘the most corrupt’. It is not a surprise that Gilles de Rais has gone down in the books right next to Vlad Tepes
and Elizabeth Bathory
as one of history’s ‘real’ vampires