5

Sep

by Josh

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Gilles de Rais is a fascinating historical figure. He is described as proud, rich, handsome, devoutly Christian, brave, skillful in battle, patron of the arts, and having a fine ear for music. As the Marshal of France, he was the celebrated wartime companion of Joan d’Arc. He was a scholar, soldier, courtier, and fashion plate.

He was also accused of being a serial killer.

On September 13, 1440, Jean Bishop of Nantes signed a legal citation which brought Gilles de Rais to trial. Baron de Rais was brought up on charges that he had: “killed, strangled and massacred many innocent children in inhuman fashion and committed with them the abominable and execrable sin against nature sodomy in various fashions and unheard of perversities which may not be enlarged upon here by reason of their horror but which will be declared in Latin in an appropriate place and time… He has frequently practiced the horrible evocation of demons  and that he has sacrificed and made offerings to these demons and concluded pacts with them and wickedly perpetrated other crimes and sins.”

Over a ten-year period, with the aid of his servants, de Rais purportedly lured as many as two hundred children to his bedroom which may be more precisely described as a torture chamber. These children ranged between six and eighteen years of age. De Rais was fascinated with the beauty of children and the pain they were capable of experiencing. Although de Rais did not hesitate in making girls his victims, he was partial to boys. If a boy was blessed with an excellent singing voice, he might be lucky enough to escape with his life.

Rather than be put to the Question, de Rais chose to confess everything. Only a full confession would spare him the torture he was so familiar with. His tearful confessions were so repugnant that one of the judges was moved to pull a curtain over a nearby painting of Jesus. In court, de Rais proved his obsession with the serial killing of children by describing their agonies in great detail. "He confessed to having wallowed in the elastic warmth of their intestines. He confessed that he had ripped out their hearts through wounds enlarged and opening like ripe fruit. And with the eyes of a somnambulist he looked down at his fingers and shook them as if blood were dripping from them." It was said that he had once dismembered a pregnant woman to make sport with the foetus.

An extensive article about the life, the crimes and the process of Gilles de Rais can be found here.

Comments

  1. Margot K Juby on 11.21.2009

    It is true that these allegations were made against Gilles de Rais, but they were made by people who had a direct interest in his downfall. His judges stood to profit financialy from his death: in fact one of them Jean V, Duke of Brittany, disposed of his share of the loot before the trial was over! Both he and Jean de Malestroit were pro-English; Gilles de Rais was a French military hero. Many historians have felt that he was smeared in order to damage the French cause; it is interesting that he was executed for heresy, just as Jehanne d’Arc was. All confessions were extracted by torture or under the threat of torture and are therefore automatically suspect.

    In 1992 a Court of Cassation in Nantes re-tried and acquitted Gilles de Rais. This fact is seldom mentioned. There is also a rumour, which I have been able to verify, that he was recently proposed for canonization.

    Full story here:-

    http://www.229allenby.karoo.net/gillesderais/GillesdeRaisandme.html

    Incidentally, most of the last paragraph on this page is myth. The legend that a crucifix was veiled at the trial of Gilles de Rais was invented by the novelist J-K Huysmans. The foetus story was not mentioned at the trial and was, I believe, made up by Eliphas Lévi. The very lurid and bloody quote is also apocryphal and I have no idea where it comes from, although it crops up on many web pages: I suspect some avatar of that fount of disinformation, Wikipedia…

  2. Margot K Juby on 11.21.2009

    Sorry, typo in my second paragraph: “UNABLE to verify”…

  3. Josh~ on 11.22.2009

    Thanks a lot for the info!

    I definitely need to read more of Huysmans obviously, I just read “À rebours” so far because of its Dorian Gray connection :)

  4. Margot K Juby on 11.23.2009

    The novel that deals with Gilles de Rais is Là-Bas. It was notorious at the time because it dealt with contemporary Satanism but has survived mostly because of the Gilles de Rais connection. It is a very rich source of legend – Gilles de Rais is a myth-magnet, and many of those myths come from this book. This is possibly because there was no unbowdlerized version of his life available in English at the time; and, in fact, the trial records were not translated even into French until the 1960s, leaving a vacuum to be filled by speculation and rumour. Huysmans is still influential today – when Cradle of Filth brought out a concept album based on the life of Gilles de Rais, ‘Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder’, it was clear that they had been reading him. There is a passage in Là-Bas where the landscape itself becomes sexualized; this is echoed on one of the tracks.

  5. Spooky Samhain « milkboys – The Boys Blog on 11.01.2011

    [...] some creepy entertainment for tonight? How about reading about Gilles de Rais, the guy who allegedly raped, tortured & killed hundreds of boys? Or Fritz Harmann, the Vampire [...]

  6. Gosh Josh on 11.01.2011

    Better yet, click on the name of Margot K Juby in the comments above to be taken to her site which is absolutely amazing. She has presented a very clear picture of where we stand today, thanks to careful scholarship, with regard to our knowledge of Gilles de Rais.

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