de Rais, Gilles (1404–1440)
Gilles de Rais, a fifteenth-century French military hero, serial
killer, and occultist, was born at the chateau de Camptocé,
the family estate near Nantes, France. He was the son of Guy
XI de Montmorency–Laval, the Baron de Rais, and Marie de
Craon. They both died in 1415 when Gilles was 11 years old,
and Gilles and his younger brother were placed in the care of
their grandfather, Jean de Craon. In 1417 he was betrothed to
a rich heiress, Jeanne Peynel, then four years old. However, the
arrangement was put aside and in 1419, Gilles was married to
Catherine de Thouars, another wealthy heiress. Unfortunately,
Catherine was a cousin, and only after a papal dispensation
were they remarried in 1422 with the blessing of the church.
During the later 1420s, de Rais began to make a name for
himself in the French wars with England, who held Normandy
and had advanced south and east. He was among the leaders
in the king’s army in 1429 when the visionary Jeanne d’Arc appeared
and convinced the king that she had a role to play in
the wars. She led the French army in the recapture of Orleans
and de Rais was at her side when she was wounded. He followed
her to Reims and at the subsequent coronation of Charles VII,
was an honor guard. At the age of 25, he was named a marshall.
The war with England, after initial success, climaxed with the
betrayal of the youthful commander and her execution by the
British in 1431. During that time, de Rais’ streak of cruelty
manifested when he ordered the wholesale slaughter of prisoners
of war. That same year, his grandfather died and he became
master of the family estates.
Now one of the wealthiest men in Europe, following his victory
at Lagny he retired to his estate, where he lived an ostentatious
life and began to practice alchemy and magic, in part to
replenish the money he was spending to support his lavish lifestyle.
He also entered into the ranks of world-class villains by
his habit of kidnapping and torturing male children. His hero
status, wealth, and aristocratic rank kept him protected from
any repercussions of his crimes. However, his arrogance and
grandiosity caught up with him.
In 1440 he insulted Geoffroi de Ferron, the powerful treasurer
of the neighboring province of Brittany by having his
brother beaten and imprisoned. As a result of the complaint,
de Rais was summoned to an inquiry by the Bishop of Nantes
and the Inquisitor General. The man who had been beaten, a
priest, charged him with heresy. The charges were later extended
to include his practice of black magic and his rape and
Department of Personality Studies . . . Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
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killing of the children. Those in charge of the prosecution had
powerful friends and would be able to confiscate some of de
Rais’ estate if he were convicted. To increase the body of evidence,
both de Rais and his servants were tortured. While much
of the evidence would be unacceptable in a modern court,
enough was available to convict de Rais of infanticide and murder.
The exact number of children he killed will never be
known, but several hundred were well documented. Additional
hundreds less so. He was executed on October 23, 1440. He
would later be called Bluebeard, seemingly because of his black
beard that contrasted sharply with his blond hair.
Sources
Wolf, Leonard. Bluebeard. New York C. N. Potter, 1980.
Wyndham Lewis, W. D. The Soul of Marshall Gilles de Rais.
London Eyre & Spottiswood, 1952.