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GILLES DE RAIS
Gilles de Rais (also spelled Retz) (autumn of 1404 – October 26, 1440) was a French noble, soldier, and one time brother-in-arms of Joan of Arc. He was later accused and ultimately convicted of torturing, raping and murdering dozens, if not hundreds, of young children, mainly boys. Along with Erzsébet Báthory, another sadistic aristocrat acting more than a century later, he is considered by some historians to be a precursor of the modern serial killer.
Rais was born in 1404 at Machecoul, near the border of Brittany. His father was Guy de Montmorency-Laval, who had inherited, via adoption, the fortunes of Jeanne de Rais and Marie de Craon. Gilles inherited the barony of Rais in the peerage-duchy of Rais (now spelled Retz). He was an intelligent child, learning fluent Latin. After the death of his parents circa 1415, Gilles was put under the tutelage of his godfather, Jean de Craon.
In 1420 he found himself at the court of the Dauphin, pretender to the crown of France. Jean de Craon sought to marry Rais off to the heiress Jeanne de Paynol; this was unsuccessful. Jean de Craon then attempted to join Gilles with Beatrice de Rohan, niece of the Duke of Brittany, again with no success. Eventually he was able to substantially increase Rais's fortune by marrying him off to Catherine de Thouars of Brittany, heiress of La Vendee and Poitou, but only after first kidnapping her. Later stories connecting Rais with the legendary wife-murderer Bluebeard may have stemmed from the fact that two of several previous marriage schemes were thwarted by the death of the intended bride.
Rais took the side of the Montfort Dukes of Brittany against a rival house led by Olivier de Blois, Count of Penthievre, who took John VI, Duke of Brittany prisoner. He was able to secure the Duke's release, and was rewarded for this deed by generous land grants which the Breton parliament converted to monetary gifts.
From 1427 to 1435, Rais served as a commander in the Royal Army, and in 1429 fought along with Joan of Arc in some of the campaigns waged against the English and their Burgundian allies. Although a few authors have tended to exaggerate the position he held during the latter campaigns, surviving bursary records show that he only commanded a personal contingent of some 25 men-at-arms and eleven archers, and was one of many dozens of such commanders. Nor did he serve as Joan of Arc's bodyguard, a position actually held by Jean d'Aulon. Gilles's greatest honor during these campaigns came when he joined three other commanders in holding the quasi-ceremonial title of Maréchal, a subordinate position under the Royal Connétable. This honor was granted him at the coronation of Charles VII on July 17, 1429.
In 1435 Rais retired from military service to his estates, promoting theatrical performances and exhausting the large fortune he had inherited. It was during this period that, according to trial testimony given by Gilles and his accomplices, he began to experiment with the occult under the direction of a man named Francesco Prelati, who promised Rais that he could help him regain his squandered fortune by sacrificing children to a demon called "Barron;" however, this story may have been encouraged at his trial as a contemporary attempt to find a rational explanation for the horrors he committed.
Investigation and execution
On May 15, 1440, Rais kidnapped a clergyman named Jean le Ferron during a dispute at the Church of Saint Étienne de Mer Morte. This prompted an investigation by the Bishop of Nantes, during which the investigators uncovered evidence of Gilles's crimes. On 29 July, the Bishop released his findings, and subsequently obtained the prosecutorial cooperation of Gilles's former protector, the Duke of Brittany. Action was now finally taken: on 24 August, Jean le Ferron was freed by Royal troops led by Arthur de Richemont. Gilles himself and his accomplices were arrested on 15 September, following a secular investigation which paralleled the findings of the Bishop of Nantes's earlier investigation. Rais's prosecution would likewise be conducted by both secular and ecclesiastical courts, on charges which included murder, sodomy, and heresy.
The extensive witness testimony convinced the judges that there were adequate grounds for establishing the guilt of the accused. After Gilles admitted to the charges on 21 October, the court canceled a plan to torture him into confessing. The transcript, which included testimony from the parents of many of the missing children as well as graphic descriptions of the murders provided by Rais's accomplices, was said to be so lurid that the judges ordered the worst portions to be stricken from the record.
According to surviving accounts, Rais lured children, mainly young boys who were blond haired and blue eyed (as he had been as a child), to his residences, and raped, tortured and mutilated them, often ejaculating, perhaps via masturbation, perhaps spontaneously, over the dying victim. He and his accomplices would then set up the severed heads of the children in order to judge which was the most fair. The precise number of Rais's victims is not known, as most of the bodies were burned or buried. The number of murders is generally placed between 80 and 200; a few have conjectured numbers upwards of 600. The victims ranged in age from six to eighteen and included both sexes. Although Rais preferred boys, he would make do with young girls if circumstances required.
On 23 October, the secular court condemned Rais's accomplices, Henriet and Poitou. On the 25 October, the ecclesiastical court handed down a sentence of excommunication against Gilles, followed on the same day by the secular court's own condemnation of the accused. After tearfully expressing remorse for his crimes, Rais obtained rescindment of the Church's punishment and was allowed confession, but the secular penalty remained in place. Gilles de Rais, Henriet, and Poitou were hanged at Nantes on 26 October 1440.
Some authors have alleged that Gilles de Rais was framed for murder and heresy by elements within the Church as part of a diocesan plot to expropriate his lands. This theory is considered highly suspect by most historians since the Church stood little chance of acquiring said properties, and by the fact that title ultimately devolved to the Duke of Brittany, who in turn doled them out to such nobles as Arthur de Richemont. Moreover, his conviction was based on the detailed eyewitness accounts of his collaborators and the testimony of the parents of his numerous victims, thereby providing corroborated evidence to justify the verdict. Any plot to dispossess him would have had to involve an improbable number of individuals and the complicity of both secular and Church officials. Most historians similarly consider the Duke of Brittany (the chief beneficiary) an unlikely mastermind of such a plot, as he had long counseled and protected Rais, and only consented to his prosecution after two investigations had uncovered damning and irremisible evidence.
Anthropologist Margaret Murray and occultist Aleister Crowley are among those who have questioned the traditional account relayed to us by the ecclesiastic and secular authorities involved in the case. Murray, in her book The Witch-Cult of Western Europe (pp. 173-74), surmised that Gilles was a witch and follower of a fertility cult centered around the pagan goddess Diana. According to Murray, "Gilles de Rais was tried and executed as a witch and, in the same way, much that is mysterious in this trial can also be explained by the Dianic Cult."
Mainstream historians reject Murray's theory; as Hugh Trevor-Roper put it "The fancies of the late Margaret Murray need not detain us. They were justly, if irritably, dismissed by a real scholar as ‘vapid balderdash’ (C.L. Ewen, Some Witchcraft Criticisms, (1938)." Other historians who have taken issue with Murray's claims include Jeffrey Russell (who said Murray's theories were "riddled with fallacies"), Jacqueline Simpson, Ronald Hutton, G. L. Kitteredge, Norman Cohn, Keith Thomas and Georges Bataille (e.g., The Trial of Gilles de Rais). They point out that her Dianic Cult theory does not fit with what is known of Gilles de Rais's crimes and trial. Murray's theory having been rejected by professional historians, its application to Rais is not commonly accepted; where Murray saw Joan of Arc and Gilles de Rais as martyrs to an old religion, historians and recent scholars have tended to view the former as a devout Catholic convicted for political reasons by a pro-English court, and the latter as a Catholic who fell into crime.
Undoubtedly, though, the most controversial source of information on Gilles de Rais remains a yet-to-be thoroughly authenticated cache of fragmentary documents believed to date from 1440 and finally published along with the trial proceedings in 1965 under the title Le procès de Gilles de Rais (translation by Klossowski, edition by Bataille). The salvaged documents purport to bear witness to Rais's own mind as the moment of his execution neared. Evidence from other sources suggests that he was able to write sufficiently well in Latin to have composed the document himself. It is also possible, though less likely, (considering the intimately confessional nature of the largest of the fragments) for them to have been redacted by a scribe at the request of Rais.
* Gilles de Rais's profile and notoriety has intrigued and inspired many modern French thinkers and authors, such as Michel Tournier, Pierre Klossowski and one-time Surrealist Georges Bataille.
* Gilles de Rais inspired director Agustin Villaronga in his film Tras el Crystal (In a Glass Cage), referenced in pedophilia and child sexual abuse in films
* John Banville's 2005 Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Sea includes his protagonist Max Morden's comment that "kiddies in general, I am afraid, bring out the not so latent Gilles de Rais in me."
* Gilles de Rais is a secondary character in the play Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw.
* A biography of Gilles de Rais is utilized as a major plot device in the French decadent novel Là-bas ("Down There") by J.K. Huysmans.
* Nathanael West makes reference to the morbid sexual practices of Gilles de Rais and the Marquis de Sade in his novella The Dream Life of Balso Snell.
* Gilles de Rais appears as a vampire and one of the co-conspirators involved in Dracula's resurrection in Castlevania and its special edition, Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness.
* Gilles de Rais is a minor villain in the manga series S & M no Sekai by Chiho Saito.
* The novel Thief of Souls by Ann Benson juxataposes the story of Gilles de Rais with that of a fictional modern-day serial killer.
* Oscar Wilde says in his long letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, De Profundis, "I am somewhere in between Gilles de Rais and the Marquis de Sade."
* Gilles de Rais makes a brief appearance in the opening section of Anne Golon's Angélique series, as the subject of horror stories told to children. Also he may be partly the basis for the book's romantic lead, Joffrey Peyrac.
* Gilles de Rais is the villain in The Dead Boy Detectives (by Ed Brubaker), a spin-off of the graphic novel The Sandman (by Neil Gaiman). The Dead Boy Detectives are published by DC Comic's Vertigo imprint.
* Gilles de Rais’s name also appeared in the Japanese novel The Scandal by Shusaku Endo. In the novel, an old Japanese author trying to fathom the darker side of human nature while he is besieged by scandal is told about Gilles de Rais.
* Gilles de Rais is a villain in the 2000 Summer and 2001 Winter Sailor Moon Musicals, which are commonly called The Forest of Transylvania.
* The vampire in Dracula 2: Ascension, Judas Iscariot, explains that he has had many identities throughout history, one of which was Gilles de Rais.
* Gilles de Rais is the subject of the song 'Into the Crypts of Rays' by Celtic Frost.
* 'Morbid Glory (Gilles de Rais 1404-1440)' by the Belgian band Ancient Rites ('The Diabolical Serenades'; 1994) was another song which discussed the matter.
* In Blade: the Series Episode "Hunters", The White Prince, a sadistic vampire who tortures and mutilates young women before feeding on them was once known as Gilles de Rais.
* Gilles de Rais, along with the Marquis De Sade, is mentioned in passing in the story "The Rats in the Walls" by H.P. Lovecraft
* In the Luc Besson film The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, Gilles de Rais is shown as one of Joan of Arc's captains.
* In the science fiction short story "Rumfuddle" by Jack Vance, a baby who would have grown up to be Gilles de Rais is taken to a different time and place in history.
* He is mentioned in the songs "Blimey" by GWAR, and "Lord Abortion" by Cradle of Filth.
* The character Lord De Guise in the film "The Reckoning," directed by Paul McGuigan, is loosely based on Gilles de Rais.
* Gilles de Rais appears as a character in Koei's Bladestorm: Hundred Years War.
* In volume four of The Sandman series the inker P. Craig Russel is said to make Gilles de Rais look like an angel.
* Gilles de Rais is the name of a Japanese rock band.
* Gilles De Rais was the subject of the book 'The Life and Death of my Lord Gilles de Rais' by Robert Nye.
* Gilles de Rais makes an appearance in the novel Vampire Junction by S.P Somtow.
* Gilles de Rais is mentioned in Clive Barker's novella The Hellbound Heart on which the Hellraiser movies are based. The novella makes mention of the character Frank having read de Rais' diaries.
* Gilles de Rais is reported to be the snake monster living inside the vagina of one of the alien vampires (said to have been Joan of Arc) in Phillip Jose Farmer's novels Image of the Beast and Blown .
* In the Japanese novel Fate/Zero by TYPE-MOON and Nitroplus, Gilles de Rais appears as the "Servant" Caster, magically summoned to the modern era by an equally cruel sorcerer.
* Gilles de Rais is the name of a hair salon in Sion Sono's 2007 Japanese horror film, Exte (aka EKUSUTE, aka HAIR EXTENSIONS).
* Some 49 human skulls were discovered in La Suze sur Sarthe Castle which belonged to Jean de Craon, Lord of Suze and Gilles de Rais's godfather.
* The Château de Tiffauges where Gilles de Rais carried out his atrocities is now a popular tourist centre with exhibitions on war machines, alchemy, and de Rais himself.
* The newspaper strip Maxwell the Magic Cat was written and drawn by 'Jill de Ray' (a pseudonym for Alan Moore).
* Gilles de Rais is one of three famous nobles (Elisabeth Bathory and Vlad Tepes were the others) who were suspected of being vampires.
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