Monsters Among Us: Gilles De Rais – Saint, Monster, Hero, or Villain?
Note: This article was originally posted for our “100 Days of Halloween” campaign in 2014. It has been updated in 2017.
“Ever monster was a man first.” -Edward Albee, Tiny Alice
Gilles De Rais is the subject of many a script, song, novel, graphic novel, and screenplay. He has been referenced from authors Neil Gaiman to Chuck Palahniuk; music bands Pet Shop Boys to Cradle of Filth; and has been the subject of several anime and manga series, television shows and films, as well as the popular video game Castlevania 64 and its sequel Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness.
His influence throughout the centuries is morbid and explicit.
A military hero early in his career, Gilles De Rais fought alongside Joan of Arc and was given recognition of his military accomplishments as “high and commendable services” through “great perils and danger.” He was awarded laudable titles, wealth, and opportunities.
Regardless, following the burning at the stake of Joan of Arc, Gilles De Rais was disinherited by his grandfather for reckless spending and an irresponsible lifestyle. It was during this same year that many believe the historical records to show the first of many kidnappings and murders committed by De Rais.
This is where things go south … quickly.
In light of his very public affection for his faith and his lavish support of the Church (though he would later sell off the very church treasures he supplied in order to support his own lifestyle), Gilles harbored a dark and bloody side witnessed not only by violence and shadow, but by several accomplices as well.
His lust for blood and excitement led him down a dark path of kidnapping, murder, sodomy, and torture.
In his confession, Gilles admitted to killing children in large numbers while at Champtoce. It is believed the torture and murders increased in both intensity and number when he moved his courtiers to Machecoul.
His methods were disturbing at best, including sexual abuse, all means of torture, and eventually (or often simultaneously) beheading, bludgeoning, or breaking the neck of his victims. His partners (two of his original cohorts were cousins, who shared in De Rais’ eventual fate alongside him) described a specific weapon to each crime.
Gilles De Rais was known to sit atop the chest of his victims and watch, and laugh, as they died before his eyes. A sometimes preferred method of torture included opening the flesh in order to gaze upon his victim’s stressed and dying organs.
Later, it was believed that his “partners” in this bloody past-time, grew from a couple of relatives to dozens of relatives, servants, and both church and political leadership.
Despite his public life of faith, Gilles was involved deeply in the art and practice of black magic, and sought out alchemists, sorcerers and others willing to transact with De Rais in his sinister and bloody endeavors, though most of those he subscribed to were frauds and con men (he was known for being an easy target when it came to fraud, due to blindness caused by his pursuit of ever-darker ways).
It was a common pursuit that Gilles De Rais sought the summoning and controlling of demons, and even Satan himself. It is believed he never reached any level of success beyond simple theatrics where this is concerned.
“There is no shortage of horror when reading through the history and stories associated with this man’s name.” -D.C. McGannon
With the local community and parents in an uproar concerning the whereabouts of the increasing number of missing children under his banner (De Rais would conspire that the children were being gathered into the King’s service and training for a lifetime of service to the crown), religious “concerns”, and political parties at the call to take control of De Rais’ land and wealth, the circumstances were prime for a hard fall.
In what would begin his downfall, Gilles later stormed a church during High Mass, brandishing a double-bladed ax, and kidnapped a cleric who was the brother of the treasurer of Brittany. It was this (not the kidnapping, torturing, sexual abuse, and murder of dozens, possibly hundreds, of children – peasant children were of little concern to those in position to do anything) that prompted outrage and investigation by the Church and powers that be.
Under threat of force and unspeakable torture, Gilles De Rais confessed to the many demented and destructive acts against hundreds of children, summoning of demons, heresy, and other crimes.
He, and his cousins, were put to death for these acts.
Though many historians declare De Rais could not have committed the number and effect of crimes he was accused of, and many contend he was framed and used as a pawn in a much larger political and religious game, history has a way of clearing out a lot of cobwebs.
What is documented and certain is that Gilles De Rais began his career as a military hero and came to be known by the end of his young life as a monster.
He may not have tortured and murdered hundreds, but in our book one is one too many.
P.S., An interesting note: At his execution, Gilles De Rais was allowed to share final thoughts, at which time it is recorded that he presented a sermon worthy of any Sunday-morning pulpit, admonishing his listeners to a life in submission to God and faithful service to the Church. His message to parents was to protect and raise their children, and for people to care for one another. Hmmm …
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More About The Monster Guys:
Portrait Gilles De Rais By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Gilles De Rais 1835 Éloi Firmin Féron [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Gilles De Rais – tribunal By Anonymous (Français : Bibliothèque nationale de France.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons