Gilles de Rais

From Academic Kids

Gilles de Rais (also spelled Raiz, Retz) (autumn of 1404 - October 26, 1440) was a French aristocrat, soldier, and at one time, a national hero. He was later convicted of torturing, raping and murdering hundreds of children; Along with Erzsbet Bthory, another sadistic aristocrat acting more than a century later, he is considered to be a precursor to the modern serial killer.

Rais was born in 1404 at Machécoul, in the area on the border of Brittany and Poitou. His father was Guy de Montmorency-Laval who himself had inherited by adoption the fortunes of Jeanne de Rais and Marie de Craon. Rais inherited the barony of Rais in the peerage-duchy of Retz. He was an intelligent child, learning fluent Latin.

Rais took the side of the Montforts, and specifically Jean V. of Brittany, against a rival house led by Olivier de Blois, count of Penthievre, who took Duke John VI of Brittany prisoner. He was able to secure his release, and was rewarded for this act by generous land grants which the Breton parliament commuted to monetary ones.

After the death of his parents c. 1415, he was placed in the "care" of his godfather, Jean de Craon, who was something of a hybrid between a politician and a bandit.

In 1420 he found himself at the court of the Dauphin, the then uncrowned king of France. Jean de Craon tried to marry Rais off to the heiress Jeanne de Paynol; this was unsuccessful. Jean de Craon then pitched Rais at Beatrice de Rohan, niece of the Duke of Brittany, again with no success. Eventually he substantially increased Rais' fortune by marrying him off to Catherine de Thouars from Brittany, La Vendee and Poitou after kidnapping her. The very thin connection that Rais may have with the legend of Bluebeard may follow from the fact that out of several previous marriage plans two were thwarted by death of the putative bride.

From 1427 to 1435, Rais served as a commander in the Royal Army, including service during Joan of Arc's campaigns in 1429. Although a few popular authors have chosen to inflate the position he held during the latter campaigns, it is known from the surviving financial records that he commanded a rather modest personal contingent of some twenty-five men-at-arms and eleven archers, and was one of many dozens of such commanders rather than the chief. Nor did he serve as Joan of Arc's bodyguard, a position actually held by a man named Jean d'Aulon. Rais' greatest honor during these campaigns came when he joined the other three commanders holding the quasi-ceremonial title of "Marchal", a subordinate position under the Royal "Conntable". This honor was granted to him at the coronation of Charles VII on July 17, 1429.

In 1435 Rais retired from military service to indulge himself on his estates, promoting theatrical performances and spending the large fortune he had inherited. It was also during this period that, according to the later testimony of himself and his accomplices, he began to experiment with the occult under the direction of a man named Francois Prelati, who told Rais that he could regain the wealth he had squandered by sacrificing children to a demon named "Barron."

On May 15, 1440, Rais kidnapped a clergyman named Jean le Ferron during a dispute at the Church of St. Etienne de Mermorte. This prompted an investigation by the Bishop of Nantes, during which the Bishop uncovered evidence of Rais' crimes over the years. On July 29, the Bishop released his findings, and subsequently obtained the cooperation of Rais' former supporter, Duke Jean V of Brittany. Action was now finally taken against Rais: on 24 August, Jean le Ferron was freed by Royal troops led by Arthur de Richemont. Rais himself and his accomplices were arrested on 15 September, after a secular investigation reached the same conclusions as the earlier investigation by the Bishop of Nantes. Rais' trials would likewise be conducted by both secular and ecclesiastic courts, on charges of murder, sodomy, and heresy.

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' accomplices, was so lurid that the judges ordered the worst portions to be stricken from the record. Rais was accused of luring young boys to his residences, where he would rape, torture and mutilate them, often masturbating while sitting upon the dying body. He and his accomplices would set up the severed heads of the children afterwards, in order to judge which was the most beautiful. How many victims De Rais killed is not known exactly, as most of the bodies were burned or buried. It is thought to be between eighty and two-hundred; estimates of up to six-hundred are almost certainly exaggerated. The victims were aged between six and eighteen and were of both sexes; Although Rais preferred boys, he would settle for young girls if that was all that his servants could lay their hands on.

The extensive witness testimony convinced the judges that there was adequate grounds for establishing the guilt of the accused. Rais confessed voluntarily to the crimes on October 21, and the court therefore canceled a plan to have him tortured. On October 23, the secular court condemned Rais' accomplices, Henriet and Poitou; on the 25th the ecclesiastical court handed down a sentence of excommunication against Rais, followed by condemnation by the secular court on the same day. After tearfully expressing remorse for his crimes, Rais was freed of the sentence of excommunication and granted a request to confess to a priest, although the secular penalty still remained in effect. Rais, Henriet, and Poitou were executed at Nantes on October 26, 1440.

Some authors have alleged that Rais was framed for murder and heresy by the Roman Catholic Church as part of a plot to acquire his lands, although historians dispute this theory by pointing out that the Church did not in fact gain his lands, as these instead devolved to the Duke of Brittany, who then doled them out to nobles such as the Count of Richemont. Moreover, Rais was convicted by both ecclesiastic and secular courts based upon extensive evidence - such as eyewitness accounts from his accomplices describing the murders in precise detail, and the testimony from the parents of missing children in villages near De Rais' estate. A conspiracy to frame him would have had to involve numerous individuals and the cooperation of both Ducal and Church officials. Most historians similarly regard the Duke of Brittany (the chief beneficiary) as an unlikely suspect in such a plot, as he had long been an ally and protector of Rais, and only consented to the prosecution after two investigations had uncovered damning evidence.

Rais appears by name as a character in the play Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw, as a young man of 25 who is set up to impersonate the Dauphin, which attempt is unsuccessful. His profile and notoriety inspired many modern French thinkers and authors, such as Michel Tournier and Pierre Klossowski.


  • Bataille, Georges (contributor). Dark Star : The Satanic Rites of Gilles de Rais. Creation Books ISBN 1840681152
  • Bataille, Georges. The Trial of Gilles de Rais Amok Books. ISBN 1878923021
  • Benedetti, Jean. Gilles de Rais. Stein and Day. ISBN 0812814509
  • Bordonove, Georges. Gilles de Rais. Pygmalion. ISBN 2857046944
  • Crowley, Aleister. The Forbidden Lecture: Gilles De Rais Mandrake Press. ISBN 1872736009
  • Hyatte, Reginald. Laughter for the Devil: The Trials of Gilles De Rais, Companion-In-Arms of Joan of Arc (1440). Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. ISBN 0838631908
  • Morgan, Val. The Legend of Gilles De Rais (1404-1440) in the Writings of Huysmans, Bataille, Plancon and Tournier (Studies in French Civilization, 29) Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 0773466193
  • Nye, Robert. The Life and Death of My Lord, Gilles de Rais. Time Warner Books. ISBN 0349102503
  • Rudorff, Raymond. Studies in Ferocity, a Book of Human Monsters. (section on Gilles de Rais). Citadel.

External link

fr:Gilles de Rais nl:Gilles de Rais ja:ジル・ド・𢲼イ


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