Gilles de Rais companion of Joan of Arc and murderer

May 2011
1,221
Europe
#1
Gilles de Montmorency-Laval (1404–1440), Baron de Rais, was a Breton knight, a leader in the French army and a companion-in-arms of Joan of Arc. He is best known as a prolific serial killer of children. There is significant controversy over his guilt; some maintain he was framed for political reasons.
A member of the House of Montmorency-Laval, Gilles de Rais grew up under the tutelage of his maternal grandfather and increased his fortune by marriage. Following the War of the Breton Succession, he earned the favour of the Duke and was admitted to the French court. From 1427 to 1435, Gilles served as a commander in the Royal Army, and fought alongside Joan of Arc against the English and their Burgundian allies during the Hundred Years' War, for which he was appointed Marshal of France.

In 1438, according to testimony at his trial from the priest Eustache Blanchet and the cleric François Prelati, de Rais sent out Blanchet to seek individuals who know alchemy and demon summoning. Blanchet contacted Prelati in Florence and convinced him to take service with his master. Having reviewed the magical books of Prelati and a traveling Breton, de Rais chose to initiate experiments, the first being in the lower hall of his castle at Tiffauges, to summon a demon named Barron. de Rais provided a contract with the demon for riches that Prelati was to give to the demon at a later time.As no demon manifested after three tries, the Marshal grew frustrated with the lack of results. Prelati responded the demon summoned, named Barron, was angry and required the offering of parts of a child. de Rais provided these remnants in a glass vessel at a future invocation. All of this was to no avail, and the occult experiments left him bitter and with a severely depleted wealth.

In his confession, Gilles maintained the first assaults on children occurred between spring 1432 and spring 1433. The first murders occurred at Champtocé-sur-Loire; however, no account of these murders survives. Shortly after, Gilles moved to Machecoul where, as the record of his confession states, he killed, or ordered to be killed, a great but uncertain number of children after he sodomized them. Forty bodies were discovered in Machecoul in 1437
The first documented case of child-snatching and murder concerns a boy of 12 called Jeudon, an apprentice to the furrier Guillaume Hilairet. Gilles de Rais' cousins, Gilles de Sillé and Roger de Briqueville, asked the furrier to lend them the boy to take a message to Machecoul, and, when Jeudon did not return, the two noblemen told the inquiring furrier that they were ignorant of the boy's whereabouts and suggested he had been carried off by thieves at Tiffauges to be made into a page. In Gilles de Rais' trial, the events were testified to by Hillairet and his wife, Jean Jeudon and his wife, and five others from Machecoul.
In his 1971 biography of Gilles de Rais, Jean Benedetti tells how the children who fell into Rais's hands were put to death:
[The boy] was pampered and dressed in better clothes than he had ever known. The evening began with a large meal and heavy drinking, particularly hippocras, which acted as a stimulant. The boy was then taken to an upper room to which only Gilles and his immediate circle were admitted. There he was confronted with the true nature of his situation. The shock thus produced on the boy was an initial source of pleasure for Gilles.

Gilles' bodyservant Étienne Corrillaut, known as Poitou, was an accomplice in many of the crimes and testified that his master hung his victims with ropes from a hook to prevent the child from crying out, then masturbated upon the child's belly or thighs. Taking the victim down, Rais comforted the child and assured him he only wanted to play with him. Gilles then either killed the child himself or had the child killed by his cousin Gilles de Sillé, Poitou or another bodyservant called Henriet. The victims were killed by decapitation, cutting of their throats, dismemberment, or breaking of their necks with a stick. A short, thick, double-edged sword called a braquemard was kept at hand for the murders. Poitou further testified that Rais sometimes abused the victims (whether boys or girls) before wounding them and at other times after the victim had been slashed in the throat or decapitated. According to Poitou, Rais disdained the victim's sexual organs, and took "infinitely more pleasure in debauching himself in this manner ... than in using their natural orifice, in the normal manner."
In his own confession, Gilles testified that “when the said children were dead, he kissed them and those who had the most handsome limbs and heads he held up to admire them, and had their bodies cruelly cut open and took delight at the sight of their inner organs; and very often when the children were dying he sat on their stomachs and took pleasure in seeing them die and laughed”.
Poitou testified that he and Henriet burned the bodies in the fireplace in Gilles' room. The clothes of the victim were placed into the fire piece by piece so they burned slowly and the smell was minimized. The ashes were then thrown into the cesspit, the moat, or other hiding places.
The last recorded murder was of the son of Éonnet de Villeblanche and his wife Macée. Poitou paid 20 sous to have a page's doublet made for the victim, who was then assaulted, murdered, and incinerated in August 1440.

On 15 May 1440, Rais kidnapped a cleric during a dispute at the Church of Saint-Étienne-de-Mer-Morte. The act prompted an investigation by the Bishop of Nantes, during which evidence of Gilles' crimes was uncovered. On July 29, the Bishop released his findings, and subsequently obtained the prosecutorial cooperation of Rais's former protector, Jean V, the Duke of Brittany. Rais and his bodyservants Poitou and Henriet were arrested on 15 September 1440 following a secular investigation which paralleled the findings of the investigation from the Bishop of Nantes. 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 Rais admitted to the charges on 21 October, the court canceled a plan to torture him into confessing. Peasants of the neighboring villages had earlier begun to offer up accusations that since their children had entered Gilles' castle begging for food they had never been seen again. The transcript, which included testimony from the parents of many of these missing children as well as graphic descriptions of the murders provided by Gilles' accomplices, was said to be so lurid that the judges ordered the worst portions to be stricken from the record.

The precise number of Gilles' 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.

On 23 October 1440, the secular court heard the confessions of Poitou and Henriet and condemned them both to death followed by Gilles' death sentence on 25 October. Gilles was allowed to make confession and his request to be buried in the church of the monastery of Notre-Dame des Carmes in Nantes was granted.

Execution by hanging and burning was set for Wednesday 26 October. At nine o‘clock, Gilles and his two accomplices made their way in procession to the place of execution on the Ile de Biesse. There, Gilles addressed the throng of onlookers with contrite piety, and exhorted Henriet and Poitou to die bravely and think only of salvation. Gilles' request to be the first to die had been granted the day before. At eleven o'clock the brush at the platform was set afire and Rais was hanged. His body was cut down before being consumed by the flames and claimed by “four ladies of high rank” for burial. Henriet and Poitou were executed in similar fashion; their bodies however were reduced to ashes in the flames and then scattered.

 
Jul 2007
1,674
Australia
#2
Have a bit of a soft spot for poor old Giles.

Can I recommend Thomas Keneally's "Blood Red, Sister Rose" which explores the relationship between Joan and Giles (fiction).
 
Jan 2019
4
Las Vegas
#3
800 victims would have severely devastated the villages. How could this be possible? The deaths of male children would have meant the families would have one less to feed but also help. So in a decade the loss of so many male children would have been impossible to ignore. Exactly how many people lived in his lands?
 
Jan 2019
4
Las Vegas
#4
I’m doing extensive study on De Rais because of the many questions looming over his life story. There are so many questions scholars and historians could help explain. With the church so present in the lives of the people, baptism records would have been kept. Wouldn’t this have been even a minor way of judging how many males were born? Then compare with graves and death records, there would possibly been some link. Yes, I know about children wandering around without parents, etc., but the villagers complained their children were missing. 800 - the extreme number- is a very large number indeed. The church would notice. The number of members would decline over a generation. Wouldn’t de Rais be depleting his lands of workers in 10 years? A church without members cannot survive.

Knowing human nature, some people’s children were exempt. Somehow, but these are things none of us would ever know. Who paid off the procurers to leave their boys alone? Wouldn’t a villager eventually know to keep their boys away from certain members of the Lord’s entourage? If it were me, I would know who to tell my kid to run from.

Or was it a way to get rid of surplus children? If so, there was money to be made. Just like today, in poor countries yes parents sell their female girls to sex traffickers. In a Pakistan female children are born into prostitution.

2nd Question: childhood in the 15th Century. It’s not like today in the West. I’ve traveled all over the world and in third world countries children handle dealing with tourists, making change, etc. where there parent is, I could not tell. So, at what age were male children considered to go around on their own, and handle responsibilities not acceptable in our culture. I understand the concept of childhood is rare new. How did 15 century people view children? If they were considered little workers, losing free labor would be a serious economic failure to the family.

Yes, one family would be afraid to go up against de Rais, but if 10 children went missing in a village of 20 families, the village priest would have had to deal with his flock. Someone would have had to speak up. What mother, no matter how poor, would just let it go that one day her son never came home?
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,811
Sydney
#5
his association with Joanne make the whole story strange
during her time in the Army she was surrounded by some very very brutal men which she somehow tamed
 

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