While Vlad the Impaler was gaining infamy for his barbarity, a noble contemporary of his was gaining glory at the other end of Europe, Gilles de Rais (or de Retz) was a Marshal of France, one of the richest and bravest noblemen in the land, cultured, sophisticated and pious. His main claim to fame was that he fought alongside Joan of Arc. But his claim to infamy is in many ways more horrific than even Vlad’s. . . for de Rais secretly tortured and killed hundreds of children to satisfy his craving for the shedding of blood.
Born in 1404, de Rais married into an equally noble family at the age of 16. He owned five vast estates, had a private chapel that required the attendance of 3o canons and was so esteemed in the eyes of the court that he was appointed to the post of Marshal so that he could personally crown King Charles VII of France. Of proud and muscular bearing, he was a brilliant warrior, being instrumental in securing Charles’s victories over the English. He rode alongside Joan of Arc and was followed by a personal retinue of 2oo knights.
Yet for all those glittering prizes, de Rais maintained a sick and savage secret. He was guilty of what a contemporary described as `that which the most monstrously depraved imagination could never have conceived. He is said to have sadistically tortured and murdered between 140 and 800 children. Obsessed with the letting of blood, he would order his servants to stab his young victims in their jugular vein so that the blood would spurt over him. He was alleged to have sat on one dying boy while drinking his blood. Ten years after Joan of Arc’s trial for heresy, de Rais was charged with the same offence after he attacked a priest. Haughtily refuting that accusation, he was then charged with murder. In the words ofhis ecclesiastical accusers, he was a `heretic, sorcerer, sodomite, invocator of evil spirits, diviner, killer of innocents, apostate from the faith, idolator’.
There was good reason for the Church to have fabricated the case against de Rais. He was a secular challenge to their power over the king and his court, and if found guilty the Ghurch stood to seize his lands. No effort was spared in preparing the most damning case: de Rais’s servants were tortured until adequate evidence was given against their master. De Rais himself was probably not tortured. Yet he made a full and ready confession-not only to the murder of 140 children, of which he was charged but to the murder of `at least 8oo.’ Two rational reasons were given for this slaughter.
The first was the influence on him of a book, an illustrated copy of Lives of the Caesars by Suetonius, which included graphic descriptions of the mad Emperor Caligula’s sadistic excesses. The second was the approach of an Italian alchemist, Francisco Prelati, who promised the secret of turning iron into gold by black magic rites and sacrifices. But the real reason for the mass killings de Rais perpetrated could only have been what we now know as paedophilia and sadism-both carried out on a scale probably unequalled before or since.
Predictably, de Rais was found guilty and in a show of public contrition and humility begged forgiveness from the parents of the children he admitted slaughtering. Like Joan of Arc before him, he was sentenced to death by fire. But as an act of`mercy’ for not recanting his confession, he was first garrotted to death before being thrown on the flames on 26 October, 1440.
Tags: Bloodlust-UK, Essays, Gilles de Rais, Reference, Reference Material
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