Gilles de Rais

Listen to our podcast episode here:

More infamously known as serial killer of children, we discuss his role in alchemy, its charlatans and black magic.

Gilles de Montmorency-Laval (also known as Gilles de Retz) lived from 1404–1440, Baron de Rais, was a Breton knight, a leader in the French army in the hundred years war.

and a companion-in-arms of Joan of Arc

But also he was convicted as a prolific serial killer of children.

Born in 1404 in the castle Champtocé-sur-Loire
parents died when he was 11 and came to be under the care of his grandfather

I’ll mention that his grandfather kept trying to arrange marriages between de Rais and more wealthy women.. not because it’s interesting, but one of the women was Béatrice de Rohan … which, if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan.. is an awesome name.

He married and had one daughter..

He was a huge spender. Big. He sold all his estates to put on a play. This play had some 600 costumes made up, worn once, then thrown away and made again. The guests could drink and eat all they wanted during the performance.

His family stepped in to curb his spending. He was no longer allowed to sell any holdings and no one was allowed to enter into a contract with him. His credit dropped and he left orleans leaving many precious things behind (art, manuscripts etc) to his creditors
Occult involvement
According to his trial de Rais was looking for people knew something of occult and Alchemy.
Prelati in Florence was summoned and de Rais started experiments.
In Tiffauges, he tried to summon a demon named Barron.. de Rais provided a contract with the demon (to be paid later).. but the demon never showed.

At this point Prelati said the demon was angry and demanded a child sacrifice (or parts of a child rather) ..but even after providing these parts: no dice… we’ll discuss his child murdering in a bit.


So here’s the thing: he was clearly more of a patron of alchemists than one himself. When we mentioned his involvement in the occult and searching for alchemists, this could all not be true and part of his later trial.

Alchemy was illegal in the time (by king and pope).. so this would all be held against him in trial.

BUT he was at the siege of orleans with joan of arc. he saw her pull a dart out of her shoulder and recover from a wound instantly where a lesser soldier would have needed a month… he saw her power and awe inspiring gift in turning the battle around.

One could infer that he wanted such power for himself (he almost certainly believed that such power existed and was to be had)

There’s a few stories of him being taken in by charlatan alchemists:
Blanchet, (the priest he sent out to find occultists) brought him a goldsmith who claimed to be able to turn silver to gold… they met in a tavern and de Rais gave him a silver coin to turn to gold and then left so the alchemist could do his thing.

When de Rais returned, he found the ‘alchemist’ passed out from booze… well he did turn silver into booze.. so that’s something, but I think I can do that to at a tavern.. so…

Another time he found a conjurer to summon satan. That conjurer, after to a few shenanigans (making it seem like the devil was in the other room) de rais gave the conjurer some supplies and money and sent him into the woods to do his thing.. and then never saw him again.

It was the Italian alchemist/sorcerer Antonio Francisco Prelati, a former priest, who told him that a mortal cannot hope to achieve the transmutation of base metals into gold without the help of Satan. And the only way that an alchemist or a sorcerer could hope to arouse Satan’s interest in his work was by dedicating the most abominable crimes to his name.

So, this is a nice segway to our next part.. but to be honest I was questioning whether to even do this episode. But as you’re hearing it, that means I’ve decided it can show two things in regard to alchemy.

The first is that some did believe that alchemy needed the help of a higher power or magic. This is where theurgy comes.. and this case something more like satanism (that’s not the definition of satanism.. but just sayin)

The second was to give some good examples of charlatans.. whithout waisting a whole episode on them.. yet.

but his need to get the devil’s attention brings us to:

Child killer (listener warning)

De Rais confessed to murdering children (but no account survived) at at Champtocé-sur-Loire starting 1433, and later Machecoul where, as the record of his confession states, he killed, or ordered to be killed, …no one knows how many, but lots. He did nasty things to them first, but I wont get into here, look it up if you’re interested, I’m trying to keep this podcast clean… then killed or had them killed. 40 bodies were discovered Machecoul in 1437.

I got this off of wikipedia:

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.

…again.. if you want to read more, wikipedia has more. It’s brutal, but that’s not what this podcast is about… but that leads us to his trial and execution.
Trial and execution
His downfall was kidnapping a cleric, which prompted an investigation. if you’re wondering why an investigation didn’t happen sooner, I suggest you look up Alžbeta Báthory (Elizabeth Bathory).. nobility could basically get away with whatever unless their victims were clerical or nobility.

He was arrested in 1440 and had a secular investigation that matched the Bishop’s. The prosecution was also done by both church and secular courts. He was charged with muder, sodomy and heresy.

He confessed after about a month, not under torture (but that was on the table at one point)… the witness testimony was so bad, that the judge had the worst part stricken from the records… so yeah. Not going to get into that here.

The general number of victims is placed between 80 and 200, some say as high as 600. The victims were from age 6 to 18 from both sexes.

He was quickly condemned to death and was hung. His body was set on fire, but was taken away by “four ladies of high rank” for burial, but two others he was condemned with were left to burn… but after his confession he was burried in the church of the monastery of Notre-Dame des Carmes in Nantes.
Question of guilt
But let’s hear the other side of the story, okay?

some say he was part of a plot by the bishop, or even by the french state, since he was a nuicance.
The prosecutor, the Duke of Brittany got all of de Rais’ titles after his convition.
There’s a theory that de Rais was a victim of the inquisition.

There are other theories.. including Aleister Crowley.. but it’s bogus and will not be repeated here.
In 1992, Freemason Jean-Yves Goëau-Brissonnière, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of France, organized a court consisting of former French ministers,parliament members and UNESCO experts to re-examine the source material and evidence available at the medieval trial. The hearing, which concluded Gilles de Rais was not guilty of the crimes, was turned into a documentary called Gilles de Rais ou la Gueule du loup, narrated by Gilbert Prouteau.

Cultural references

Gilles de Rais has been the subject of movies, music and books.. I wont get into all of them. Part based on his life, and other’s in his role of knowing Joan of Arc.

  • H. G. Wells makes references to Gilles de Rais in his works, Crux Ansata and ’42 to ’44 in 1943 and 1944, respectively.
  • “Bluebeard, Gilles de Rais” is referenced in ‘Damned” from Chuck Palahnuk (p 197) as one of the many literary and historical conquests of Madison during her quest for power in the depths of Hell.

In video games:

  • Gilles de Rais was a minion of Count Dracula’s in Castlevania 64 and its sequel/remake Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness

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