Gilles de Rais Biography
Birthday: September 4, 1404
Died At Age: 36
Sun Sign: Virgo
Also Known As: Gilles de Montmorency-Laval
Born in: Champtocé-sur-Loire, Anjou
Famous as: Serial Killer of Children
Spouse/Ex-: Catherine de Thouars of Brittany (1420–1440)
father: Guy II de Montmorency-Laval
mother: Marie de Craon
children: Marie (1429-1457)
Died on: October 26, 1440
place of death: Nantes, Brittany
Gilles de Retz or Gilles de Rais, a member of the ‘House of Montmorency-Laval’, was a lord and knight of Anjou, Poitou and Brittany who later became infamous as a serial killer of children. He was a commander in the Royal Army and fought wars of Brittany and Anjou thereafter becoming a companion-in-arms of Joan of Arc. He fought many battles as Marshal of France along with her during the ‘Hundred Years’ War’ including that in Orleans. He was present with her in Reims during consecration of Charles VII and remained her special guard till the time Paris was attacked and she was captured. Thereafter, he retired to Brittany. He led an extravagant life with a lavish court encompassing a chain of priests, heralds and servants with the fortune he received from his father and maternal grandfather. His wealth increased extensively following his marriage with Catherine de Thouars, a rich heiress. His lavish lifestyle that included staging his self-composed theatrical soon depleted his wealth, forcing his family to secure a decree from the King to restrain Gilles de Retz from further selling and mortgaging his properties. He resorted to alchemy and Satanism in the hope of increasing wealth. Later he was accused of murdering hundreds of children which led to an ecclesiastical investigation. The parents of missing children testified against him in the trial following which he was given a death sentence and was hanged at Nantes.
- He was born in the family of Guy II de Montmorency-Laval and Marie de Craon probably in September 1405 in their family castle at Champtocé-sur-Loire.
- His father died when he was nine years of age after which his mother left him and his brother René de La Suze to remarry. She died two years later. The two children were brought up by their maternal grandfather Jean de Craon.
- As a child Gilles was intelligent, had a knack for music and spoke Latin fluently. He became heir of the entire fortune of his maternal grandfather after the death of his maternal uncle in 1415.
- His scheming maternal grandfather tried to get him married first with Jeanne Paynel, a rich heiress in Normandy and then with the niece of the Duke of Brittany’, Béatrice de Rohan but failed on both attempts. Finally Craon was successful in getting Gilles married to Catherine de Thouars, a rich heiress of La Vendée and Poitou.
- In 1420, Gilles de Retz made a mark as a brave soldier when he was just 16 by fighting for the ‘House of Montfort’ and securing release of Duke John VI in the succession wars for the duchy of Brittany. He received land grants, later converted to lump sum money for his service.
- After being brought in the court of Charles VII at Saumur in 1425, he studied Dauphin to master court mannerisms.
- In 1427, he fought the English on behalf of the Duchess of Anjou. In the same year while on his way to Orleans to join Joan of Arc, he besieged the ‘Château of Lude’, a fortress which was occupied by English for several years. He took English captain Blackburn as prisoner.
- Between 1427 and 1435, Gilles de Retz remained a commander in the Royal Army and successfully established himself as a brave heart of the war front during the ‘Hundred Years’ War’.
- He accompanied Joan of arc in Reims during consecration of Charles VII. He was selected as one of the four lords on July 17, 1429 who will have the honour to go to ‘Abbey of Saint-Remy’ to bring the ‘Holy Ampulla’ to ‘Notre-Dame de Reims’. He was also made the Marshal of France on that day.
- In 1429, he joined Joan of arc in the battle against the English and their allies from Burgundy and also during the relief of Orleans among many other battles.
- He remained special guard of Joan of Arc till the time Paris was attacked and she was captured. In May 1431, Joan of Arc was tied on a stake and executed.
- Gilles was counted amongst the wealthiest men of Europe acquiring most of the fortune from his father and maternal grandfather and later through his marriage with Catherine de Thouars, a rich heiress.
- He became a spendthrift leading an extravagant life with a lavish court encompassing a chain of priests, heralds and servants and to maintain the lifestyle he began mortgaging and selling his properties, slowly depleting his wealth.
- During 1434 to 1435 he slowly alienated himself from social and military life to take forward his dream of constructing a marvellous Chapel of the Holy Innocents. He also pursued production of his theatrical ‘Le Mistère du Siège d'Orléans’ where he spent endlessly on costumes, other supplies and for entertainment of viewers including food and drinks. It was first staged in Orleans on May 8, 1435.
- On June 1435 his family requested to Pope Eugene IV to disown the ‘Chapel of the Holy Innocents’ which was not entertained. Finally the family successfully acquired a royal edict from the King on July 2, 1435. It condemned Gilles as a waster and prohibited him from selling or mortgaging properties further in Angers, Orleans, Pouzauges, Champtocé-sur-Loire and Tours. However, the family failed to convince the Duke of Brittany to enforce the edict there.
- The edict also prohibited the subjects of the King to get into any dealings with Gilles. Following the edict he utilised his books, manuscripts, objets d’art and even clothing as security to borrow money. He left Orleans in late 1435.
- He resorted to alchemy and Satanism in the hope of increasing wealth which was testified by clergyman François Prelati and priest Eustache Blanchet.
- On May 15, 1440 he abducted a clergyman following a friction at the ‘Church of Saint-Étienne-de-Mer-Morte’. When the Bishop of Nantes investigated on the act, the heinous crimes of Gilles against children were uncovered. On July 29, the Bishop of Nantes sought for a prosecutorial cooperation from John VI, the Duke of Brittany.
- Gilles de Retz was accused of murdering hundreds of children which led to his arrest along with his two bodyservants Poitou and Henriet on September 15, 1440 followed by an ecclesiastical investigation.
- In his trial on October 21, 1440, he confessed of assaulting children from as early as 1432 and murdering children at Champtocé-sur-Loire and Machecoul. He also confessed of sodomizing them before murdering. The parents of missing children testified against him in the trial following which he was given a death sentence and was hanged at Nantes on October 26, 1440. Both his bodyservants were also given death sentences.
- As per his request he was buried in Nantes at the church of the monastery of Notre-Dame des Carmes.
- Gilles de Retz married Catherine de Thouars, a rich heiress of La Vendée and Poitou, on November 30, 1420. The marriage was arranged by his maternal grandfather Jean de Craon.
- In 1429, the couple welcomed their only daughter Marie.
- He has remained a subject of numerous books, graphic novels, films, television programs and has been referred to in various rock band music albums.
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