Gilles de Montmorency-Laval Baron de Retz, more often referred to by his shortened name, Gilles de Rais, was a commander of the Royal Army during the Hundred Years’ war. He fought alongside Joan of Arc to defend the kingdom of France and the duchy of Brittany against England and the Burgundians. Outside of his military background, de Rais’ history is not for the faint of heart.

Ties to the occult

Although it is far from his most notable association, Gilles de Rais dabbled in the occult, namely the summoning of demons. De Rais paid a priest to seek out individuals who knew how to call upon demons. The priest found a renowned mystic, Prelati, in Florence and hired him at the request of de Rais. The group conducted the summonings in the lower levels of his castle at Tiffauges.

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Multiple failed attempts at summoning a demon named Barron left de Rais frustrated. Prelati claimed that the demon was upset and requested the sacrifice of a child. Without hesitation, de Rais obliged, leading him into the occupation that led to his infamy.

Mass murders and torture

His failed attempts to summon a demon left de Rais unhappy and significantly poorer than when he began. Between the springs of 1432 and 1433, de Rais initiated a murdering spree that would stain the history books for eternity. Gilles de Rais had a sickening fascination with the abduction, torture, and murdering of children. A biography of de Rais goes into detail about how he would treat his prisoners.

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The tame version of the process is that the abductee would be given resplendent clothes and a decadent meal, complete with copious amounts of drink, particularly hippocras, which acted as a stimulant. After the feast, the prisoner would be taken up to a secret chamber where only select individuals were allowed. That was where he tortured them before ending their lives.

Facing justice

After nearly a decade of murders, Gilles de Rais and his accomplices were captured and taken to trial. Numerous witnesses came forth to testify against de Rais and his assistants. The number of victims remains unknown, though estimates typically place the count between 80 and 200 children, though some historians guess that the total may have been closer to 800. His victims were all between the ages of six and eighteen, and while he favored boys, young girls were also victims of his obsession.

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De Rais was put to death before his accomplices, at his request. He was hanged, and his body was dropped into burning brush at eleven o’clock in the morning on 26 October, 1440. His body was taken away before it could burn to be buried by women of noble status. His accomplices were all burned at the stake.