The Shocking Story Of The French Military Hero-Turned Pedophile

People are not always what they appear to be. The maxim might as well have been coined to describe the French nobleman Gilles de Rais, a historic pervert like no other. Hidden behind a 15th-century facade of refinement, the man's notorious historical depravity encompassed both bloody violence and shocking crime. Disturbing Gilles de Rais facts show how he was able to maintain his sordid double life. Not only was his position in society one of power and wealth, but he was also a distinguished military figure and the Marshal of France.

In the tradition of other power-hungry men, he flaunted his wealth by throwing lavish parties and staging insane spectacles. But tales of Gilles de Rais's infamous proclivities soon surfaced, and France was shocked when his life spiraled into a storm of accusations around abduction, pedophilia, murder, and heresy. When searching for stories of notorious historical pedophiles, few figures are more disturbing than Gilles de Rais, a man whose deviance and psychosis found freedom in an unsuspecting world.


  • He Drugged, Raped, And Murdered Young Boys

    He Drugged, Raped, And Murdered Young Boys
    Photo: Maïtre François / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    According to testimony given in court, de Rais had been raping and murdering children for years. In a biography of Gilles de Rais by Jean Benedetti, the gruesome circumstances of his first murderous encounter are clearly illustrated:

    "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."

    De Rais admitted to a preference for young boys but would certainly accept a girl if nothing else were available.

  • He Fought Alongside Joan Of Arc

    He Fought Alongside Joan Of Arc
    Photo: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Gilles de Rais was born around 1404 to a noble family in Champtocé, France and was heir to a large fortune, including several castles and pieces of valuable land. True to his status, he married a rich woman named Catherine de Thouars in 1420.

    Duty eventually called, and he joined the fight against the English in the Hundred Years War. He was an accomplished lieutenant, and fought alongside Joan of Arc herself. After the consecration of Charles VII, he was made Marshal of France at the age of twenty-five. After Joan was executed, de Rais seemed to tire of fighting, and returned to his lands in Brittany.

  • He Was Arrested For Fighting A Priest

    He Was Arrested For Fighting A Priest
    Photo: Anonymous (Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF)) / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In 1440, de Rais started a fight with a priest during mass. As a result of his public insults towards this respected figure, de Rais was arrested and brought to trial before an ecclesiastical tribunal.

    The court was in for a grim surprise. Prepared to try him for assault, the court managed to uncover much more serious crimes. De Rais admitted to an ongoing history of violence against children. Based on his own accounts of murder and sexual depravity, the court soon discovered he had been preying on young victims since 1426, when he was fighting in the French army.

  • He Turned To The Devil For Help

    He Turned To The Devil For Help
    Photo: Émile Bayard / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Some sources claim that de Rais's murderous spree started when he sought to gain supernatural powers. On the verge of ruin, de Rais was said to have begun dabbling in alchemy to restore his lost wealth. A former priest, Antonio Francisco Prelati, told him that he could not master the process of turning metal into gold without the assistance of the Devil. And to gain the Devil's attention, he would need to commit terrible deeds.

    As the story goes, Prelati encouraged de Rais to commit his first murder. After killing, he still hadn't mastered alchemy, but he now had a taste for slaughter.

  • His Sent His Servants To Hunt For Children

    His Sent His Servants To Hunt For Children
    Photo: Isabella di Chiaromonte, Matteo Felice\ / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Once the confession of de Rais started, there was no end to the shocking details. He claimed that his loyal servants would sometimes roam the countryside, looking for unsupervised children playing in the area. Once a suitable victim was found, the marauding kidnappers would snatch the child up and take him or her back to the secret quarters in de Rais's castle. Ranging in age from six to eighteen, his victims were estimated to be in the hundreds.

  • He Devised Insane Contraptions For Torture

    He Devised Insane Contraptions For Torture
    Photo: Wilhelm Kalteysen von Aachen / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Once the child was delivered to de Rais, his obscene charade began. During his trial, the nobleman described how he would "inflict various types and manners of torment; sometimes severing the head from the body with dirks, daggers, and knives, sometimes striking them violently on the head with a cudgel or other blunt instrument, sometimes suspending them with cords from a peg or small hook in his room and strangling them; and when they were languishing, committing the sodomitic vice on them," either before or after death.