"Baron Gilles de Rais: The Medieval Serial Killer" is a fascinating film about the infamous French nobleman Gilles de Rais. He was a decorated war hero, fighting alongside Joan of Arc in the early 1430s. But he is also known as a prolific serial killer, executed in 1440 for heresy, practicing the dark arts, and, worst of all, the abduction, rape and killing of almost 150 children.
Born in 1404, Gilles' early life was ideal. He was an intelligent boy who became well-versed in military tactics. Sadly, tragedy struck when his father was killed in a hunting accident, and his mother soon died a few months later. He was then raised by his grandfather Jean de Craon, a well-known political power broker and schemer who arranged a marriage between Gilles and a wealthy heiress from Brittany. By now, Gilles had transformed into a bad-tempered teenager and young man. His marriage also committed him to war duty because, in 1429, Brittany had become a disputed territory between the French and English crowns amidst the ongoing Hundred Years' War.
He soon made waves on the battlefield, being a fearless fighter and an excellent military strategist. He was chosen by the Dauphin of France (the future King Charles VII) to guide and protect Joan of Arc during battle. They won several vital battles together, and when Joan (mainly due to Gilles' experience) liberated the city of Orléans from the English. In 1431, Joan was caught and burned alive by the English. A year later, Gilles, a marshal, allegedly began abducting children near his home. In 1435, Gilles would lead the French army and defeat the enemy once and for all. He was very wealthy and powerful at this point, and his status kept anyone from being suspicious.
Retired from the military, Des Rais became more decadent and wasteful that he was practically penniless by his death in 1440. He was desperate for money, and many con artists took advantage of him. Gilles turned to so-called alchemists to produce gold and became a dark arts follower. He hired "sorcerers" to help him raise a demon who could help him regain his fortune. After almost a decade of abducting and murdering children, the crown finally put him on trial in 1440, where his servants admitted to finding children for Gilles to hurt. He eventually confessed to avoid getting tortured and was promptly executed by hanging.
In recent years, however, historians and experts have questioned his guilt and believe he was an innocent man. There was no tangible evidence to prove his guilt except witness testimony, and there was also the threat of torture and ex-communication that would make anyone confess to anything. It's also interesting that after the execution, the Duke of Brittany, the prosecutor, received all of de Rais' properties, pointing to a political conspiracy against him. History has not been kind to Gilles de Rais, and rightly so if he was a brutal serial killer. Yet We can only imagine the truth, and maybe someone, someday, will uncover it.
Directed by: Dan Davis