Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Gilles de Rais


Painting of Gilles de Rais circa 1835

Gilles de Rais is associated with Saint Joan of Arc because of his military service in her army during the Hundred Years War. A book titled The Saint and the Devil may be the most accurate way to describe the contrasting lives of Joan of Arc and Gilles de Rais as de Rais is probably best remembered in history for his terrible crimes that earned him the infamous name of "Bluebeard." Born in 1404 into a life of great wealth and privilege Gilles de Rais eventually inherited one of the great fortunes in Europe at the time. As a young man he devoted his fortune and his sword to aiding Charles VII in fighting against the English and the Burgundians in the Hundred Years War. Gilles fought with Joan of Arc in her victory at Orleans and participated in the Loire Valley Campaign that culminated in Joan leading Charles VII to Reims for his coronation as King of France. Gilles was one of four nobles chosen to escort the Holy Ampoule (phial of holy oil) of Saint Remy to the Cathedral of Reims for the ceremony. After the ceremony Gilles was further honored by being elevated to the rank of Marshal of France, the highest honor the King could bestow and one very great indeed for a young man of only twenty five.

After Joan of Arc was executed in 1431, Gilles continued to fight in the Hundred Years War however by 1434 he seems to have lost interest in further military service and withdrew to his estates in Breton. There he pursued a more hedonistic lifestyle and quickly squandered his huge fortune. He also become involved with occult practices in an attempt to regain his lost fortune though black magic and engaged in the murder of children as part of the ceremonies. On September 13,1440 the Bishop of Nantes issued an arrest decree charging that de Rais had:
"killed, strangled, and massacred many innocent children in inhuman fashion and committed with them the most abominable and execrable sin against nature of sodomy in various fashions and unheard of perversities which may not be enlarged upon here by reason of their horror but which will be declared in Latin in an appropriate place and time.... He has frequently practiced the horrible evocation of demons . . . and that he has sacrificed and made offerings to these demons and concluded pacts with them and has wickedly perpetrated other crimes and sins."

On October 26, 1440, Gilles de Rais was executed for his crimes by hanging and burning. To learn more about Gilles de Rais and Joan of Arc please read the excellent and unique biography The Saint and the Devil by Frances Winwar:


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