10 Details About Gilles de Rais: Pedophile, Satanist, Murderer... Or the Most Misjudged Man in History

Children’s Games by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Antwerp, 1560. Wikimedia Commons

Early Life

No expense was spared in preparing him to rule. Like other noble children, Gilles spent his first 7 years mostly in the company of women. His clothes were miniature versions of those worn by his father, though he saw his parents only occasionally. Since so much rested on him – the de Rais fortune, lands, and titles, and the livelihoods of the nurses who looked after him – like other noble heirs, Gilles was treated like a little king. When he turned 7, formal education began, and Guy de Laval hired only the finest tutors to cultivate his son and heir’s mind.

Gilles became a young man of letters, fluent in Latin and passionate about all types of learning. He both read and illustrated illuminated manuscripts, of which he owned hundreds, and even his harshest critics agree that Gilles was one of the best-educated and cultivated men of his day. Tragedy struck Gilles in 1415 when Guy de Laval was fatally wounded by a wild boar on a hunt. Marie de Craon died within a year of this incident. Whilst it is unclear how much his distant parents’ passing affected him, 11-year-old Gilles was thrust into the centre of another power struggle.

His father’s will specifically barred his grandfather, Jean de Craon, from having a hand in his education, but Jean had this overturned, and took the boy under his wing. Debate rages over de Craon’s influence on Gilles’s alleged behaviour, but it seems unlikely that his education was neglected. Following his son’s death at the Battle of Agincourt, de Craon named Gilles his heir, increasing again the lands and titles Gilles would one day possess. In 1420, during a baronial conflict at which de Craon was at the centre, Gilles made his first public appearance, and fought in the war itself.